How 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' pulled off its incredible 'Lemonade' parody episode
Eric Liebowitz / Netflix
"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" put a lot of consideration into its homage to Beyoncé's internet-breaking "Lemonade" album and film (or, if you prefer, "visual album").
"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" stars Ellie Kemper as Kimmy, who has restarted her life in New York City after being held captive for 15 years by a crazy cult leader. Kimmy's over-the-top roommate is Titus (Tituss Burgess).
"Titus very rarely lets people see the real Titus and I think Kimmy is someone who gets to see that over the years," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" cocreator Robert Carlock recently told Business Insider. "A big goal for Titus this season is kind of taking that armor of fabulousness off, but not at the expense of the character and what he was going through."
On the second season of the Netflix comedy, which debuts Friday, Titus hits a rough patch with his boyfriend Mikey (Mike Carlsen) and they end up breaking up. The show's producers knew that Titus would need to express his feelings about the relationship's end in an epic way.
"We asked ourselves how Titus would deal with this kind of thing," Carlock said. "He would have to express it with the fabulousness of Beyoncé. So in the same way that visual album told a story, we wanted to use it as a framework to tell Titus' similar journey. So to us that was his story in the episode and it wasn't going to be just a little copy of 'Lemonade.'"
The show went all out. Cocreator Tina Fey wrote the episode and her husband, composer Jeff Richmond, wrote and composed the episode's songs.
"We had a lot of meetings about what visual things do we want to try and parallel to make that connection the real album deals with and connecting into the similar journey Titus has," Carlock said.
Helmed by veteran TV director Tristram Shapeero, the episode parodied the underwater opening for "Hold Up" by shooting at a Jewish Community Center's pool and replacing the women from Beyoncé's take with Barbie dolls, which Titus collects on the show. The show also shot with an actual city bus at its soundstages in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
"Tristram Shapeero also directed the pilot and has done a bunch of episodes for us," Carlock said of the director. "He just went in with a very clear plan about how to do our version."
In the same vein of Beyoncé's project, the show producers wanted to keep the parody secret. It was tough and almost got out while they were shooting on the street in Brooklyn. Someone from a local business posted a few seconds of Burgess in the yellow dress on Instagram.
"One of our producers went to the business and asked them to please take it down, which I think they did very nicely," Carlock said. "We didn't want that to get out too soon. But it's tricky to be walking around Brooklyn breaking car windows in a giant yellow dress and try to keep it a secret. Although, you know, New York absorbs that kind of stuff pretty easily."
Watch part of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's" take on "Lemonade" below: