How 'Kimmy Schmidt' Takes Aim at Peak TV

The Netflix comedy skewers the increasing number of shows and platforms multiple times in the first half of its fourth season.
Courtesy of Netflix

[The following story contains spoilers for the first half of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's fourth season.]

When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt dropped the first half of its fourth season last Wednesday, the Netflix comedy joined an increasingly crowded landscape of TV series and platforms on which to watch them.

And in the six episodes released last week, the Tina Fey- and Robert Carlock-created series takes aim at the Peak TV era of which the show itself is a part.

The skewering begins early on, in the first episode, as Titus (Tituss Burgess), desperate for a high-profile acting job to impress his ex-boyfriend Mikey (Mike Carlsen), whines that his newly minted agent, Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) can't get him a job on a TV show when there are so many options. In fact, in the Kimmy Schmidt world, TV Guide looks like a phone book. Flipping through it, Jacqueline observes that "these shows all sound fake," citing Billions, SMILF and Shameless as particularly unreal-sounding series.

Titus muses, "Maybe you should lie and say I'm in one of those shows. Who would even know?" But Jacqueline has a better idea: They say he's the star of a fake show, on a nonexistent channel, and create mock posters for it that they strategically plaster around Mikey's workplace.

The ruse works so well that Titus ends up inviting Mikey to the "set," where he manages to convince the real Greg Kinnear to do a fight scene with him. And Kinnear's impressed, too, so much so that he offers Titus the chance to write his fake show as a real pitch for YouTube Brown, a riff on YouTube Red, which reappears later in the season when Titus ends up pitching the execs at the nonexistent streaming service, who in turn, find him so entertaining they offer him a chance to star in "Katherine Heigl's second-to-last chance," which one of the execs says is "going straight to series, pre-canceled."

In previous seasons, Kimmy Schmidt has poked fun at Broadway shows and Beyonce's Lemonade, so why take aim at the small screen in season four?

Co-showrunner Carlock tells The Hollywood Reporter that it's merely a product of how Titus has progressed, or wants to progress, in his career.

"Now that Titus is in that world, and having brought Jacqueline into it a little bit, and wanting to move Titus forward — always two steps forward, one-and-three-quarter steps back — and expose him to a broader world in terms of his career and his aspirations, it seems sort of inevitable that we would talk about that stuff," Carlock says. "It's impossible to talk about a character who wants to be an actor and not talk about the state of play right now, which is overwhelming."

While many of the jokes are amusing to anyone watching Netflix or paying at least some attention to the TV landscape, there are a few deeper cuts, including Titus' informing Mikey that despite the dramatic elements in his show, "We're gonna submit [it for Emmy consideration] as a comedy 'cause it's a half hour."

But Carlock explains that he and Fey weren't concerned their audience wouldn't get some of the more inside jokes after having previously skewered show business in 30 Rock.

"If Tina and I had been smart enough to be concerned about that, we wouldn't have gotten through 30 Rock," he says. "We wouldn't have written anything."

Carlock previously revealed to THR, and Netflix confirmed, that the second half of Kimmy Schmidt's fourth and final season would air in 2019, and would be more like a shortened fifth season, with the prospect of a movie finale still "very much alive."