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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Is Back -- But Can Kimmy Stay Kimmy?

Show boss on Kimmy's new challenges, Titus' romance and more

Joyce Eng

Kimmy Schmidt the character is not that different from the show that bears her name.

In Season 1 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) escaped from a bunker, where she was held by doomsday cult leader Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) for 15 years, and started to rebuild her life in New York City. The show, with its 13 episodes in the can, was likewise released by NBC and moved to Netflix, which has proven to be a far more fitting home for Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's infinitely absurd and rewatchable series.

Season 2, which drops Friday, is everything you know and love about Kimmy -- wickedly shrewd, impossibly surreal and densely stuffed with one-liners, pop culture references, meta jokes, gags and wacky songs -- while expanding its scope. There are dedicated story lines for Titus (Tituss Burgess), who gets a boyfriend; Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), who adapts to being a single mom divorcee; and Lillian (Carol Kane), who gets a visit from her ex, Bobby, aka Robert Durst (Fred Armisen), and takes on gentrification. It also finds Kimmy -- still embodied with Kemper's irrepressible exuberance -- figuring out her next steps in the middle of her "fascinating transition" from cult survivor to her own free person. Her optimistic spirit hasn't dampened, but it's smartly undercut with some real-world truths, like sometimes you just have to move on (a lesson Lillian dispatches to Kimmy via a tale about New York's long-promised Second Avenue subway line).
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: See who's stopping by this season

The show found itself at a similar crossroads, as Season 2 is the first time the series was purposely produced for Netflix. And like they (probably) say in Spidermen Too: 2 Many Spidermen, with great creative freedom comes great responsibility. We caught up with Carlock to discuss how he and Fey tackled the sophomore year, why you should expect a possibly jaded Kimmy, Yuko world domination and more.

How did you guys approach Season 2? Did you feel pressure to do anything differently just because you could on Netflix?
Robert Carlock:
Not really. Even though the show was mostly conceived of for broadcast, it didn't make a lot of sense to us to approach it like, "Oh, let's reinvent the show just because we have more freedom." And the person at the center of the show is someone who's sunny and a bit naïve and doesn't lend itself to leaning on some of the freedom you're allowed on streaming, in terms of language or imagery. We really tried to continue what we did in the first 13 [episodes]. One of the ways in which we took more liberties was the length. Broadcast episodes are 21 minutes; these are 26- to 27-minute episodes. We think it allows us to tell the kinds of stories we want and the more ancillary stories had more richness and depth to them. ... We approached it with the mindset of continuing what we started and we wanted to make sure that we're doing the show that we really liked from Season 1.

Based on the first six episodes I've seen, it seems like the theme of the season is if and how Kimmy can remain her usual sunny self while adapting to the real world. And the world is just so different from her outlook and a lot more complicated. It's kind of that innocence a child loses when they grow up. Was that your goal?
Yes, definitely. What she experienced in the bunker was horrible, but it was very clear who the good guys were and who the bad guy was. The win every day was not letting the situation get to her ... or break her. The world itself is actually a lot more complicated. The series-wide theme is, can you be that person in the real world? Can you be that optimistic and good? This season is very much about challenging that. We do think her hopefully slow and hopefully many seasons-long path toward to becoming a fully realized person will be allowing for some of those gray areas that exist in the real world. It's not the black and white of good and evil like the bunker. And can she do that without, as you said, changing who she is at her core? We're hoping we can continue to pull that off. Part of that in the second half of the season is that it's not just about moving forward. Her life in the bunker and her life before the bunker continue to inform all that. She still has to deal with that stuff.

There's always that undercurrent of darkness because of her backstory, which I think you guys handle well, and I think that ebb and flow of charging ahead and looking back is very true.
I'm glad you think we handle it well because we do have to be delicate because it's always there. She would love put her head down and think because she went to Indiana and the trial that she's dealt with everything that happened to her. And she hasn't. How do you keep moving forward when you have to keep dealing with who you are? We really get into that in the back half.

Tina's now playing Kimmy's new therapist. Is she helping her deal with her past?
Yeah. ... Tina's character comes into her life in a sideways way. It's the idea of therapy and talking about these bad things and talking rather than doing. [Kimmy] needs to realize some things in her own comic way. And Tina's just hilarious. She plays this therapist who has her own issues, as we all do. Kimmy, of course, thinks, "Oh, great! You help me and I'll help you! I'm Kimmy!" A big part of that theme of "how does Kimmy deal with a complicated world?" is learning that you're not responsible for other people and you're can't necessarily fix them. Tina's in three episodes and it's a really great story.

Can Tina's new character and Marcia Clark be in the same room?
[Laughs] I think so because their hair is so different. I think we're going to spin-off Tina playing both of those characters.

You can have them watch The People v. O.J. Simpson.
Yeah! That whole thing writes itself.

Watch Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski serenade us
The third episode is your commentary on internet outrage, when Titus does a one-man show as his past-life geisha self, and it has one of my favorite lines: "The internet is like Chandler." You guys took some heat last year about Dong (Ki Hong Lee), and Jacqueline's Native American background, and you kind of double-down on it here. What was the thinking going behind this episode?

Carlock: Right. Oh my God, that line! I forgot about that! It's such a revelation for Kimmy. ... Well, the main thinking was it seemed like a funny idea of Titus thinking he is this person. It seemed like a fun variable to throw into the -- let's call it a conversation -- about identity and cultural appropriation that I think we knew in some ways that that conversation would happen. We were a little surprised that Dong, a romantic lead in a TV show, attracted that attention, and the attention with his name. ... We are in part wanting to do this show to tell stories about people who are very much on the outside. It can get complicated. We try our best to be fair and respectful. But it's also a comic show and we think these things are worth talking about in a comic context.

Some of the other somewhat heady topics you deal with this season in your loopy way are medicating children and the perpetual self-victimization of cult survivors through Gretchen (Lauren Adams), which is masked in a Scientology send-up.
Yeah, and the big theme of the series is the ways in which we're all broken. Obviously the bunker is a heavy-handed representation of what I think is true of all people. We've all got our issues and we're all trying to cope with the world. Kimmy experiences that phenomenon in an extreme way. It's about how we move forward. That episode is very much about, what if this is what you need to move forward? I don't know if Kimmy's answer [for Gretchen] is right in the real world, but for the fictional character of Gretchen, I think it is. It'll be interesting to see where we find her in Season 3. I imagine she'll have some success as a cult leader. And also breaking the glass ceiling. Isn't it time to have a female cult leader?

Yeah, you hardly see any.
Yeah. And they only get paid two-thirds of what male cult leaders get paid. [Laughs] It's cheaper. This is a joke, of course. I hope that's clear.

I really like Titus and Mikey (Mike Carlsen) together. Are they in for the long haul?
I think so. This was something we wanted to do in the first season, but we didn't have the runway. I think if we had a 22-episode broadcast season, we would've done it. Titus is in his shell of fabulousness. That's his buffer. ... His interaction with Kimmy in the first season was to have him get some traction of putting himself out there again professionally. And we wanted to explore that personally because we think he's closed off in that same way. It was really fun to get in to that. By the end of the season, every character is faced with cliff-hangers, and Titus has a new situation that intersects with his relationship with Mikey.

Is he going to get his big break?
No, not yet. The great thing about Titus is any forward movement seems like the big break in his mind. Singing at a restaurant that happened to be on Broadway was singing on Broadway for him. And Mike Carlsen is just great.

I love that you brought him back because he was on 30 Rock as a construction worker.
You know, I had to be reminded of that. He was a construction worker who heckled Liz Lemon and then he came in and read for this. Once again, he was the best heckling construction worker I had ever seen. I was reminded afterward that he was on 30 Rock. Then you do that slightly bigger scene and realize, "Oh, this guy's not just funny, he's really good and sweet." He had that interaction with Titus last year and we thought that might be an interesting way to get Titus into a relationship. And [Burgess and Carlsen] knew each other beforehand. They're friends. I think that helps.

VIDEO: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Ellie Kemper once played a pet's worst nightmare

Lillian and Jacqueline get a lot more screen time too. Was some of that leftover stuff you would've done on broadcast?
Not all. We really enjoyed doing more with them and coming up with stuff for them. Obviously it's still Kimmy and Ellie's show, but we have this great luxury of not only having more time, but this amazing cast to start to expand as we spent so much of last year establishing who Kimmy was and those immediate experiences like she was a baby. Again, where we leave off with all of them this season is really interesting. ... And we were able to get some great people in to interact with them too, like Anna Camp.

My favorite guest star is Yuko the robot. There are Yukos everywhere.
[Laughs] Yes! We wanted to do it in all of them, but I think she's in eight or nine of them. We wanted to see Yuko doing service-level jobs. My goal, which no one else on the show shares, is ultimately that the Yukos start to take over and Kimmy has to leave mankind again because of the robot army, fulfilling the reverend's prophecy. ... This year, the Yukos are nannies and dog-walkers. Maybe next year you'll see two Yukos go out on a date and realize they've started to understand feelings!

Eric Liebowitz / Netflix

I am 100 percent behind everything Yuko. Is there any Jon Hamm in the back half?
I will say the season ends with a cliff-hanger for every character, including Kimmy.

Is the reverend out of jail?
I am not going to say any more.

I'm dying for the full Daddy's Boy musical or movie. Can you make that happen?
[Laughs] Daddy's Boy does come up again, but yeah, oh my God, that would be amazing. Jeff [Richmond, the composer] would be up for that. I'll let him know that TV Guide will underwrite it.

Deal. Have you broken Season 3 yet?
We have not. We have talked a bit just as a matter of course. We have not broken anything specifically. It just kind of happened by happenstance that Season 1 ended with everyone in a new situation, cliff-hanger or not ... and everyone will be in an interesting place at the end of Season 2.

Ellie announced her exciting news last night that she's pregnant. Have you decided how to address that yet?
She's just fat now.

Very Mad Men of you.
Kimmy realizes that she no longer has a child's metabolism. [Laughs] We're going to start production later. We're going to give her a hopefully nice maternity leave and hopefully provide her a schedule where her little one can be around, but we're just going to start shooting later than we usually do.

I can't imagine Kimmy with a baby yet.
Yeah, no. We thought about it for a tenth of a second. Nope!

All 13 episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2 will be released at 3 a.m. ET / midnight P.T. Friday on Netflix.