The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt writers (many of whom are alumni of the comedy juggernaut 30 Rock), have a reputation for risk-taking that has at times gotten them into hot water. Yet, they have never shied away from controversy, and in Kimmy Goes to a Play! the writers seem to embrace that controversy and criticism head-on, with questionable success.
The episode centers on Titus and his new one-man show (the cleverly titled ‘Kimono You Didn’t!’) – in which he explores his past life as a Japanese geisha. As Murasaki, Titus dons a plus-size kimono and the always-taboo yellow-face make-up, infuriating an Asian-American internet message board (The Forum To Advocate Respectful Asian Portrayals In Entertainment) in the process, rightly so.
Kimmy, who is eager to help her friend, invites the group to a viewing of the play, with the rationale that they will love the play, if only they set aside their objections and watch it uncritically. The group does agree to attend, but with the intention of jeering the show. Eventually, however, the critics come around, impressed with Titus’ performance.
The episode is clearly a reaction to the controversy which erupted in season 1, surrounding Jane Krakowski’s portrayal of a Native American character. However, the episode seems to miss its mark. While the writers may be trying to get laughs out of the controversy, they have simply amplified the problematic nature of an otherwise great TV program. The viewers, critical of the portrayal of a Native American character by a white woman, aren’t overreacting, and while the show is otherwise excellent, that doesn’t excuse its problematic elements. The writers, asking the viewers to be more nuanced in their criticism should also shine the light on their own writing. After all, this is a comedy (in my opinion an otherwise great comedy program) that could sometimes use more nuanced writing, our of respect for the audience.