I’ll hand it to Netflix — they know how to pick the right properties for an interactive, “Choose your own adventure”-type special.
While flawed, 2018’s “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” was a fun entry into the sci-fi anthology series. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs The Reverend” is in a similar vein — it doesn’t add much to the series, but is a fun journey with characters that “Schmidt” fans followed for four seasons.
Putting fans in control of the narrative, the show’s primary writers, which includes Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, tee up the story as Schmidt (an always bubbly Ellie Kemper), now a wealthy children’s book author, is about to get married to Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe, hilariously goofing on British stereotypes). When she discovers a book from her time spent kidnapped in an underground bunker, it sends on a quest for answers from her abuser, the Reverend (Jon Hamm, who makes comedic gold out of his character’s sleaziness).
From there, it’s on the audience where the narrative goes. Which one of Schmidt’s self-involved friends will you take on Schmidt’s adventure Titus --(Tituss Burgess) or the rising star agent Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski)? Who will sing karaoke to Frederick — Lillian (Carol Kane) or one of Schmidt’s bunker buddies? Will you take an Uber or walk? Will you listen to an restaurant jingle of the “12 Days of Tacos” or hang up? These are all in your control.
It’s doubtful that many entering into “Kimmy Vs. The Reverend” will be doing it in hopes of a strong narrative. The writers seem to realize this and give it the barest bones of a plot to string the audience on to the next choice and rapid succession of pop culture jokes and visual gags. Some decisions will drive the story, while others will cause characters to royally screw up or die (which leads to a character scolding you for making a mistake, then rewinding to the fateful decision to give the viewer another chance).
Unfortunately, when it does get serious during the climax of Schmidt’s storyline, it’s oddly dark and violent and the payoff to it doesn’t justify the weird turn. Another twist ending, involving Jaqueline, uncomfortably pokes fun at sexual assault without a clever, subversive punchline that the show is known for.
Directed by Claire Scanlon (“The Office,” “The Good Place”), “Schmidt” leans into the inherent awkwardness of an interactive episode, with actors stalling for time while the viewers chooses, or breaks the fourth wall.
If you try to get all of the special’s different endings, it will last around three hours, which should be more than enough time for fans. It likely will be a colder turn for those not used to the candy-coated world of “Schmidt,” where the jokes come at a rapid pace and the humor is bawdy and broad.
Fitting for Netflix’s model, “Schmidt” is fun and forgettable — a nice distraction for several hours with some old friends.