Print Edition: April 1, 2015
When I saw that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix starred Ellie Kemper (The Office), I wondered if Kemper could break out of her role as a big-eyed innocent. Evidently, she couldn’t. Created by Tina Fey, Kimmy Schmidt has the bounciness of 30-Rock with the energy and innocence of Kemper.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt opens with a jarring scene for what’s supposed to be a lighthearted comedy. Kimmy and three other women are in an apocalypse bunker, apparently in a cult. Outside, the field is swarming with news crews and SWAT teams. The bunker door is blown open, and out comes Kimmy Schmidt.
I found it hard to suspend my disbelief on this one. Upon realizing she was trapped for 15 years by a doomsday-cult, Kimmy was portrayed as thrilled that the world wasn’t a wasteland. The only way this could come off as comedic is through reactions portrayed by the victims. But Kimmy refuses her role as a victim (and apparently all the psychological trauma that comes with it), and steps into her new world cheerfully.
Kimmy decides to head to New York to reclaim her life. This is the perfect set-up for a cliché: a big-eyed newb walking around NYC doing oh-so-hilarious things. She stumbles her way into a job working for Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), whose character is very similar to Jenna on 30 Rock. Kimmy also finds a roommate, Titus (Tituss Burgess) a gay wannabe Broadway actor who will serve as her second half in the “unlikely pair” trope.
The redeeming quality is that Kimmy really is unbreakable — she shakes off (or doesn’t even register) negativity. It’s a show about someone recovering their life and the material could easily be dramatic, but it’s kept very light the entire way through. It’s not a new concept in pop culture — that life is for living, not wallowing. But the “shake it off” approach to victimhood is far from healthy. Negativity and darkness is in the world for a reason. It comes across as lazy writing if your character doesn’t have PTSD after a traumatic event.
If you can suspend disbelief, then you’ll find the jokes are mile-a-minute funny with no shortage of pop-culture references. Kemper’s strength is in playing the same role she played in The Office and Bridesmaids, and while it was disappointing not to see her spread her wings a little more, she sure knows how to play that role; her comedic timing is on point. The other characters — if a bit trope-reliant — are offbeat and a bit bizarre.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is easy to watch after a long, hard, day. While I think dealing with darkness head-on can make a comedy strong and more substantial, it keeps things simple for an easy watch.