'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs The Reverend' Review: Netflix interactive special is profound and timely
In dire and testing times like these, the frolicking positivity of a former hostage combatting trauma while refusing to grow up is perhaps the only hope the world needs
Spoilers for 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs The Revered' interactive special
Two years ago Netflix sent its viewers' hearts racing when it released its first-ever interactive piece: Black Mirror's 'Bandersnatch'. Dark, brooding, and foreboding there wasn't a single positive outcome to the former British thriller. This year, Netflix decided to indulge in some similar interactive fun, but in a concept entirely opposite everything the technological nightmare stands for. Taking its innate capabilities of being the pioneer at all things streaming and ultra woke, Netflix has now brought to fans an interactive special pegged around the 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt'.
Now we all know what everybody must be thinking; how does Netflix go from suicides and video game obsession to ponytails and candies? Well. Technically, it all boils down to the dark reality of most 'Black Mirror' scenarios and the truth of the eponymous Kimmy Schmidt's (Ellie Kemper) past trapped 15 years in a cult, emerging as a warrior who braves her own trauma by writing a book that helps countless others in doing so. And as Kimmy stands on the brink of marrying her prince charming Frederick, (a bubbling, neurotic Daniel Radcliffe) 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend' sees her not only embrace this new chapter of life, but also find the much-needed closure from her ex-husband - the titular Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm), by doing the exact opposite of what he stands for.
Walking into the special, it might be a difficult idea for fans, critics and even first-time watchers to fathom why Netflix felt the need to drag out the story despite giving Kimmy a fairly brilliant end at the culmination of the five-year-long show. Picking up after the success of the book, Kimmy is seen making her wedding preparations and audiences are looped in, with their interactions heavily relied on right from the first debacle over Kimmy's wedding dress: the fancy one, which is Titus Andromedon's (Tituss Burgess) choice, or the fun one aka the neighborhood cook Lillian Kaushtupper's (Carol Kane) choice.
That aside, the story begins when Kimmy finds a mysterious book sewn into her backpack for years - Jan, and that leads to a pandora box full of mysterious discoveries that suggest the Reverend might have had another bunker full of girls all this time. The confirmation arrives when Kimmy visits the Reverend in jail to confront him and Hamm is pretty much flawless in his execution of the steady bastard, once again proving to be a guilty pleasure most fans might derive from the show.
Thus Kimmy sets off on a mission, and we get to make the choices for the scavenger hunt right from the beginning where she has to choose, to which friend she wants to bring along on this quest. Jaqueline White's quest (Jane Krakowski) ends poorly even though the alternative is Titus, who must stay back to focus on his workouts but there's no too much of Burgess and Kemper's chemistry so off they go together, braving psychedelics, irresponsible fathers, babies with poopy diapers and whatnot. They are informed the Reverend has escaped from prison and is on the run to retrieve the other bunker hostages, but armed with a pistol and riding on a ridiculous bicycle Kimmy stole from a crazy music festival organizer in the woods, she is finally able to hunt the Reverend down.
At this point in the tale, viewers are presented with four choices for the Reverend: shoot him, stump him, spare him, or 'splode him. The first, second, and fourth all lead back to Hamm in hell as the Reverend, partying it up with Aileen Wurnoss and the other baddies, but we can't let him enjoy being condemned, right? So off we are sent into the past to select the third option where Kimmy braves her own dark instincts by sparing her abuser - thus elucidating a tale of trauma and forgiveness, reminding us once again why this splurge of pink and painful happiness shoved forcibly down our throats is always somewhat relevant.
In between Kimmy's journey, her best friend and fellow hostage Cyndee Pokorny (Sara Chase) gets her due PTSD treatments; Titus gets his due recognition as an actor; Jaqueline is able to confront her fears of being a bad mother and even Frederick passes a test of faithfulness and overcomes his nanny-issues (that's apparently a thing). The humor flocks in doses with the possible endings to Kimmy shooting the reverend, or even 'sploding him and stomping him to death - some of which see her mother marrying Frederick since he's the 12th-in-line and others see Frederick cloning her into a sex manic robot that can't help jumping him 24x7.
The only issue, however, is the many possible choices and endings to all of them. Even with deadpan options and obvious arcs, the special sometimes tends to force down the interactive aspect for no reason at all - getting a little impossible to endure unless you've been an ardent follower of Kimmy and her impossibly good-natured intent for the last five years in a row. Be it, Jaqueline, trying to subdue a ruckus at Titus's film when he's MIA from the set or Lillian and Cyndee trying to test Frederick's loyalty by singing what is easily the silliest song filled with British references, the plot tends to run a little haywire here and there, as what can be labeled the laughter track equivalent of interactive TV.
But in dire and testing times like these, these teeny tiny doses of fun frolicking positivity and a former hostage refusing to grow up is perhaps the only hope the world needs and that's also what creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock probably had in mind, following up on Kimmy's blissful ending. So even at times when the special might seem like an unnecessarily happy drag, it's never too late to remind us that in the words of John Green: "The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive." And at the risk of spoiling it all, yes, Kimmy does get her grand wedding to a prince!
'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend' premieres Tuesday, May 12 on Netflix.