Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 1 created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (3 Arts Entertainment, Little Stranger)
Starring Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane, and Dylan Gelula.
For years, the recipe for network comedy success required relatable characters, accessible locales, and a pinch of low stakes. Whether it’s Friends or Cheers, the comedy occurs in the screwball situations the writers can come up with. One character lies about something or another. A different character falls for said lie. By the end of the episode, it all resolves!
The new creation from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock finds humor from a completely different avenue.
Life after Doomsday
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt narrates the story of its titular character, trying to blend into New York culture after 15 years spent kidnapped in a doomsday bunker.
Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), as you might surmise, is unbreakable. Having recently been rescued, she and her other “mole women” make the media rounds, concluding with a spot on the TODAY show.
Drawn to the bright lights and the big city, Kimmy decides to start life afresh in the Big Apple. She finds a cheap apartment and a roommate in the struggling actor, Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess). She gets a job as a nanny for the wealthy socialite, Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski).
Most of Season 1 depicts Kimmy’s struggle with fitting in. Her cultural references are dated; her understanding of technology limited. But she’s unbreakable. Her charisma and energy influence everyone around her.
Underneath the surface, though, we see the crumbling psyche of a kidnapped woman. In fact, Fey and Carlock do a masterful job balancing that line between comedy and the serious matter of kidnapping. Kimmy ultimately wants to start over. But to do so, she may need to face the source of her fears, the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm).
Even though Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is hilarious—it feels like the vibrant, little sister of 30 Rock—the depth of sorrow and the dark underpinning of the main narrative create a fascinating structure. This show bears no resemblance to the popular comedies of the past few decades. Happiness isn’t the common thread between people. The earth is scary and full of terrors. And it’s really funny.
The Thin Line between Humor and Poor Taste
There’s a thin line between humor and poor taste. Truthfully, I am sure a percentage of those giving this show a shot might find the premise to be in poor taste; it’s difficult to imagine kidnapping as a source of comedy. But I believe Fey and Carlock hit a home run—most of the time.
The one key issue where the creators fall flat surrounds the back story of Jacqueline Vorhees. Quickly put, Mrs. Vorhees escaped rural South Dakota to run away from her heritage as a Native American. Even if its tone deaf, I can understand the position from a character development perspective. Mrs. Vorhees, like Kimmy Schmidt, has run from a former life in the attempt to define herself in a new place. But, the show hired a white actor to play a Native American. It becomes almost unbearable at one point when a few jokes are made about the general cultural tone deafness around Native Americans. The specific wording even mentions how many “Mexicans play Native American roles.”
Ultimately, the Native American storyline is a small part of the show. But it’s a distracting element, keeping an otherwise pristine show from earning an A+.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5