Meet The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt And Watch Her ShowPosted: March 8, 2015
Kimmy Schmidt (both the character and the show) reminds me very much of comedian Kyle Kinane: a metric ton of bleak and horrifying non sequiturs falling under an overarching sense of optimism and hope. While I would probably never under any other circumstances associate the underappreciated Kinane with Tina Fey or Ellie Kemper, in this situation it seems appropriate. In their new Netflix-not-NBC series, Fey and Kemper (along with co-creator Robert Carlock and a great collection of collaborators) have built a show that is both sweetly optimistic and empowering and also aggressively dark with its humor, often in such quick bursts that you get whiplash trying to keep up with it. A great follow-up to 30 Rock from Fey, and a perfect starring vehicle for Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt might be my new favorite sitcom.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is built on a foundation of tension between two major elements of the show: the personality of Kimmy Schmidt herself, and the very dark and twisted backstory that incites and defines much of the story proper. The tension between these two polar opposites sets a very heightened tone, which Fey, Carlock and company take full advantage of to create a world that is even more cartoonish and bizarre than 30 Rock’s (no easy feat, that). And like the dichotomy of Kimmy and her backstory, this world regularly walks a tightrope between absurdity and pitch black humor. The resulting unpredictability certainly helps the show stay funny, as you never know what exactly might happen next even in an otherwise stock situation.
This is further supported by a very concise cast of wild and entertaining characters besides Kimmy herself. There’s her roommate Titus, a black & gay street performer still looking for his big break, and their landlord Lillian, a scatterbrained-to-the-point-of-insane older woman. Not to mention Kimmy’s boss Jacqueline, an unstable but ultimately decent-hearted trophy wife. All of these characters (and several recurring characters besides) are constructed in a way that allows for moments of grounded human emotion and hysterical, off-the-wall antics, and fit right in with the ping-pong tone of the show very well. The cast is particularly game for whatever insanity is required of them, in ways that both resemble and play against the roles they are previously known for.
With all of these characters, there is a unifying theme of escaping and confronting your past, and how important that can be to being happy. For Kimmy, of course, there’s her time in the bunker, and she spends much of the show trying to hide and run away from that part of her life, even as she struggles to find an outlet for her trauma, but this also comes into play for her friends as well. Jacqueline is revealed to be a Native American who has changed her appearance to blend in as a white person, wanting to be part of “normal” culture. Titus is hinted to have a wholly different life in Mississippi before he came to New York, and when we first meet him he has allowed his failures to scare him away from his dreams. Even Lillian, who we spend less personal time with than the others, seems to have a lot of darkness in her past that she keeps under wraps. But as the season progresses, many of these characters come to realize that they cannot move toward the future they want until they deal with the past that they have, all of which comes to a head in the final few episodes.
Also mixed in with all of the above is a recurring motif of female empowerment, and how women are constantly subjected to male-determined social structure in ways large and small. Most of this is revealed through the prism of Kimmy’s time having been abducted by a male psychopath and forced into a cult. As Kimmy finds her way in the outside world, she finds herself identifying with the struggles of the women around her in surprising and depressing ways. Through her eyes, we can see all of the more subtle ways that women are told to value themselves and each other, and how much of this perspective stems from men dictating terms to women. What makes it all so impactful is how often the parallels between Kimmy in the bunker and modern gender roles will sneak up on you. One of the show’s strengths is taking something mundane and commonplace like a spin class and smartly turning it into a parallel of Kimmy’s cult experiences. It’s certainly not a surprising focus coming from Tina Fey, but it is particularly effective. It allows both for some great cultural commentary but also for lovely character moments, as Kimmy and her friends pick each other up and help each other past their subservience to these social structures.
With all of this in mind (and a lot more that I need a rewatch to fully appreciate) I absolutely cannot wait for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s next season, and really hope it will get many more after that. What is particularly intriguing here is that this first season feels like a perfectly-calibrated standalone story, with so much of the show coming together as part of one or two major story threads that are all more or less resolved by season’s end. Now that these plot lines are essentially over, I’m beyond curious what the next season will do with this lovely group of oddballs. Whatever it is, you can be sure I’ll be there, and I hope you all will be too.