Last year, the second season of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” ended with a very specific cliffhanger: a plan to take down the Washington Redskins.
It all starts when socialite Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) gets dumped by her billionaire husband and is determined to find another wealthy man. She begins dating Russ (David Cross), a powerful but socially inept lawyer, only to find out that he’s Russ Snyder — you know, part of the family that owns the Redskins. Jacqueline, however, is Native American and, thanks to a recently-developed social conscience, refuses to date a man whose family’s football team has such an offensive name. Luckily, Russ hates his corrupt father and brother, so he decides to collaborate with Jacqueline to bring the team down.
As promised, the third season (which starts streaming Friday on Netflix) picks up this storyline in the third episode. Jacqueline and Russ have devised a complicated scheme — dubbed “Operation: Plan” — to finally get the Redskins to change the name. At first, it hinges on keeping Jacqueline’s background a secret. “The Snyders cannot know I’m Sioux,” she tells Kimmy (Ellie Kemper). “They have to accept me as one of them, which means they have to think I’m white.”
“Oh, that’s no fun,” Kimmy says. “We’re the worst!”
While “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” goes after the Redskins name — a real-life controversial debate in Washington for many decades — the show itself has been criticized for resorting to stereotypes in its jokes about Jacqueline’s Native American heritage. In the first season, Jacqueline is embarrassed by her upbringing (and her real name, Jackie Lynn), as viewers learn she ran away from her parents and tribe to move to Manhattan.
The second season saw Jacqueline embrace her roots. When she briefly returns home to her parents, she has visions while sitting in the back of a hot car that inspire her to return to New York and start a charity for Native American causes. During her possible heat stroke, the show takes its first shot at the Redskins name: a picture of the Redskins mascot floats by as a voice cries out, “How am I still a thing?!”
Flash-forward to the second season finale, when Jacqueline is having Thanksgiving dinner with Russ and his father, Orson Snyder (Harris Yulin), an older stand-in for real team owner Daniel Snyder, and his brother, Duke (Josh Charles). All of a sudden, they don Redskins hats and jerseys and turn on the TV, where one of the announcers declares, “We are minutes away from kickoff here in Dallas, as the Cowboys prepare to take on the, uh … team that is from Washington.”
“So, you guys are Redskins fans?” Jacqueline asks, horrified.
“Honey, we’ve owned the Redskins since 1938,” Duke boasts. “You see, while the team was driving to Philadelphia for a game, they got lost on my grandfather’s land; and in exchange for the trademark, he let them live.”
“But don’t you think the name is a little, uh, old-fashioned?” Jacqueline asks.
“Exactly!” Duke says. “It’s been around forever. And I happen to respect tradition. It’s why I get operated on by my barber.”
“And the name is honoring those native guys — it’s saying they’re tough,” Orson adds. “Plus, how do you know that Redskins isn’t about potatoes?”
When Jacqueline timidly offers that some people find the name offensive, Duke cuts her off. “Whoa, Jacqueline, look, some of my best statues are of Indians. And the Redskins’ very first coach was Lone Star Dietz, a man who pretended to be Indian so that he could get out of World War I.” The family then breaks into song: “Hail to the Redskins/Scalp the other team/Celebrate with fire water/Help Germany win the war.”
So the third season sees Jacqueline and Russ kicking off “Operation: Plan” to finally expunge the team name. The show wastes no time making the Snyder family as terrible as possible. Orson, 75, tells Jacqueline he has the heart of a 35-year-old Guatemalan gardener — who died of natural causes, of course. “He fell on a shotgun — thank God we had the bathtub full of ice ready to go!” Duke exclaims.
Naturally, the plan takes some twists and turns, especially when the Snyders are actually thrilled to discover Jacqueline’s heritage. (Jacqueline: “It’s an important part of who I am.” Duke: “Yes, perfect, say crap like that! Just imagine the optics of having a Native American in the family. We’ll be bulletproof!”) So, as the show debuts Friday and the storyline gets wilder throughout the season — how will Redskins fans respond?