NBC’s loss is Netflix’s gain.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the newest comedy from Tina Fey and was originally developed for NBC. The network passed on the pilot and Netflix was waiting in the wings to not only snatch up the series, but to give it an automatic two season pickup. It’s clear that Netflix wants to be a player in original programming and is willing to take some chances where networks are not. It is also clear that Netflix has a better eye for comedy than NBC (not that hard to do), since The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is really, really funny. I blazed through the whole first season in a day and can’t wait to spend more time in this world.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is definitely a quirky little show and that begins right with its premise: Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) and three other women are freed from a doomsday cult after 15 years of isolation from the rest of the world. When she and the other women are brought to New York City to appear on the Today Show, Kimmy decides to stay and make a life for herself, despite the fact that she is pretty ill-equipped to make it alone in the big city, given her naiveté and arrested development. Kimmy finds an unconventional support system in her roommate (the hilarious Titus Burgess), her landlady (the always fabulous Carol Kane) and her wealthy employer (Jane Krakowski). The show deals with Kimmy’s adjustment to life outside the cult, but is also a pretty sharp satire as well that deals with race, wealth and feminism in a way that is not preachy. The show is smart and silly; its shared DNA with 30 Rock is apparent in its comic beats and mix of absurdity and sharp observations. Perhaps that is what scared off NBC; though 30 Rock was a critical success, it never did particularly well in the ratings.
When the casting was announced, I was unsure if Ellie Kemper was going to be able to carry her own show. I enjoyed her a lot on The Office and in her supporting role in various movies (including Bridesmaids), but I didn’t know if she was capable of being the lead. Kemper is actually pretty great in this role – all her natural likability and sweetness only serves to make Kimmy Schmidt perhaps the nicest character on TV. You inherently root for Kimmy to make it, even when the odds are stacked against her, and you can’t help but admire her resiliency in the face of some many obstacles. Kemper handles the writing and odd situations very well; she really inhabit Kimmy and is so natural in the role that you’d be forgiven for forgetting that she’s acting. My initial concerns were completely unfounded – she’s a home run in this role and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Kimmy. The premise for the show is kind of dark, but Kemper just lights up the room and keeps things from getting depressing or sad. Kimmy’s life hasn’t been an easy one, but her ability to smile and still find happiness in little things buoys the show
The rest of the cast is simply outstanding as well – while I was very aware of Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski’s respective bodies of work, Titus Burgess was a newcomer to me and he almost steals every scene that he’s in. He’s just fantastic and fits into this odd little world perfectly. His character is completely over the top and gets some of the best lines, but Burgess is just reined in enough that it doesn’t become too cartoony or distracting. He and Kemper work very well together and they have nice chemistry. Perhaps one of my favorite moments of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is when Titus (the actor and character have the same name) makes a music video for a terrible song he wrote:
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt also boasts some wonderful guest stars over the course of the first season. Lots of familiar faces drop in, including Tina Fey herself. Perhaps the biggest reveal is who plays the cult leader that imprisoned Kimmy – I figured it out in the first episode because I immediately recognized the actor’s voice, but it’s still a trip to see this person turn up in this weird role later in the series. Tina Fey has a deep bench of friends to call on and I won’t be surprised if the guest appearances are just as strong in the second season. It will also be fun to see what Fey and company do in a second season that is not done for network TV; I think it will be freeing for them to be able to do the show that they want to do without the restrictions that come from doing a show for a major network. If Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt gets weirder in the process, I’m all for it.
Not only does the show boast a great cast and hilarious writing, but it may also have the best theme song of any recent TV show (and we all know how much I love a good TV theme song). This song (written by Tina Fey’s husband) is ridiculously catchy and a total earworm; unlike most shows were I tired of the opening credits after a while, I actually looked forward to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt theme every single time.
They’re right – Females ARE as strong as hell. Now good luck getting that out of your head for the rest of the day.
I had so much fun watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and I am really looking forward to what the second season has to offer. NBC was foolish to pass on this show – it’s the perfect mix of sweetness, silliness and cleverness. There were so many jokes flying in that first season that I may go back and watch the episodes all over again just to see what I may have missed. There are so many sight gags and quick one liners that it is very possible that my brain couldn’t process that much comedy at once. If you have Netflix, I strongly recommend giving Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a chance, especially if you were a fan of 30 Rock. It is my favorite new comedy of the season.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is now streaming on Netflix.