Another winner from Netflix

by Bethany Rose

At the end of February, House of Cards returned to Netflix, bringing with it buzz and excitement from eager fans ready to binge watch the third season. But a show added just a week later deserves its own buzz.

The newest Netflix series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, debuted its entire first season on March 6th. The show’s creators are Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, who both served as producers on 30 Rock. The 13 episode season packed in a lot of story, comedy, and heart.

The story follows Kimmy Schmidt after her rescue from an underground bunker. Kidnapped at 15, Kimmy spent almost half her life trapped with three other women, brought together by “Reverend” Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. He claims he saved them from the apocalypse, and that there is nothing else remaining above ground. After the Durnsville, Indiana “Mole Women” are rescued, Kimmy decides she’s been given an amazing opportunity to finally live her life the way she wants to, so after making a Today Show appearance with the other survivors, she decides to start anew and stay in New York. The first season captures her highs and lows as she navigates her new path, meets an array of new people, and struggles with her past. Just like Kimmy’s journey, the show’s first season has its ups and downs, but the highlights definitely prevailed.


Kimmy Schmidt:

Spoilers throughout this article.

I recently read an article about two of the most popular lead female characters in recent television history: 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and Parks and Recreation‘s Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). The author argued that Liz, while possessing some positive qualities, ultimately became a character that was problematic, and that women shouldn’t necessarily aspire to be. On the other hand, Leslie’s determination was highlighted by her true passion for her job and life, and her character only got better as the show progressed, a character that was more appropriate to aspire to be like.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Created by
Tina Fey & Robert Carlock
Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane
Netflix Release Date
6 March 2015
Bethany’s Grade: A

Kimmy Schmidt is really her own character, but she possesses some of the better qualities of both Lemon and Knope. She is driven to succeed, considerate, fun-loving, and usually not afraid to speak up for herself. She views the world the way I wish I could. It could be easy to conflate her wide-eyed fascination with the world as naïve, but it is important to remember that she’s been underground, completely cut off from the world, for 15 years. When she is thrilled to find out that her phone is also a watch, it is endearing and funny, rather than annoying. And she does learn rather quickly that the world isn’t all gummy sharks and light-up sneakers, after she is robbed on her first night in New York.

I wouldn’t say that people should aspire to be Kimmy (though I wouldn’t say we should aspire to be any fictional character), but she certainly brought my cynical side back to the days when I was more excited about all the prospects of the future, and I think that her enthusiasm for life is one of the best qualities of her character and the show (this enthusiasm is emphasized with each episode title ending in an exclamation mark).

The Cast of Caricatures:

Going back to the show’s producers (Fey and Carlock), it shouldn’t’ be surprising to know that there are other 30 Rock connections sprinkled throughout the show. Some actors and crew from 30 Rock work on Unbreakable in some capacity. But the show is not 30 Rock 2.0.

Don’t be fooled by Jane Krakowski’s character, Mrs. Jacqueline Voorhees (and can I just take a moment to say that I love that her character is Mrs. Voorhees!). At first, she seems like a near replica of Jenna Maroney. She’s obsessed with money, material possessions, and her looks, and is often oblivious to the lives of everyone around her. These traits are so similar to her 30 Rock character that I kept expecting her to say she once appeared in The Rural Juror. But Jacqueline is not a carbon copy of Jenna, although if she was, I wouldn’t care.

Kimmy’s new roommate and landlord are also bright spots in the cast. I do feel that Carol Kane’s Lillian is a bit underutilized, but it’s Carol Kane, so I am just happy any time she gets screen time. Kimmy’s roommate, Titus Andromedon (played by Tituss Burgess) steals the scene almost every time he appears. His accidental viral video had me in tears, and I loved watching his rivalry with Coriolanus Burt. And that funeral performance? Don’t even get me started!

And then there are the other “Mole” Women, each dealing with their new lives in a different way. Cyndee Pokorny teaches Kimmy a valuable lesson when she explains that they really are looking for the same things out of their post-bunker lives, just approaching those goals in different ways. Gretchen views the bunker years as the best years of her life, and it is still unclear if she always felt that way or if she’s suffering from a case of Stockholm Syndrome. And Donna Maria is using her name to create her own successful business.

What could potentially be off-putting is that the characters often read more like caricatures. They are exaggerated sometimes to the point of ridiculousness, but that’s kind of the point. Something about how over-the-top nearly every character is works and adds to the humor rather than being distracting.

As my former high school librarian used to say on busy days, expect a cast of thousands. Along with the Mole Women, Kimmy’s housemates, and the Voorhees household, there are guest stars and cameos galore. Jon Hamm, Horatio Sanz, Martin Short (hilarious as Mrs. Voorhees’ plastic surgeon who can turn any foot into the ultimate sex symbol), Tim Blake Nelson, Dean Norris, even Tina Fey herself, all make appearances. Still, the show never feels overcrowded.

Humor for Everyone:

Comedy can be tough. Not everyone thinks sarcasm is funny. Slapstick tends to be polarizing. Non sequiturs can come off as confusing or clunky. The great thing about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is its success at incorporating a variety of comedy styles in nearly every episode, another aspect that the show shares with 30 Rock.

The show has pop culture humor throughout. Whether it’s solving a problem using a Babysitter’s Club book, poking fun at viral videos, or joking about Madonna and Jeopardy in the same sentence, there is no lack of pop culture quips. One of my favorites occurred at the end of the episode “Kimmy’s in a Love Triangle!”. A running joke in the episode revolved around Kimmy’s boyfriend, Logan, claiming he was a daddy’s boy. At the end of the episode, the screen changes to black and white, and, in what appears to be a scene from an older movie, actors sing a song about being a daddy’s boy. Suddenly, the song stops, the “movie” ends, and TCM host Robert Osborne says, “And that’s how the 1938 musical train wreck Daddy’s Boy ends, mid song, as the crew refused to continue working on the production.” Osborne is then shocked to learn that next up on TCM is an encore presentation of Daddy’s Boy.

Another major joke in the show revolves around Kimmy’s attempt to understand the changes of the world and her often outdated phrases and references. When she tries motivating Titus to follow his dreams, she assures him that one day he’ll be on stage performing with Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. She cannot believe her phone is a Macintosh. The jokes don’t wear thin because the world has changed a lot in the last 15 years, and while Kimmy is now an adult, she still sometimes has that youthful innocence, which makes sense since her last real-world experiences occurred when she was a young teenager.

I am a huge fan of random jokes, non sequiturs or jokes that serve no purpose other than being a funny moment of the show. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has plenty of these fun, often silly (in the best sense of the word) jokes sprinkled throughout.


The Boyfriends:

I completely understand Kimmy’s desire to share a kiss with a guy. It is another part of her life that she missed out on (it is unclear just what type of relationship there was between Kimmy and Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, and that’s not really a piece of the puzzle that needs solving). And I am glad that the man she ended up sharing that kiss with, Charles, doesn’t hold her heart for very long. He seems much too bland for the spunky protagonist. The same goes for Logan, who was charming in his own way but clearly was not the man for Kimmy when he was tasked with bringing ice to her birthday party and instead brought a box “filled” with a row of cubed frozen water. Dong seemed like her best fit. He shared Kimmy’s childlike innocence without being too juvenile or creepy. He genuinely cared about her and was one of the more thoughtful people at her birthday party. And they both share a uniquely common bond in their names. But if you’re counting that’s three men (if we’re not counting whatever we would consider Richard Wayne Gary Wayne) in 13 episodes. I don’t want Kimmy to settle down right away, but I didn’t really want her dating life to be as much of a focus in the first season as it ended up being. Still, this aspect was only mildly annoying at worst.

Episode 1: Kimmy Goes Outside!:

It has to be hard to write a pilot episode, particularly for a half-hour comedy. The first show always has so much to establish, and the exposition can sometimes distract from the comedy. There are funny moments, but a lot happens in the first episode and I did sometimes feel like I was playing catch up more than I was enjoying a funny show. In this episode alone Kimmy is freed from the bunker; decides to live in New York; goes job hunting; goes apartment hunting; meets Titus, Lillian, and a couple members of the Voorhees family; tries out the New York nightlife scene; experiences obstacles; and gets the inspiration she needs to stick to her new plan for life. Each element is important to the show and to Kimmy, but cramming all of it into one episode left me wanting for laughs. That’s not to say I didn’t laugh, but I found the laughter, smiles, and connections to characters coming much more freely in subsequent episodes than I did in the first.

So my recommendation is to watch the show. It ultimately serves up a lot of humor and is incredibly fun to watch. But if you weren’t thrilled with the first episode, give it another chance.