Ellie Kemper has one of the best faces on television. I’m not talking about her looks. I’m talking about her amazing ability to say so much without saying anything at all. Face actor isn’t really the right term, but that’s what I’m always tempted to call her: a face actor. Kemper’s always on, even when Kimmy isn’t the focus of the shot. Her acting on the sidelines is something that subtly distinguishes her from your average comedy lead. It’s some of the best acting she does. New Girl’s Jake Johnson has the same talent. Amy Sedaris’s Mimi Kanasis has one of the best lines in “Kimmy Drives A Car!”: “I got the stamps! Unlike my ex-husband, they’re forever!” But if you were too busy laughing at Mimi to notice what Kemper adds to the scene, go back and rewatch. Focus on Kemper this time. Her face runs through a parade of expressions, and her timing is flawless. Kemper is fully committed all the time always.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt parodies so many different, specific facets of culture—especially ones particular to New York—but Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are particularly brilliant and hilarious when it comes to skewering the way rich people live. Throughout the series, they’ve built a richly detailed world of blimping and artisanal water. In “Kimmy Drives A Car!,” a rich lady drops her dog in a dentist receptionist’s lap and tells her to take her on a walk and make sure her Instagram stays updated. It’s absurd and accurate all at once—the perfect parody.
Jacqueline is growing a lot in season two, but she’s still the access point for that world. What’s striking about her arc this season is how, even though she is becoming more empathetic over time, she hasn’t turned into a wholly good person over night. She has buried herself in her plans to give back to her community, but she’s still a self-centered “grade A jerk head,” to borrow Kimmy’s words (to which Jacqueline replies, “oh, so the best jerk head?!”). Personal growth is complicated and not necessarily a straightforward, linear process, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt embodies a strong understanding of that when it comes to just about all of its characters.
“Kimmy Drives A Car!” does a lot of important relationship work when it comes to Kimmy and Jacqueline, and they both grow individually and together as a result. As with last episode, Kimmy becomes frustrated that she can’t quite accomplish everything she wants at once. Her friendship with Jacqueline gets in the way of her job at the Christmas store, and she doesn’t understand why she can’t both be a good friend and hold down a job. Of course, the real reason she can’t balance the two is because of the stark imbalance in her friendship with Jacqueline. This time around, Titus acts as Kimmy’s stoop crone, pointing out to her just how unfair it is that she’s always doing Jacqueline’s bidding without anything in return. We’re suddenly introduced to a deeply frustrated, angry Kimmy. She reaches her breaking point with Jacqueline and can no longer be the smiling, relentlessly selfless Kimmy that Jacqueline is used to but doesn’t appreciate. They snap and then hilariously both monologue about how mad they are at each other while in the same car together. That scene plays into the heightened weirdness of the show, but it’s still rooted in real, well developed character development. Kimmy can’t be the unbreakable person everyone wants her to be. It isn’t fair to her. It takes Jacqueline riding the bus and running into the dentist receptionist she verbally accosted the day before to realize how selfish she can be. She sees the receptionist, Linda, as a real person with problems of her own. And then she literally takes a walk in her shoes, building up to a really lovely scene between Kimmy and Jacqueline where they both agree that the terms of their relationship need to change. Jacqueline’s face lights up when Kimmy says she wants to be friends again, which is a truly touching moment, but it’s then followed by a hilarious one when Jacqueline suddenly fears Kimmy’s going to steal her look. Like Kemper, Jane Krakowski does so much in every little scene.
“Kimmy Drives A Car!” takes shots at another specific subculture: hipsters. It’s another easy target, but the episode is thorough and detailed in its approach to satirizing the lifestyles of the white, privileged, thrill-seeking millennials bulldozing their way into New York’s neighborhoods. Zosia Mamet and Evan Jonigkeit guest star as young married couple Bob and Sue Thompsteen, and everything about how they look, act, and talk adds to the joke. Even their last name—a merging of their individual last names—reflects just how committed these power-clashers are to their particular lifestyle. They rent out Titus and Kimmy’s tugboat—ahem, apartment—through Airbnb, and Lillian immediately sees them as a threat to the status quo. Lillian embodies another specific type of person: the old New Yorker who remembers the way things used to be and wants them to stay that way forever. “I like the neighborhood the way it is,” she tells Titus before greeting her ol’ neighborhood pal “meth-head Charlie.” Bob and Sue Thompsteen, as well as the sudden presence of the internet, are harbingers of gentrification. Bob got a moustache just because Michael Cera did. He’s a sneaker artist, and Sue does digital outreach for SXSW. They have tickets to see malfunctioning Chuck E. Cheese animatronics reenact an episode of Full House. “Are you now or have you ever been a member of Arcade Fire?” Lillian screams at them in horror.
It’s funny stuff, but it’s more than that. There’s something very honest and grounded about the way Lillian cares so deeply for her neighborhood. She explains to Titus, who doesn’t seem to get it at first, that some day he’ll be the crazy ol’ kook who doesn’t want things to change. She’s right. That’s part of getting older. Even more so, that’s part of being a New Yorker. Lillian has a sense of self-awareness about how crazy she’s being, but she also knows it’s coming from a good place. Her love for New York is pure and deep. We even get a cute flashback to her with her late husband Roland (played by Kenan Thompson). And when Titus goes down to the pawn shop where he and Lillian first met to buy himself some capes and is accosted by a new establishment selling vapes, he gets it. The two become united in their quest to hang onto the things that mean something to them.
And as if the episode’s skewering of the young and hip weren’t already good enough, Titus pulls off a parody of his own, impersonating the Thompsteens and their kind in his attempts to destroy them. Etch-A-Sketch in hand, Titus disguises himself with a yellow beanie, patterned jacket that looks like it came straight from Pharrell’s closet, flannel, wire-frame glasses, and a fake beard, standing guard at the back of Mabel’s, the soul food restaurant Bob and Sue want to turn into a sneakertorium. Sue sees him as a sign that there’s a secret, password-protected speakeasy in the back and immediately tries to guess the password: “Egg! Shyamalan! Ojai!” Unfazed, Titus rolls his eyes and opens the barrier to let meth-head Charlie through. “Lates, Chaz! See you at Portlandia’s for skee-ball!” Yep, Titus’s impersonation of the hat-loving hipsters is so ridiculous that it actually sounds and looks right. Again, it’s the perfect parody. But Titus and Lillian’s actions are also justified. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt isn’t just making fun of the rich Manhattanites and the entitled, idealistic young folk to be funny. It all ties into the show’s central story of identity and survival in a hostile, tumultuous city.
- Titus, when Lillian brings up her late husband Roland: “Until recently, I couldn’t even have a dead husband, so hashtag respect my journey.”
- There’s a Mentos runner throughout the episode that is way funnier than it should be. Bless this show for dropping a Mento into a Diet Coke. It was somehow both supremely dumb but also masterfully constructed physical comedy. I loved it.
- I also loved the Mentos montage at the end. Donna Maria and Kimmy holding up imaginary Mentos is a wonderful detail.
- All the bunker flashbacks this season have been really great. In this episode, we see Donna Maria teaching Kimmy how to drive an invisible car. Cyndee acts as the radio.
- Kimmy is an Uber driver now!
- Kimmy only knows the DMV is a terrible place because of her familiarity with 90s standup routines, which leads to a running gag of Kimmy impersonating a generic 90s standup comedian and people (Mimi and Titus) finding it hilarious.
- Lillian, when Titus asks for spare keys: “Why? You know our locks are just decorative.”
- Titus telling Lillian to imagine his exit with a cape is hilarious, but it’s topped later on when he tries to tell her that her exit would be better with a cape but can’t even get it fully out before she whips around and says “my hair is a cape!”
- “Do you have a resi? Vation?”