Gentrification woes carry ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ through its final season

Lillian (Carol Kane) goes out with a bang in the final season of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." 
Lillian (Carol Kane) goes out with a bang in the final season of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."  Photo Credit: Jessica Siskin

Warning: “Kimmy Schmidt” season 4 finale spoilers ahead.

In four seasons, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have turned their “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” into an Emmy-nominated comedy that simultaneously stretches the bounds of practicality and provides keen commentary on life in NYC.  

Grounding the series in issues actual New Yorkers (who weren’t trapped in a bunker for 15 years) care about is the wacky gentrification-fighting landlord Lillian Kaushtupper, brought to life by Carol Kane.

“I find her completely retable,” says Kane, 66. A New York resident since the early ’70s, the actress explains it’s been “a joy” of hers to cry out passionately through her character’s voice of the changes happening to her city.

Carol Kane stars as Ellie Kemper's landlord in "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
Carol Kane stars as Ellie Kemper’s landlord in "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." Photo Credit: Netflix/Eric Liebowitz

“I find it very distressing that every neighborhood is basically turning into every other neighborhood, that it’s just getting completely generic,” she adds, spewing out a line that may as well have been written for Lillian.

As Kimmy Schmidt’s (Ellie Kemper) landlord, Lillian faces firsthand the impact rising rents and corporate big-brands can have on New Yorkers who’ve watched their neighborhoods transform.

It’s an issue she’s helped bring to the table in the series that’s hardly been one for realistic scripts. Lillian has run for City Council to stop a plan to improve living conditions in her fictional neighborhood of East Dogmouth, opposed the arrival of a Whole Foods-type grocery store “Big Naturals” and tied herself to a construction site in protest.

“We used to have such specific, remarkable varying neighborhoods and there are still little pockets, but more and more things are becoming the same,” Kane says of her own NYC experience. “I guess that’s called gentrification, right?”

In the last few episodes of the series’ fourth and final season, now on Netflix, Lillian carries her gentrification concerns through with a redemptive bang.

"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" may become a television movie. 
"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" may become a television movie.  Photo Credit: Netflix/Eric Liebowitz

Fighting to the very end for her beloved East Dogmouth (somewhere near Harlem) that’s been slowly redeveloped, Lillian chases away man-bun-wearing hipsters, throws up a fist (or a slightly stronger gesture) at “coming soon” signs for “nine banks” and eventually makes a statement so big, it puts her own life at risk.

“It’s going to keep on going,” Kane says, of the anti-gentrification tie-in in the final episode. “Everything’s going to change for all of us, living in my tugboat.”

Faced with the possibility of losing her apartment — or “tugboat,” as Lillian calls it — she ends up crafting the ultimate New York ending for the series: refusing to leave her apartment as it’s blown-up for reconstruction.

“There’s extreme, drastic, unforeseen changes, but we all survive,” Kane says, adding that she couldn’t have been more satisfied with the dramatic ending written for Lillian. “I think the vision they had for what would happen to me was just so beautiful, crazy, unique and perfect.”

Though the explosion — which, yes, Lillian survives — marks the end of the Netflix series, Kane refers to it as “the beginning of a new life.”

Quite possibly, that “new life” could come in the form of a “Kimmy Schmidt” finale movie. Though unconfirmed, Kane says she knows the script is being written but is “being extra careful” in the off chance it falls through. The network was unable to provide an update on the film’s status.

“You know, I know they’re writing it. So, I should be saying it’s a definite, except I am a union member for 52 years, so I always try to remind myself to believe it when it’s really happening, instead of anticipating,” she says. “You know, life brings many changes. Sometimes things don’t happen.”

For now, the actress says she’s looking onward to “a couple of bizarre little” projects — an untitled HBO project featuring former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Fred Armisen and an upcoming zombie film by director Jim Jarmusch, “The Dead Don’t Die,” starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Tilda Swinton.

“I’m slowing down in the sense that I don’t have a steady schedule,” she says, “but I have been fortunate enough to be involved in other things and have high hopes to continue [acting].”