Some Thoughts on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

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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.

Community– the Yahoo Experience

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March 17th might mean St. Patrick’s Day to most people, but this year for me it meant something better – the (improbable) return of Community. Sure, green beer and corned beef are pretty great, but the fact that Community just refuses to lay down in die has been an amazing thing to witness. After years of barely hanging on over at NBC, the comedy has finally become what it probably should have been all along – a quirky web series on Yahoo. This was a show that was never built for mainstream audiences or network sensibilities. It was too weird and meta for its own good, and I sincerely mean that as a compliment. Community is like nothing else that’s on TV, which is probably why it mightily struggled to find an audience. Moving to Yahoo takes some of that pressure off and gives Community the freedom to be the comedy it wants to be. I’ve been in on this show since the very first episode and have stuck with it through the horrible 4th season (when creator Dan Harmon was run off his own show), the cast changes and the schedule shifts. The show has definitely had its low points – even Harmon’s return in season 5 yielded some uneven episodes – but there was no way that I was going to miss out on the show’s miraculous near completion of it manifest destiny #sixseasonsandamovie.

Having watched the first two episodes of this new season, it clear that some of the wackiness and absurdity that I loved about the show is still there. But the movie to Yahoo doesn’t negate the fact that Community is also a comedy that is in its sixth season and it was inevitable that there were going to be signs of slowing down. Almost every comedy starts to lose a little momentum the longer that it stays on the air; it’s just hard to maintain the energy consistently over a long period of time. Community has had to fight to survive for so long that I think it burned a little brighter and used up more energy more quickly. The show has also had to adapt to a lot of changes – not only was the creator removed from the show, but three main cast members have also exited the program over the last few years. Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley) is the latest person to jump ship, so the first episode of the new season is bogged down a bit in exposition – it not only has to address her departure and re-situate us to where the remaining characters are, but it also introduces a new character (Thrilling Adventure Hour’s Paget Brewster). That’s a lot to unpack in less than thirty minutes and while Community deals with it in its typical self-referential style, it means that the new season on a new platform doesn’t get off to the most rip-roaring of starts. Once the foundation has been set, the second episode can start moving things forward. Another new character is introduced, but it feels a bit more organic and there are more laughs to be had since most of the other changes on the show have been dealt with. These first two episodes find Community a little more tentative than I would have hoped – the new platform hasn’t necessarily liberated Dan Harmon and his crew; instead you get the feeling that they are still kind of getting their footing. Community has been the underdog for so long that I wonder if the team has to adapt from being in scrappy survivalist mode.

All of this is not to say that the new episodes of Community are bad; they most certainly are not. But they also aren’t the best episodes that the show has ever done. There are glimpses of the Community that fans know and love – the teasers and the end of both episodes are outstanding – but there are also signs of a show that isn’t quite running on all cylinders. But I enjoy these characters and this world that they’ve created so much that even a “perfectly fine” episode of Community is worth my time. These new episodes didn’t necessarily blow my hair back, but it’s probably not fair to expect it to at this point in the game. The new characters have promise and it’s clear that the core actors who have been there since the beginning really love being on this show. My biggest fear going into this season of Community was that they would rely too hard on the character of Chang (played by Ken Jeong); a little of that guy goes a REALLY long way and the more he’s in the mix the less effective he is. To date, they’ve shown restraint in their use of Chang. He’s sprinkled throughout the episodes, but he’s more of a garnish than the main course. I really hope that trend continues.

In short, I see promise for the new season of Community, but expectations have to be modified. This is a high concept comedy that is now in its middle age; it’s blown through a lot of plot, has made a lot of adjustments and while it’s still an enjoyable program it is beginning to show its age. It’s still funny and it’s still very meta, but it’s also not exactly the same show it was when it started. Part of that is the adaptation to all the changes, but some of that was necessary. A show needs to move forward and the characters have to have some sort of evolution or it’s an endless loop of the same thing. I don’t know that Community will ever reach the heights of its second and third season, but it is still a far more creative and smart show than most of what’s out there. I’m ride or die with this show – I’ll stick with it to the bitter end regardless – but though the first two episodes of this sixth season have lost a little speed off the fast ball, I’m confident that they have plenty of other tools in their arsenal to keep the show fun and entertaining. Community may have used up eight of its nine lives at this point, but it still has signs of life.

New episodes of Community will debut every Tuesday on Yahoo Screen.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Empire Finale Edition

 

I am totally obsessed with the show Empire; I look forward to Wednesday nights just so I can spend some time with the dysfunctional and crazy Lyon family. It’s a ridiculously popular show that a lot of people watch – its ratings went up for eight straight weeks – but apparently I somehow don’t know any of those viewers. I’ve been dying to discuss the latest soapy twist or Cookie’s one-liners, but everyone I try to talk to about it doesn’t watch it. It’s very frustrating, especially when there are moments in an episode where my jaw literally drops at what has just transpired. Every week there is guaranteed craziness; Empire is coo-coo bananas in the best possible way.

Tonight is the season finale and I’m practically giddy to see how they are going to continue to top themselves. Empire isn’t a great show like Breaking Bad or Mad Men, but it is a tremendously fun show and sometimes that’s all that you need. Empire knows what kind of show it is and it leans right into the curve; it fully embraces its soapy elements and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I have no idea if they will be able to maintain this phenomena into the second season, but I’ll definitely be along for the ride. For now, I’m just dying to see how they stick the landing for this roller-coaster of a first season.

But there’s more to life than Empire and I’ve got the pop culture links to prove it. I’ve culled the Interwebs to find you the latest and greatest from the world of pop for this week’s round-up. So get yourself caught up on all that you might have missed – and think about giving Empire a try on demand (and then call me so we can discuss).

 

  • Liam Neeson reads a bedtime story:

 

  • A first look at Charlie Hunnam in Guy Ritchie’s Knights of the Round Table:

 

  • “Uptown Funk” makes you want to dance – even on a treadmill:

 

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  • Here’s The Rock lip syncing Taylor Swift:

 

  • See Netflix streaming on a NES:

 

  • Toddlers will help you fill out your March Madness bracket:

 

Time for some trailers….

  • A first look at the new Kurt Cobain documentary:

 

  • Anthony Bourdain’s Bone in the Throat:

 

  • Eli Roth’s Clown, which there is zero chance I’ll see:

 

  • Mortal Kombat X:

 

  • Nick Kroll and Rose Byrne in Adult Beginners:

 

  • Hotel Transylvania 2:

 

  • Scream Queens:

 

  • Adam Sandler and Peter Dinklage in Pixels:

 

  • See Cinderella (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Belle in a rap battle:

 

As always, we end with the mashups and supercts…..

  • Community in LEGO form:

 

  • Terminator remix:

 

  • Classical music mashed up with the Jackson 5:

 

  • Kanye dancing mashed up with the Rugrats theme is perfection:

 

  • Lil John meets the Ghostbusters theme song:

 

  • The Simpsons intro recreated in Minecraft:

 

  • Dinosaurs preform Notorious B.I.G.:

 

  • Empire meets Dynasty made me insanely happy:

 

  • And finally, Princess Bride meets Game of Thrones: