Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a hopeful and optimistic series, but it's not without a stinging bite either. The series is the brainchild of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, after all, and they're known for zipping from deliriously goofy to shocking social commentary and back again like no other. So Kimmy has never been all that shy about toying with the limits of political correctness. That somewhat controversial storyline about Jacqueline's (Jane Krakowski) supposed Native ancestry is but one example of their willingness to let audiences squirm while they laugh. The final six episodes of the series, which hit Netflix on Friday, continued that Feylock tradition, but one joke in Episode 9 stood out as especially cringeworthy: a fake Donald Trump made a crack about AIDS.
The episode, titled "Sliding Van Doors," took place in an imagined parallel Kimmy Schmidt universe — a world in which Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) was never abducted but instead went to see Gwyneth Paltrow's Sliding Doors, where she met Titus (Tituss Burgess). In this world, Kimmy became a hard-driving news anchor, Titus fell into a cult, Lillian (Carol Kane) became a gang lord and Jacqueline ended up having to — gasp! — work for money as a flight attendant. That's how she found herself on a flight to London with Kimmy and Donald Trump, a crass, bloated buffoon who bragged about nonsense and shuffled hamburger patties like cards before shoving them into his maw. He bragged about his work ("I make tall penis buildings. They have sex with the sky!") and lamely humblebragged ("I'm only flying on this plane because Trump airlines is too classy and successful!") And then he said something heinous: "My greatest accomplishment? Not getting AIDS from Roy Cohn." Yikes. Even Carlock, in speaking with TV Guide, admitted "that was rough."
Roy Cohn, for the uninitiated, was Trump's "fixer" — an almost unilaterally despised human being who, as conventional wisdom goes, schooled Trump in the dark arts of lying, manipulating and disorienting foes by any means necessary. Though he denied it until the end, Cohn — described as "evil" by people who knew him — died of AIDS-related causes in 1986, and many find his alignment with the man who would become president disturbing, Carlock among them.
Kimmy Schmidt by definition has been a show that's never really had much reason to wade into politics, but "Sliding Van Doors" opened up an opportunity. "Our characters were never people who day to day were thinking about who's president," Carlock told TV Guide via phone. "The tax cuts do not affect these characters. They're not that informed. That said, we did think there's got to be an episode at some point that we were going to address that maybe we were going to have the first woman president and that would be interesting for Kimmy. Instead, we got the first misogynistic bully president and we thought, 'Oh that would be an interesting thing for Kimmy to talk about.'"
When production schedules aligned, the writers found a window, but the team wanted to talk about Trump not as president but as how Kimmy Schmidt's characters had always known him, which was "a failed businessman reality show joke." The joke made it into a script, and they kept it.
The shocking crassness of Trump's joke wasn't lost on the Kimmy Schmidt team of course; though jokes about AIDS are hardly new, they've always been a nuclear land mine of a topic for comedy, expected from no-holds-barred shows like South Park rather than Kimmy Schmidt, a program that's practically family-friendly in its approach. (Kimmy, it's worth noting, had never even cursed until this episode in an alternate universe.) Carlock said the team didn't make the joke flippantly. "We talked about, 'Is it insensitive?' Our discussion was, hopefully, people would know clearly we're talking about a horrible human being and hoping it would be seen in that light."
With the show concluding, never to be seen again unless that potential movie surfaces, Kimmy Schmidt's depiction of Donald Trump was a way of making a first and final jab that summed up its sentiment about the man in no uncertain terms. "We ultimately felt like this guy [Trump] needs more shots likes this," said Carlock.
"He's not paying attention anyway. He doesn't know how to get on Netflix. "
All four seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are available to stream on Netflix.