Netflix’s new comedy “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is an incredible example of the changing format and delivery of television. Created by Robert Carlock and Tina Fey of “30 Rock”, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”’s 22-minute sitcom format would have no problem fitting itself into a half-hour block on network television. In fact, it was originally supposed to run on NBC before the network abandoned its unsuccessful comedy block on Thursday. While NBC’s comedy block gave us the wonderful “30 Rock”, “Parks and Recreation”, “Community” and “The Office”, it always struggled with low ratings and lack of a successful financial model, especially against the popular ABC and Shonda Rhimes’ “Thank God It’s Thursday” lineup. But NBC’s loss seems to be Netflix’s gain. The day after NBC passed on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Netflix picked up the show and renewed it for a second season even before it premiered.
While “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was built around the original network television model, it is undeniably weird. The premise is that Kimmy Schmidt moves to New York after being rescued from a underground bunker after being imprisoned by a cult leader for 15 years. Kimmy worries that she’ll never recover from the trauma including “weird sex stuff” and will always be seen as a victim or grow bitter. It’s a lot of baggage for a sitcom to handle, but “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” never feels all that heavy. It feels bright and breezy because while Kimmy may only have a few experiences, she has the mind of an adult. She is naive but never stupid. What’s amazing about Kimmy is her own agency. She decides she does not want to be a victim and takes life into her own hands. Ellie Kemper, who plays Kimmy, is a true star in this role. She keeps Kimmy naive and optimistic while preventing her from being idiotic and grating. Kimmy is childlike but always dignified. “Dancing is about butts now!” Kimmy exclaims in a joke which manages to both be correct, funny and optimistic.
Kemper is also surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast. Many will recognize Kimmy’s roommate Titus Andromedon, played by Tituss Burgess, and her boss Jacqueline Voorhees, played by Jane Krakowski from “30 Rock”. They are joined by new faces of Voorhees’ stepdaughter Xanthippe played by Dylan Gelula and Lillian Kaushtupper, Kimmy’s landlord played by Carol Kane. Regardless of actual personalities, these supporting characters would be a gift due to their hilarious names. These characters help add laughs and absurdity to Kimmy’s world. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is clearly a production of Robert Carlock and Tina Fey, as many of the cues are similar to that of “30 Rock”. The show has the same zaniness of “30 Rock” mixed with social commentary. For example on the news reporting screen of Kimmy’s rescue we see the caption “White women found!” followed under by much smaller text “Hispanic women also found.” In the episode right after, a costume salesman delivers the line “That’s the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard, and I have sex with these costumes every night,” a joke that could have come straight out of “30 Rock.” One interesting aspect of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is that it retains the sensibility of “30 Rock” without its cynicism. Kimmy is incredibly different from Fey’s Liz Lemon, who was more of a loveable curmudgeon. Carlock and Fey do a lovely job of mixing Kimmy’s optimism with that same manic energy of “30 Rock”.
The first few episodes of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” feel a little heavy and don’t deliver the classic one-two punch jokes typical of Fey and Carlock’s style. They do, however, have a lot of world-building and exposition to cover. After the initial couple of episodes, the show establishes Kimmy’s New York and the people in her story. After that, the show speeds forward with fanatical fervor with joke after joke. While the plot and character building of 30 Rock always came second to the joke, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s characters are more likeable and more developed.
Netflix’s model released all 12 episodes at once, meaning it’s possible to binge the entire season within one Saturday and still have a productive Sunday. Netflix probably released this show so you could feel a bit better after the major bummer that was the latest season of House of Cards. However, the binge-watch model of consumption doesn’t work as well for comedy, which tends to be less plot heavy. Dramas like House of Cards, which are very focused on telling a narrative, mean that fans will want to consume that narrative as fast as possible. Binge-watching is especially important for those who are spoiler- phobic. However, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is not as interested in telling a narrative as it is a classic network comedy. It’s better to watch each individual episode one at a time than all at once because once you are done with it, that’s it for a year. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is a nice ray of sunshine which you will want to savor for weeks to come.
Photo Courtesy of Netflix