Created by 30 Rock’s Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt comes to Netflix just in time for you to finish binge-watching House Of Cards and start binge-watching this super endearing new comedy.
The series follows Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), the survivor of a doomsday cult. Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne kidnapped Kimmy when she was in 8th grade, keeping her in an underground bunker with three other women who he also abducted and brainwashed. The pilot begins as the women are being rescued and brought back out to the world after 15 years of imprisonment.
Now, abducting women and holding them captive doesn’t really sound like the stuff of a comedy, but that’s what makes the Kimmy Schmidt pilot such a surprise. It’s a relentlessly upbeat sitcom that also has a lot of smart stuff to say about the way we treat people we perceive to be victims, surviving, and reclaiming your identity. The trauma experienced by these women is never mocked. Instead, it informs the characters in believable and powerful ways. The pilot immediately, directly, and repeatedly challenges the notion that Kimmy is a victim. As the mole women leave their interview with Matt Lauer, a production assistant hands them gift bags and says, repeatedly “thank you, victims!” It’s a perfect example of how the pilot script uses jokes to uncover smart truths: People only see these women as monolithic “victims,” which reduces their identities and obscures the complexity of the trauma they endured. “Everyone in Indiana is just going to look at me like I’m a victim, and that’s not what I am,” Kimmy tells her fellow mole women directly.
So Kimmy decides to stay in New York City. There, she meets her new roommate Titus (Tituss Burgess, whom 30 Rock fans will remember as the breakout star D’Fwan in “Queen Of Jordan”) and Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski), an over-the-top rich Manhattan mom who hires Kimmy to watch her son. Kimmy’s interactions with both are great, and Kemper plays the character’s earnestness and enthusiasm with infectious charm.
Early promos for the show had Kimmy looking, at times, like Jessica Day back in season one of New Girl. Those early days of Jessica had her looking like an idiot baby, and the jokes relied on mocking her cluelessness. New Girl eventually corrected that, but in the case of Kimmy Schmidt, the writers already have found ways to make Kimmy look innocent but never dumb.
The writers seem more invested in building Kimmy up instead of tearing her down. Yes, she eats candy for dinner and gets a burst of unadulterated joy from things as simple as running outside, automatic sinks, and public transportation. But it’s because these things are all genuinely new to her. And don’t mistake her childlike wonderment for weakness. Kimmy is, after all, unbreakable. Titus tells her to pack her bags and go back to Indiana, but all it takes is a quick reminder of her resilience to get her to turn around and not only decide to stick it out but also get Titus to not give up either. Over the course of the episode, she sheds some of the markers of her past—like the purple Jansport she clutches for the first half of the pilot—as she tries to redefine herself.
So right off the bat, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a great protagonist leading the way. But I should also mention that this pilot is really damn funny, too. Though the tone is much different, the humor is just as sharp as Fey and Carlock’s 30 Rock. The pilot gets a lot of mileage out of Kimmy’s slightly out-of-date references—Moesha, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson. Though she doesn’t get much play in the pilot, every word out of Krakowski’s mouth is hilarious (“You’ll need to make a cake that’s cute but also paleo”). And there’s also more subtle jokes outside of the dialogue. The chyron over the news report when the women are found, for example, reads “BREAKING NEWS: WHITE WOMEN FOUND” and then, in smaller text underneath “Hispanic woman also found.”
“Kimmy Goes Outside!” does everything a comedy pilot should, setting a clear tone for the series and also letting us get to know its main characters quite intimately in a short amount of time. The conversation between Titus and Kimmy about his past in Mississippi contains a lot of exposition, but you hardly notice it because of Burgess and Kemper’s comedic chemistry. There’s even, for lack of a better term, a clear thesis statement for the series: “Life beats you up, Titus,” Kimmy says. “It doesn’t matter if you got tooken by a cult or you’ve been rejected over and over again at auditions. You can either curl up in a ball and die… or you can stand up and say we’re different. We’re the strong ones, and you can’t break us.”
- Welcome to TV Club reviews of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt! No doubt some of you unbreakable binge viewers will have already finished the entire season before this first review even goes up. I don’t blame you! It was hard for me to not just let autoplay do it’s thang when I finished the pilot. But if you want to follow the episode-by-episode coverage, I’ll be trying out a binge-friendly schedule: one review a day for 13 days, with posts going up at 6 p.m. on the weekdays and noon on the weekends. Got it? Let’s do this.
- Donna Maria Nuñez, when Matt Lauer asks her why she didn’t learn any English in the 15 years: “These bitches don’t learn any Spanish, so…”
- “Dancing is about butts now!” Damn, Kimmy has figured out 2015 so fast.
- “Do people have robots now?”
- “Like a wonderful French roll, but Black.”
- Reverend Richard’s full title: “Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, senior prophet and CFO of Savior Rick’s Spooky Church of the Scary-Pocalypse”
- Kimmy’s strong-willed and also literally strong. Did you see the effortless way she shoved that dude in the club and punched a bouncer?! I see you, Kimmy.