It’s finally here. Any self-respecting 30 Rock fanatic has been counting down the days to the premiere of Tina Fey and fellow 30 Rock creator Robert Carlock’s new Netflix sitcom, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and thankfully, it definitely does not disappoint. In this wacky, adorably silly comedy, Fey’s sharp wit and social commentary shine through brilliant writing and a perfectly tailored cast.
Kimmy, played by the effortlessly cutesy Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids, 21 Jump Street), has just been rescued from an apocalypse cult along with three other women after being trapped in an underground bunker for fifteen years. You know, your classic sitcom plot! Leave it to Fey and Carlock to use such a dismal storyline to create a hilarious opportunity for commentary on society, feminism and believing in oneself. Kimmy’s bubbly personality is a breath of fresh air, creating a protagonist that you can’t help but love from the very first episode. Since she hasn’t seen the outside world since the mid 90s, Kimmy has an endearingly naïve interpretation of technology and society in 2015 and a love for outdated slang.
What makes this show so tight are the extremely well-developed and memorable secondary characters. Titus Andromedon (played by Titus Burgess), Kimmy’s roommate in her NYC apartment, is a flamboyant diva who is constantly striving to make his Broadway dreams a reality. He delivers some of the most quotable lines in the show, such as, “I’m pretty but tough, like a diamond, or beef jerky in a ball gown.” His attempt at music video stardom is hilariously over-the-top, and I challenge anyone not to have “Pinoooooot Noir” stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
The character of wealthy socialite Jacqueline Voorhees holds a lot of similarities to 30 Rock fan favorite Jenna Maroney, which is a bit of a shame, since Jane Krakowski is really not challenged as an actress, unable to showcase other facets of her talent. Even so, she manages to bring a new flair to the superficial ditz she plays so well. Jacqueline employs Kimmy as a nanny to her children Buckley and (the brilliantly named) Xanthippe. As Jacqueline teaches Kimmy a thing or two about how to be well-adjusted in New York, Kimmy explores Jacqueline’s sensitive side and breaks down her walls. The episode where the two join a spin class offers the perfect commentary on the cult-like craze of group fitness classes and society’s obsession with health and fitness. Plus it’s downright laugh-out-loud funny watching guest star Nick Kroll as enthusiastic spin instructor Tristafé simultaneously praising Kimmy and screaming at Jacqueline in the same sentence.
The series is packed with so many juicy jokes and recurring gags that it will take three or four viewings to fully catch them all. One of the best recurring moments is everyone’s vehement insistence on offering bottled water to guests and clients. It’s a perfect example of the eager-to-please mentality that also forays into a critique on wastefulness; Jacqueline has a fully stocked refrigerator specifically dedicated to water and when Kimmy politely declines upon being offered one, Jacqueline promptly throws it in the trash. Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it visual gag indicative of Fey’s trademark joke style is the headline at the bottom of the news report when the girls are rescued that reads “White Women Found”, then underneath that in smaller print, “Hispanic women also found”.
Tina Fey’s feminist angle comes through loud and clear in a very smart way. While there is never an overt “angry feminist killjoy” vibe (think Lena Dunham on Girls), the main lyric of the theme song – “Females
are strong as hell” – is definitely the theme of the series. Kimmy’s optimism and go-getter attitude are inspiring and support the claim that a strong, confident woman can do anything she sets her mind to. The feminist-natured jokes are some of the strongest and funniest. One such gem is when Xanthippe calls Kimmy a bitch, and she responds with “A female dog? The thing that makes puppies? Nice compliment!” The show is also overflowing with hilarious guest stars (including Ms. Fey herself), who often reinforce the absurdity of the misogyny or the attention on female physicality. Save for his trademark style of comedy, Martin Short is utterly unrecognizable as the ridiculous plastic surgeon who insists on getting rid of Kimmy’s “scream lines” before she finally snaps out of it and gives an anesthesia-laden speech on positive body image. In the interest of not spoiling the surprise, I will just say that the actor who plays the chauvinist reverend who locked the girls in the bunker is no stranger to surprising comedic roles and he knocks this one out of the park.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt may confuse at first if you’re not prepared for a firestorm of quirkiness and absurd situations, but it really hits its groove by the third episode and it’s only uphill from there. While it is true that the show feels clearly “written” – aka the dialogue is not necessarily natural and there is an abundance of one-liners and gag jokes – that is what makes the show so quotable and stays true to Fey and Carlock’s style.
All thirteen episodes of the first season are available to stream on Netflix.