11 March 2015
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a lot like that theme song: at first a little annoying, then surprisingly catchy, before you suddenly realize how smart it is.
I mainlined the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I couldn’t have done episode by episode recaps if I’d wanted to. Despite being originally created for NBC’s normal lineup, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt thrives on the binge-watching of Netflix’s formula. The characters pop more when hung out with for longer. The jokes feel faster, fuller, and more profound. And at only 13 episodes, the show never wears out its welcome.
Unbreakable Kimmy… ugh, can we just agree that I’m going to call this show Unbreakable and we’ll all agree not to confuse it with Unbreakable?
Unbreakable stars Ellie Kemper as a woman who spent her formative years (age 15-30) trapped in an underground bunker with three other women under the thrall of cult leader/DJ Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. In the first episode, she and the other women escape, and Kimmy decides to take off to New York City.
She moves in with Titus Andromadon (30 Rock’s scene stealing Titus Burgess),who is a shut in would-be Broadway star. She gets a job (ostensibly as a nanny, but the kid is just a pretense) with Jaqueline Vorhees (Jane Krakowski, playing a softened version of Jenna Maroney). And most episodes follow a formula of her proving just how Unbreakable she is, while the people around her act ridiculous.
Like 30 Rock, the show takes place in a heightened universe, filled with improbably light tragedy and ridiculousness. It feels sweeter, but that’s mostly a virtue of Kemper’s unbreakably optimistic spirit. The show probably has a more optimistic outlook than 30 Rock, but it’s hiding some unmistakable social bite and tragedy behind its popping pink colors and cheery soundtrack.
Titus provides some of the best social commentary about being a black, gay male in New York City that I’ve seen on a mainstream sitcom in years – he just does it in werewolf makeup. And Kimmy’s story is a biting critique of the way we view victimhood and women in the mainstream news media – but we almost miss it because of her bright yellow sweater and prat falls. And it’s almost easy to miss it, but this is one of the few shows I’ve ever seen where there’s not a single regular played by a white, straight male.
The show isn’t perfect. I found the character of Kimmy’s would-be step dad (Tim Blake Nelson) too stupid to be funny, and pretty much every scene with him in it made me cringe. An early love interest is quickly dispatched for being too boring (goodbye Josh, I mean Charles). The plot takes a while to really get going. But the journey is unique and fun in a way that network comedy just cant be these days.
None of this, of course, is shocking. A friend of mine said recently that Tina Fey could make a show about an ice cube melting and the critics would still probably rush all over themselves to proclaim it brilliant. But the level of difficulty that Fey and her co-creator Robert Carlock have taken on legitimately shocks me. They could have gotten a series order with much less on their minds. Heck – Fey’s film career has mostly been filled with middling comedies that don’t take on too much. Instead, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is boundary pushing, zany fun, starring a diverse roster of talents and a most impressive guest star cast.
Instead of making mindless studio comedy, or a fun switch on her original show, she gave us a show about the way trauma warps our perception of our universe, be that Lifetime Movie Style trauma (kidnapped by a cult, cheating husband), unfortunately all too real trauma (homophobia, racism, sexism, rejection), or absolutely absurd trauma (being replaced by a robot, battling a mad scientist for a monologue). It’s a complicated look at pluck and coping and faking it.
It’s also funny as hell. In the end, I’ll leave you with the best testament to just how awesome Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is.
It is a joke a minute factory. Here are a few of my favorite gems:
“You know high heels were invented by a man, Kimmy. Because women never invented anything.”
“1996 called. It want it’s clothes back.”
“2090 called. You’re dead and you wasted your time on earth.”
“Thank you victims.”
“The only place I cant find is the opening for my favorite show: Six White Complainers.”
And the entirety of Pinot Noir. Seriously. Enjoy.