From creator Tina Fey comes Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: a Netflix original comedy all about braving uncharted territory. The uniqueness of the show lies in its willingness to confront difficult issues with humor, not unlike our adorable, JanSport backpack-toting title character.
In episode one, Kimmy is rescued from an apocalypse cult in Indiana along with three other kidnapped women after fifteen years of living underground. Hilarious premise? Not so much. But Fey and her team of writers are obviously interested in doing things a little differently. And what they’ve created is a season of thirteen incredibly funny, outlandish, layered episodes with a dash of raunchiness sprinkled throughout; exactly what both Fey and lead actress Ellie Kemper specialize in.
When the Mole Women, as they’re dubbed, are interviewed on the Today Show by Matt Lauer about their experience and reaction to the Mole Women Donation Fund, Kimmy explains that they “are so grateful, but honestly, we don’t love that name…” But it sticks. And so does Kimmy. She decides that she’d rather start a new life in New York City than be pitied in her hometown of Durnsville, Ind., “the city that never sleeps.” “Oh, is that siren still going off?”
So, with some money from the fund and a secret Santa gift from Cyndee Pokorny, Kimmy’s best friend in the bunker, off she goes to find a job, an apartment and new friends. But first, of course, a shopping montage. Kimmy emerges from Chanel with Pretty Woman confidence wearing new light-up sneakers and struts her way to the biggest candy store she’s ever seen. A mixture of the Little Mermaid and Buddy the Elf, she curiously explores the big city of automatic hand dryers and other thingamabobs she’s been sheltered from, where carriage horses “deserve to be free” and unhooked from their yokes, running wildly through Central Park.
Kimmy quickly makes friends with her new roommate, Titus, and their aging hippie landlord, Lillian. Lillian describes Titus, played by Broadway veteran Tituss Burgess, as “a very, very sweet boy. A little crusty on the outside, but a soft heart. Like a wonderful French roll, but black. He’s very isolated, but so talented, but disillusioned, but a genius! And he’s single, but very gay.” And even after a lead-up like that, Titus exceeds expectations of hilarity. He never stops being lovable or entertaining. Often adjusting an imaginary wig, “bald by choice” Titus Andromedon is a struggling actor and singer, making money by passing out flyers as Iron Man in Times Square or playing a Werewolf at an interactive tourist trap (not unlike the Jekyll and Hyde restaurant, as many NYC-lovers may recognize). It seems time might be running out for him to become a star. “Black, gay AND old? I’m not even going to know what box to check on the hate crime form!”
His is the breakout performance of the series, but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a parade of talented newcomers, series regulars and star appearances from Martin Short, Horatio Sans, Jon Hamm, Richard Kind, Amy Sedaris, Nick Kroll and Tina Fey herself. Fey plays one of the Mole Women’s incompetent attorneys at the trial against Richard Wayne Gary Wayne: their former captor and leader of Savior Rick’s Spooky Church of the Scary-pocalypse, charged with “kidnapping, lying to a census worker, and, according to neighbors, leaving Christmas lights up way too long.”
Though it takes a while for some characters to hit their stride, each actor brings so much enthusiasm to the fast-paced dialogue that it’s easy to re-watch an episode only to discover bits that were missed the first time (the running joke of people constantly offering Kimmy fancy bottles of water is a personal favorite.) That’s good news since the second season won’t be released until next year.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a show to get excited about. It’s fun, colorful, smart and possibly even more of a personal parallel for Tina Fey than 30 Rock. The opening credits are a joyous celebration of young women in small-town America, with photos and video clips of little girls clogging their hearts out in white patent leather shoes, swinging from jungle gyms and ravenously eating ice cream. Growing up in Pennsylvania, Tina Fey’s life was fairly calm and trauma-free, except for one bizarre incident in the mid seventies. While still in kindergarten, she was slashed across the face with a knife by a stranger right outside of her house, the scar still very visible on her chin.
Tina hasn’t talked about it much, apparently at her mother’s request, but Kimmy makes an uplifting speech to Titus at the end of the first episode that sounds a bit familiar: “The worst thing that ever happened to me happened in my front yard. Life beats you up, Titus, it doesn’t matter if you get 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 like we thought Cindy did that time, or you can stand up and say we’re different, we’re the strong ones and you can’t break us.” Tina and Kimmy are definitely two of the strong ones, moving to New York City alone to start fresh, eat candy for dinner and “make waffles” out of anyone who tries to get in the way – even though one of them only has an eight grade education.