On Friday, Netflix released the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a new sitcom that’s the brainchild of Tina Fey and 30 Rock showrunner Robert Carlock. The show follows Ellie Kemper as the titular Kimmy Schmidt, a woman who spent 15 years locked in an underground bunker as part of a doomsday cult and is now trying to make a life for herself in New York.
The pilot is by far the weakest episode of the series, but it was good enough to draw me in for at least another two episodes. By then, I was hooked.
After Kimmy and the other “mole women” in the cult are told that, actually, the apocalypse hasn’t arrived and they’re free to leave the bunker, Kimmy makes a New York-based media appearance to talk about her 15-year ordeal. She realizes that she doesn’t have anything to return home to, and so she decides to start a new life in New York. After finding a roommate named Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and meeting his landlord Lillian (Carol Kane), Kimmy picks up a job as a nanny for the two stepchildren of Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski).
In many ways, Unbreakable could be viewed as an extension of the 30 Rock universe. Krakowski’s character seems to be an amalgam of Jenna Maroney and Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy. She’s rich, narcissistic, and completely out of touch with anyone in a lower economic class. Additionally, there are times where Burgess’ character is used as a stand-in for Tracy Morgan’s Tracy Jordan. While working as a waiter/performer at a theme restaurant, Titus realizes that the world treats him better in costume (as a werewolf) than as himself, a black man. What does he do? Naturally, he opts to stay in costume at all times. Consider it “Black Like Me” for the Twilight fan.
Tituss Burgess plays Titus, Kimmy’s brand-new roommate.
To Kimmy Schmidt, everything is new and wonderful, while at the same time awful. That is, the world around her seems determined to crush her, but her wild optimism overcomes this time and again. This is what makes her “unbreakable.” In that way, she’s somewhat the antithesis of 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon. For every “blurg” offered by Lemon, Schmidt counters every problem with the mindset that anything can be overcome if you just take things 10 seconds at a time. She’s the eternal optimist.
The “small town girl moves to the big city” prompt has been used by dozens of sitcoms and movies, and if not for Kemper’s peppy delivery, Unbreakable could easily feel unoriginal. Adding in the fact that Schmidt has been cut off from the world for years, one could even draw comparisons to a film like 13 Going on 30 or just about any story that employs the concept of someone being pushed into the future not entirely equipped to handle.
The show isn’t without its problems, however. Much as 30 Rock was frequently criticized for making jokes at the expense of someone’s weight, intelligence, gender identity, race, or sexual orientation, Unbreakable falls into many of these same traps. For instance, there’s a plot line involving an Asian man named Dong, a confusing foray into Jacqueline’s Native American roots, and a running joke about how Jacqueline doesn’t need to worry that her husband will be unfaithful with his secretary because she’s fat.
Actor Ki Hong Lee play’s Kimmy’s love interest—but why’d they have to make his name a joke?
Watching the show, I couldn’t help but think about the horrible real-life story of the Cleveland girls kidnapped and held for nearly 11 years by Ariel Castro. Down to the neighbor’s auto-tuned viral video reaction, the Castro kidnappings share a few similarities to the fictional story of Schmidt and the three other “mole women.” While slightly off-putting, the show managed to steer far enough away from the “ripped from the headlines” route they could have traveled down, and instead create a new, fun narrative of their own.
Unbreakable was originally developed by NBC, and was slated to run during the 2014-2015 season. Ultimately, though, the network axed it, selling it off to Netflix, who signed on for two seasons up-front. NBC’s decision might be the best thing to happen to the show. Unbreakable is the type of show you want to watch over the course of a weekend, not three months. This is the type of show that lends itself to storylines that don’t have that typical start and finish structure. This show was made to be streamed; it’s the TV equivalent of a run-on sentence, and I love it.
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Parker Molloy is a freelance writer. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and The Guardian, among other outlets.