Netflix did it again.
In December 2018, the streaming service dropped its first interactive experience for grownups that they legally can’t call a Choose Your Own Adventure show. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch—originally intended as another episode in the show’s eventual fifth season—was a brain-melting sensation that arrived just in time to help bored viewers kill a few hours in those weirdly amorphous days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Now that every day feels like it’s between Christmas and New Year’s Eve—except, whoops, you either still have to work or you’ve just been laid off—Netflix is back with another audience-controlled time-suck.
This time, hold onto your hats, it’s a comedy.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend applies Netflix’s interactive tech to the kookiest Tina Fey co-created sitcom ever to deal with unprocessed trauma.
Bandersnatch worked in part because the curiosity factor of cutting-edge digital possibilities meshed nicely with the show’s dark futuristic themes. Kimmy vs. the Reverend has a tougher road ahead. It doesn’t have the surprise drop factor, novelty, or inherent self-referential opportunities as Black Mirror, and not only does it have to be funny to be successful, but it also ideally should find funny ways to use the technology.
Incredibly, co-writers Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, Sam Means, and Meredith Scardino totally pulled it off.
The movie picks up some time after the series-closing fourth season finale, with Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) set to marry Prince Frederick of England (Daniel Radcliffe). The creators wisely chose to set the movie up so that even viewers who dropped off after the first season can dive right in and follow along without any recap. (Though they will perhaps be slightly thrown by references to late-period Schmidt bits like Mr. Frumpus or the song “Boobs in California.”)
Fey and company play with the interactivity in a number of fun ways. Sometimes, as the viewer is making a choice, a character might vamp for time, nodding to how they appear to be waiting for something to happen. A few of the interactive options seem as though they’ve been crafted just to add an extra beat to the scene, a self-aware gag about the gratuity of this whole gimmick, but then at least one of those ends up being rather consequential. When viewers made a “wrong” choice in Bandersnatch, the show would just boot them back to the decision point after the scene played out. Here, various characters appear before an austere black background to make a meta joke or two before depositing you back to choose again. (“I just broke the fourth wall and now I gotta fix it,” says Mikey (Mike Carlsen), the construction worker boyfriend of Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) when it’s his turn.) If you make several “wrong” choices in a certain order on one key decision, a certain character addresses you from hell!
There are plenty of other little playful winks at the concept itself, but I’ll let you discover them for yourself.
What I will offer—for anyone not afraid to be slightly spoiled—is a guide to getting the funniest experience out of Kimmy vs. the Reverend, having explored just about every option over a period of several hours. Rather than present opinions on every choice you should make, which would be pointless and beyond tedious, these are suggestions on five big choices that will come up regardless of whatever other decisions you make.
Following these guidelines will cram the maximum amount of jokes into a single viewing, and still leave plenty of other choices to make for yourself.
Oh, and here’s a bonus tip: When the opening credits belatedly begin and the Skip Intro option comes up, take it. Trust me.
1. Whom to phone: Cyndee, Donna Maria, or Gretchen
This question comes up during the first scene with Daniel Radcliffe’s Prince Frederick, as Kimmy decides to call one of her former Mole Women. The eventual choice has to be Cyndee, because she has a role in the rest of the movie, but if you make that choice right away, you’ll miss out on some fun. Go for Gretchen first, and then Donna Maria . . . and then Donna Maria one more time.
2. Going to Indiana: Take Titus or Jacqueline
In the very next scene, Kimmy needs to decide which of her friends she’s going to bring to Indiana to meet with Reverend Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm.) Again, the eventual choice has to be Titus, for the sake of the story. If you pick Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), though, you see where that road will lead (along with a familiar face from the series) before getting automatically dropped back to Kimmy picking Titus instead.
3. Going to Frackwater: Wait for Mamadou or Walk to Town
Several scenes later, right after Kimmy’s bachelorette party, from which Kimmy is absent, she and Titus are faced with either waiting for Uber driver Mamadou or walking into town. One last time, for this list, walking to town is inevitable, so you’re going to want to wait for Mamadou. Twice. As a general rule, if you make a binary decision during this movie and get a chance to make the same mistake again, do it.
4. Jacqueline Stalls: The Wardrobe or The Script
In the next scene, Jacqueline has to come up with a lie for why Titus is not coming out of his trailer on the film set he is actually far away from. (It makes sense in context.) Does she blame the wardrobe or the script? This is a tough choice because it affects multiple scenes going forward. If you feel like devoting the time to really explore this movie, both options are fun. In terms of best single viewing, though, while choosing wardrobe leads to more screen time for Saturday Night Live’s Heidi Garner (whose role is otherwise reduced to background extra), in terms of pure jokes, you’re gonna want to pick script.
5. Titus in the Woods: Follow Kimmy or Woodland Banquet
Finally, I must insist, just this once, that you do take both choices, even though neither is a “wrong choice” that boots you back to an earlier moment. One of them represents a happy ending for Titus, and the other is something you absolutely just have to see. Go with Woodland Banquet first, and then go back and follow Kimmy afterward. Netflix makes it easy to do, placing a Previous Choices section at the bottom of the screen if you hover your cursor near the bottom of the screen. Of course, when the movie ends shortly thereafter, you might just decide you want to do the whole thing over again and see what you missed.
Now that Netflix has successfully tried out interactive versions of comedy and future-shock drama, there’s only one clear option where to go next: Let us decide who lives and dies on season four of Ozark.