Review: Netflix delivers interactive sitcom special of ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’

Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess appear in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend.” (Courtesy Netflix)
WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' interactive special

For four glorious seasons, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was one of the funniest sitcoms on television, leaving fans craving more after its series finale dropped Jan. 25, 2019.

On Tuesday, Netflix gave fans one last escape with the interactive special “Kimmy vs. the Reverend,” providing a unique romp of choose-your-own-adventure entertainment.

Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the series follows 29-year-old Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), who escapes a doomsday cult in Indiana, where she and three others were held in an underground bunker by the evil Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm).

After 15 years removed from society, the eternally optimistic Kimmy starts fresh by moving to New York City, where she meets streetwise landlord Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane), befriends her theatrical gay roommate Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and becomes a nanny for out-of-touch socialite Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski).

As for the interactive special, the new premise is that Kimmy is getting married to a British royal (one of at least three juicy celebrity cameos). Their love story is recounted in tongue-in-cheek exposition to inform audiences who might say, “Wait, Kimmy’s getting married?”

It’s up to Titus, Jacqueline and Lillian to help Kimmy get ready for the big day, planning the event and tracking down bridesmaids. However, when she discovers a clue to extra abductees in the bunker, she must confront the reverend in prison to learn the truth.

This isn’t Netflix’s first foray into the interactive realm, having won an Emmy for the “Black Mirror” special “Bandersnatch” (2018), but it is uncharted territory for the comedy genre. “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” similarly comes to various crossroads with multiple choice buttons appearing at the bottom of the screen inviting viewers to click to proceed.

Your choices vary between two to four options. Some are mundane daily duties (what dress to wear, whether to take a nap), while others are life or death decisions (rapidly rewinding your journey to try again). This must have been a fun challenge for the writers to come up with multiple outcomes while still maintaining a coherent narrative through line.

As a result, the plot is a bit meandering compared to a typical television episode, but that’s obviously the nature of choose-your-own-adventure stories. By definition, we are bound to explore various tangents that may or may not matter in the long run. Then again, “Kimmy Schmidt” always featured hilarious cutaways like Titus’ “pinot noir” music video daydream.

Part of the fun is watching the cast members’ faces while they wait for you to make your decision on a timed clock, appearing as a shrinking horizontal bar. Burgess rolls his eyes, Kemper grins like Pollyanna, Krakowski sips a drink and Kane reminds us of her lesser-known co-stars’ names, one of many clever moments of breaking the fourth wall.

Regardless of your multiple choice decisions, the main thrust of the story remains intact. This isn’t exactly a butterfly effect with infinite scenarios spiraling out of control, but rather specific mapped-out routes that either bring you to a dead end or advance the story toward a definitive conclusion. The wedding day finale provides an inspired final “freeze frame.”

The entire journey runs roughly 80 minutes, although it takes longer to run through the entire thing multiple times if you want to see the paths you skipped. Unfortunately, you can’t fast forward parts you’ve already seen, making it slightly redundant, but there are a few cool things to spot, like a symbolic poster of Titus starring in “Sliding Doors 2.”

Whatever you do, don’t you dare click “Skip Intro” during the opening credits. You’ll miss what’s always been the best part of the show: the catchy-as-hell theme song spoofing the viral video “Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife,” performed by comedian Mike Britt:

“Unbreakable, they alive damnit. It’s a miracle! Unbreakable, they alive damnit. ‘Cause females are strong as hell. Unbreakable, they alive damnit. It’s a miracle! Unbreakable, they alive damnit. This gon’ be a, uh, a, uh, fascinating transition. Damnit!”

On second thought, maybe you should click “Skip Intro,” because this interactive special has thought of every possible way to create a zany, post-modern extravaganza.

Thus concludes a series that was nominated for 18 Emmys, including four times for Outstanding Comedy Series, losing to “Veep” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Still, the success of a comedy is not measured by accolades but by the number of laughs it earned.

Here’s hoping the interactive special will make folks go back and discover what some critics call “the first great sitcom of the streaming era.” That’s a choice worth making.

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