"Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was Netflix’s first high-profile foray into the world of interactive storytelling, but while it was notable for its format, it wasn’t all that much fun to watch," says Jen Chaney. "The various narrative paths laid out in this tale about a video-game developer attempting to adapt a choose-your-own-adventure novel inevitably led to bleak conclusions. The approach brought some novelty to the streaming experience, but not much joy." Chaney adds: "Because Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a comedy, and one that has consistently embraced the absurd at that, there is no pressure on the movie to come up with plot points and resolutions that stand up to rules of logic. Much of Kimmy vs. the Reverend makes no sense at all, which is just fine, though I will say that the ultimate ending does bring the series full circle in a more satisfying way than the series finale did. While the movie takes full advantage of its interactive approach, it is not shy about making fun of the format at the same time. Like Bandersnatch, it gets meta at times. Unlike Bandersnatch, it doesn’t care if you think its metaness, or anything else about it, is clever."
Kimmy vs. the Reverend is in stark contrast to the letdown of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch: "Despite some rather tiresome in-jokes, it was a humourless and portentous time-waster and the ability to make token decisions along the way felt more like a distraction from what was otherwise an almost parody-level example of the show at its very worst," says Benjamin Lee of Bandersnatch. "Now while it’s unlikely to cause even a fraction of the rabid Reddit detective attention aimed at Bandersnatch and its many rabbit holes, the unhyped new release of an extended special of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt showed for me how much fun the technology can be when paired with something more befitting. It’s a throwaway experience but one that’s fully cognisant of this, poking fun at the format while providing what would have been a perfectly entertaining episode of the sitcom without the ability to pick whether Kimmy’s BFF Titus goes to the gym or takes a nap."
The real pleasure comes in seeing how many different amusing variations on the same idea Tina Fey and company can devise and execute: "Even if the whole thing is primarily an excuse to turn the deleted scenes into part of the main feature, there’s also an interesting thematic choice at play," says Alan Sepinwall. "The plot tends to advance more smoothly when you choose the options that reflect best on Kimmy and the other characters, which is fitting for a show that ultimately believes in the power of its heroine’s relentless positivity. But the good choices usually wind up being the funniest ones, too...On almost every level, this is a much better use of the concept than (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) was, and a smart way to revive a show whose story was pretty neatly wrapped up already."
Instead of fully optimizing the format to offer abundant story options, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock mostly use it to make meta-jokes: "One early 'game over' screen features Cyndee (Sara Chase) asking why they’d bring in Daniel Radcliffe for just one scene," says Emily Heller. "Characters vamp while waiting for viewers to make timed choices, which get funnier the longer you pause before deciding. There’s nothing wrong with that tactic per se. Fey and Carlock are one-liner machines whose throwaway jokes are funnier than many sitcoms’ biggest laugh lines. But while those extended choices and 'game over' screens are hilarious, the interactive format throws off the show’s rhythm — especially once the endgame is revealed."
It’s too light, too silly, and too unconcerned with characters you once cared about to be taken as the actual ending to a vaunted series: "To complain that parts of this special don’t make sense might seem beside the point — nothing about a special where you, the real person at home, gets to tell a fictional character what to do, carries any real logic — but when timelines don’t match up or potentially powerful moments are quickly disposed of, it undermines any substantial impact the special might otherwise carry," says Ben Travers. He adds that the interactive special is "not trying to be a movie, and it’s not trying to replace the ending Fey and Carlock already provided or reexamine Kimmy’s tragic past; it’s just offering a good time in a way few other TV shows can, matching its madcap creative spirit to a format that allows every joke to have a home."
This is the best-ever episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: "Kimmy vs. the Reverend is a rambunctious delight that will leaving you howling with laughter," says Meghan O'Keefe. "Through it all, though, the show puts its heart first. By the end of the special, you’ll realize that Fey, Carlock, and company love Kimmy because of her incorruptible goodness, and that’s why you love Kimmy too."
You literally can't go wrong in Kimmy vs. the Reverend: "If you choose the honorable path — for our four heroes are, on their own self-involved terms, honorable people — you will come to the perfect ending, of several possible," says Robert Lloyd. "Sometimes the dishonorable choice will seem the more apt, or potentially fun, but whatever you decide, you will be eventually nudged back in line; inferior conclusions send you back to choose again. You can’t go wrong, really."
Kimmy vs. the Reverend is impressively smart about how it tangles and untangles its narrative depending on what you choose to do with it: "The fourth wall breaks and sudden catastrophes are startling, but what makes them work is the reason why Kimmy Schmidt is particularly well-suited to a format like this: Kimmy Schmidt has always been more of a cartoon in spirit than a live-action show, with more punchlines than it could sometimes handle and a bizarro reality all its own," says Caroline Framke. "Towards the end of its original run, that absurdism became more of a crutch than an asset. But with Kimmy vs the Reverend, the show reinvigorates itself by finding more compelling ways to indulge its own rhythms and aesthetic. Spinning Kimmy Schmidt off into dozens of directions paved with countless ludicrous jokes just makes sense, and brings out the best in it, besides."
Why Tina Fey and Robert Carlock wanted to do an interactive special: “We thought (the interactive technology) really lent itself to comedy because you could make choices, allow the characters to do things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do," says Carlock. "And then you can back up and say that didn’t actually happen. We didn’t just sell out the character completely. Which is something you want to do all the time in comedy just for the sake of a joke, and have to resist.” Fey adds: "I think we all really enjoyed the puzzle of writing a story and then being able to figure out paths around it, and dead ends and diversions. I think that actually having worked with the characters for four years, it was a really exciting new challenge.”