When news broke that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt would be getting a special interactive episode, a spiritual successor to Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, fans were understandably puzzled. The sitcom had dropped its “final season” many months prior and couldn’t be more different than Netflix’s dour anthology in terms of tone. But while Charlie Brooker’s take on the choose-your-own-adventure format never quite lived up to its potential, Kimmy vs The Reverend proves there is still life in the idea and that comedy might well be its best path forward.
Put simply, this episode is able to take all of its precursor’s shortcomings and convert them into strengths. For starters, where Bandersnatch prioritised experimentation over compelling narrative, each and every branch in Kimmy vs the Reverend feels genuinely satisfying. The absurd humour of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is particularly helpful in this regard, accommodating some truly bizarre endings that still feel consistent with the wider context of the series.
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Likewise, this interactive special is able to iron out other creases that didn’t quite work the first time around. Those 10-15 second pauses in which the viewer gets to choose an option felt a tad awkward in Bandersnatch, while here they’re easily filled with one liners or visual gags. There are still early pathways that essentially go nowhere, but their presence can also be justified thanks to some enjoyable meta humour. Impressively, many choices do have a meaningful influence over how things unfold.
It took me two viewings to get to the happiest ending in Kimmy vs the Reverend, but both felt like markedly different experiences. It was surprising to see just how many unseen jokes cropped up during my second attempt, while the repeated lines were sharp enough to not lose any of their charm. Again, this is another instance where comedy just feels better suited to this format than drama, as the genre is arguably far more rewatchable. After all, most people revisit Friends or The Office more regularly than Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones.
Admittedly, the niggling feeling that you’ve missed out on certain jokes or storylines can still be a little frustrating, but it never seriously detracts from how enjoyable the episode is. In fact, this could well be considered one of the best yet, especially for longtime fans.
If season four provided a competent, albeit not hugely memorable, ending to this series, Kimmy vs The Reverend is a rousing victory lap that sends it off in style. Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess and Carol Kane are blisteringly funny as always, but the episode also incorporates a number of guest stars from the previous four seasons. It’s a real delight seeing fan favourites reappear in unexpected ways, while several callbacks make this special feel like a true celebration of the sitcom.
Kimmy finds her (literal) prince charming in the form of new addition Daniel Radcliffe, who plays sheltered British royal Prince Frederick. Abruptly springing a brand new love interest on fans was a daring move by the writers, but Radcliffe masters the zany tone of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt almost instantly, pairing brilliantly with Kemper’s high energy lead performance.
It’s remarkable that Kimmy vs The Reverend is able to make the best of its format, while staying true to its wacky sense of humour and central ideology, which is summed up beautifully by Ellie Kemper in one genuinely moving scene. It makes a strong argument for interactive television being more than just a gimmick, while providing a worthy end to one of the best sitcoms of the past decade.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs The Reverend comes to Netflix on Tuesday, 12th May – check out our list of the best TV shows on Netflix, or see what else is on with our TV Guide