Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is Tina Fey’s tour de force, delivering great comedy, social commentary, and a light in the darkness of the world.
It’s a testament to co-creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock that it wasn’t until the final episode of the solid premiere season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) that I asked my (usually sensitive) self “Is this distasteful?”
From the first minute of the premiere’s joyous, weird, giggle-inducing intro theme (which explains every single thing this show wants to say about our culture current in a 45 second nutshell) it was clear that they were going for it. NBC never understood 30 Rock, and they were never going to get this show, either. It’s perfectly designed for the Netflix audience, the audience who’ve largely left the dominant media forms and delivery methods behind, a new kind of public that is never going to be a Neilson family but is, rather, organically and meaningfully active in a two-way conversation in the digital media of today. These guys get us, and we get them. Liz Lemon and all her Muppets have been unleashed in New York City again, this time without the framework of the show within a show/workplace comedy that 30 Rock was built on, instead, taking the endless scroll of the confused 24 hour news cycle and elevating it, with not a little daring, into what The Atlantic has called “the rise of empathetic comedy” .
Unbreakable is a fantastic word for a show created in an increasingly dystopian world. Somehow, over the past decade, Reality TV took over, spreading toxicity throughout real culture while it devoured most of the prime time schedule of our beloved entertainment at all levels of quality AND infected much of the formerly staid world of news programming. Unbreakable can be appreciated and enjoyed without any feminist reading, though for the encouraging numbers of men who appreciate and watch this and 30 Rock, hats off to you for just being good goddamned men who recognize talent without any politicizing required. for this is the truest move toward equality. The show’s creators are talented enough to transcend a bunch of freakiness and true ugliness of this world into Art. Kimmy Schmidt takes the tried and true fish out of water comedy formula to technicolour cartoon heights, with an adult woman in light up running shoes. And it works.
In the capable hands of Tina Fey, Unbreakable takes a comedic look at the casual entertainment of true crime and the cases where the unlikeliest survivors are found after decades, expressing a point of view that is effectively mixed in a mash up with our shared hope that women can just leave weird polygamous sects because “females are STRONG as HELL!” The ugly underground currency of what makes news and what we do with it, is, for at least these 22 minutes, no longer a place of fear and oppression. Not today. It’s a time to rejoice, while it’s also an opportunity to hold a survivor as a mirror up against the silliness that people casually overshare as they still manage to be unhappy and unsatisfied in an extremely privileged world. The epically named Jacqueline Voorhees, Jane Krakowski’s pitch-perfect lampoon of an Upper East side trophy wife, does a lot of heavy lifting as Kimmy’s foil.
This show succeeds in large part due to the perfect delivery of the lead actor, Ellie Kemper, who plays a spin on her unsinkable sunny minor character on The Office (U.S.) but, as Kimmy, shows her teeth. She’s a survivor who’s also been born tough. She’s Mary Tyler Moore for the post modern Millennial era. She can turn the world on with her smile – a smile that saved her from not only succumbing to “Hulkamania” in her years underground (and curing others) but is also a key defensive weapon we can all recognize as we navigate everyday peril in the big city. This wacky hero has a will of steel and a strong streak of creativity that is truly endearing. Aided with charm by Tituss Burgess as her new BFF/roommate, Kemper’s Schmidt is the rarely seen softer side of Liz Lemon with different armour and different coping strategies. She seems like Tina Fey with the gloves off, delivering a K.O. with ease. In response to all the anti-heroes we have before us as the main menu of television today, Kimmy is the anti-anti hero. She’s unbreakable (GODDAMNIT) (AND ALSO, JUST LIKE YOU). It’s hard to imagine many actors who could make this particular character fly this well, and there’s some kismet at work here, the kind of magic that shows up once every few years, in that rare good news story that gets priority over the day to day darkness that we consume with breakfast.
(Songify This extended remix)