What all this adds up to in the first half of the fourth season, released on Netflix Wednesday, is a show perfectly tuned for a cultural moment in which darkness (not to mention toxic masculinity) feels inescapable. The six new episodes of Kimmy Schmidt are funny and weird and replete with cameos (Busy Philipps! Aidy Bryant! Greg Kinnear!). But they’re also studded with Harvey Weinstein jokes, men’s-rights activists, #MeToo moments, and throwaway punchlines about the abuse of women. “People call me Tripp, because my babysitters keep falling off boats,” a wealthy man-child (Paul Walter Hauser) says in one scene. In another, Jacqueline casually mentions that her ex-husband has cloned her, before the camera cuts to the clone (Krakowski) screaming in terror. “Whose memories are these?” she shrieks.
By the end of the last season even Kimmy had had enough, after failing in her long-cherished dream of becoming a crossing guard. The world, she concluded, was like a Vidalia onion, supposedly sweet but actually sour. “It’s a lie,” she said, “It stinks. And it makes you cry.” The series didn’t end there, because it isn’t that kind of show. Instead, Kimmy found a job working in human resources for a tech startup, where her abundant enthusiasm and quirky charm made her an asset. The fourth season opens with an ode to Kimmy’s new status as a career woman, as Krakowski sings the theme to a fake ’90s sitcom called Little Girl, Big City. “Changing her pumps at work,” Krakowski trills, while Kimmy high-fives her colleagues and slips her sneakers into a drawer. “Now you’re laughing at salad.”
The tone is still aggressively upbeat; Kimmy is smiling again. But Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt knows what time it is. There are a handful of awkward Trump jokes and typical gentrification gags before the show eases into gear, skewering the reality of the workplace for women while satirizing the pop-culture fantasy of the workplace for women. Kimmy, discovering how to stream television shows, binge-watches a series called Gals on the Town about 40-something women juggling love, work, and friendship, and becomes convinced she’s supposed to spend her Sundays brunching and getting her nails done. She also finds herself facing a sexual-harassment complaint, after her attempts to fire a male developer in a gentle “Kimmy” kind of way backfire disastrously.
It’s easy to imagine the scene infuriating some viewers, because on its face it doesn’t take sexual harassment entirely seriously. But that’s the genius of it: Kimmy’s loaded compliments and physical gestures are totally absurd. So much so that they underline how ridiculous it is for workplace aggressors to argue that women are just misinterpreting things. “I really like seeing you every day, but maybe work isn’t the best place for that,” Kimmy tells her coworker, while rubbing his back. “Maybe our friendship belongs in the night hours.” Then her pants fall off, revealing her childish underwear to the office.