Review: The best way through Netflix’s interactive ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ special? Choose sympathy
Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which ended a four-season run on Netflix last year, in a trademark flurry of absurdity and good feeling, has fashioned itself a lovely origami crane of a coda. In the interactive episode — or, one might say, episodes — “Kimmy vs. the Reverend,” the viewer is called upon to choose his own path, making crucial and less crucial and seemingly unimportant decisions that change the shape of the story. (You can also choose not to choose, in which case the show will do it for you.)
The dark sci-fi anthology series “Black Mirror,” also on Netflix, produced a similar interactive episode at the end of 2018, “Bandersnatch,” whose references were to the text-based, floppy-disk adventure games of the 1980s; it was itself a game one played with interest but not much feeling. Experiencing “Kimmy vs. the Reverend,” by contrast, is a more emotional experience, very much a matter of helping out characters you know and care about, acting as their proxies, thinking like they think, doing what they’d do. That it deals out gags at its customary cartoon pace — stalling a little while a choice is to be made, also to fine comic effect — is also in its favor. Whatever you choose, something funny’s coming.
Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), former kidnapped “mole woman” — whom we left as a super-successful author, with her own amusement park — is being fitted for a wedding dress in the company of friends Titus (Tituss Burgess), Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) and Lillian (Carol Kane), four distinct voices that comprise a kind of Spike Jones chamber quartet. (The fancy dress or the fun one is the first choice you are asked to make.) We are here to put a cherry on top of what was already a fairy-tale ending: Kimmy is about to be married to Prince Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe), 12th in line to the British throne, whose own strangely sheltered life has left him as clueless about the world as Kimmy is. They are perfect for each other, in other words, and will spend much of the episode apart. (He will have significant scenes with Lillian, however.)
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Here, the meta-reference is to a “choose your journey” paperback novel, “The Mystery of the Mysterious Spy,” that Kimmy discovers in a pocket of Jan, her sentient talking backpack. The book, not being hers, makes her wonder if there are other kidnapped young women out there, and this sets her on a path to meet again the man who stole years of her life, Jon Hamm’s still disturbing Rev. Dick Wayne. (It is very much a journey, taking her from New York to Indiana to West Virginia, with an increasingly hungry Titus in tow.)
Not surprisingly, that sympathy provides the “best” way through the story. If you choose the honorable path — for our four heroes are, on their own self-involved terms, honorable people — you will come to the perfect ending, of several possible. Sometimes the dishonorable choice will seem the more apt, or potentially fun, but whatever you decide, you will be eventually nudged back in line; inferior conclusions send you back to choose again. You can’t go wrong, really.
The series, which included a different-future “Sliding Doors"-themed episode in its final season, adapts well to this engine, because its characters are often called upon to pick among competing options; and every one of them — even Titus, who feels put out by the necessity of responsible action, or any action at all — is defined by what he or she chooses. It’s a moral show, about learning who you are and what you need. When you get to the endgame of this epilogue, and it really is Kimmy versus the Reverend, there is only one choice Kimmy would make, and it is of course the right one. It’s a surprisingly powerful moment and satisfying somehow to feel that one helped her get there.
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