How ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ Did Trump-Era Politics Right

How ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ Did Trump-Era Politics Right

For “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” the least funny moment of a very funny final season came during a weird bit about Donald Trump dying on an airplane. But it was an aberration. Over the course of its four-season run, “Kimmy Schmidt” deftly applied a key ingredient of “30 Rock’s” success. Tina Fey, who created both shows, enjoys mining partisan politics for laughs, and she’s capable of doing it without using comedy as a thin pretense for DNC propaganda. Hers is a rare approach. 

Like “30 Rock,” “Kimmy Schmidt” obviously slanted leftward, but most always exhibited a similar eagerness to skewer politics more generally than just the GOP. The latter is an ascendant but lazy style that fails to acknowledge our distinctly bipartisan state of absurdity and gives comedy an unappealing air of sanctimony. Consequently, the show’s probes into controversies like Me Too were actually creative and interesting. 

“Kimmy Schmidt” was much more political than you would expect from a half-hour comedy charting a kidnapping victim’s acclimation back to normal life. While I maintain Kimmy herself was grating (not unlike the female lead of “Great News,” another Fey-Netflix venture, and even Liz Lemon at times), episodes often felt like 30-minute tornadoes across the cultural landscape, brash and energetic but sprinkled with whimsical bouts of surrealism.

The show probably didn’t get enough credit for effectively skewering the inanity of contemporary political correctness campaigns. Season Three, for instance, featured two storylines: one firmly anti-Redskins (the football team) and another that thoroughly mocked the decadent progressivism and sensitivity on college campuses. That combination is probably reasonable to a lot of viewers, though it would be unacceptably incongruent to many progressives in the industry. This show was different. 

A scene from the penultimate episode epitomized “Kimmy Schmidt’s” smarter, funnier politics. When Kimmy walks into a men’s rights protest at a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, one man shouts, “Eleanor Roosevelt gave us unrealistic expectations of cousins!” Another adds, “She should have been in the wheelchair.” One protest sign reads, “Bros-evelt before Hos-evelt.” When Kimmy decries the event’s “sexist dudes,” one protester at the edge of the demonstration turns around and exclaims, “What? We’re lesbians!”

“We want this statue to come down because Eleanor never came out!” she explains, rallying her separate crowd of anti-Eleanor activists.

After Fran, a former leader of the men’s rights group, attempts to quell the crowd’s anger, both the men and the lesbians just end up shouting him down with chants of “Fran is a girls name!” Each with very separate intentions, of course.

It would have been easy for the writers to stop at mocking men’s rights activists, but there’s something much more interesting—and much more funny—about mocking their parallels on the hard left, which exposes their obvious similarities and acknowledges a much more honest reality. Fey’s projects tend to understand the value in that. 

Even as a quirky comedy, “Kimmy Schmidt” really existed at the intersection of culture and politics. The first season dropped just three months before Trump descended the golden escalator. By the time Netflix uploaded its final stretch of episodes this year, the show had chased all the fraught cultural controversies of the era eagerly— and to good effect, forging what almost felt like a sense of unity with its bright colors and smart jabs at the absurdities on either side.

“Kimmy Schmidt” had its lulls, and sometimes dipped into bits that felt irritatingly cringey and insular. It wasn’t as sharp as “30 Rock.” But it was provocative and fun, and despite a clear leftward tilt, not bogged down by the tedious pressures of serving a partisan cause, or passing the impossible wokeness test. Netflix would be wise to lean on its example. (As would “Saturday Night Live.”)

Emily Jashinsky is culture editor at The Federalist. You can follow her on Twitter @emilyjashinsky .
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