As the press releases for the new fall series were coming out last year there was a curious entry on NBC’s list. A new series from the 30 Rock team (Tina Fey and Robert Carlock) called The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The story of a 29 year old woman, Ellie Kemper, who had been kept in an apocalypse bunker for the past 15 years by a mad preacher who decides to move to New York to start her new life. The show was picked up by NBC largely on the the strength of Fey/Carlock who had delivered a very weird but much beloved series to them in the past. This one though was simply too odd it turns out as NBC dropped it a few weeks after announcing it. Netflix though, fast becoming the go to for odd and unusual TV fare (both good with Orange is the new Black or BoJack Horseman and bad with Hemlock Grove) quickly snatched it up and ordered 2 seasons of it! “Well,” I thought when the entire 13 episode first season premiered on Netflix on March 6, “this should be interesting.”
I want to start by saying, whomever at NBC canned this should be fired immediately. NBC is struggling and they could have used this show as a jumping off point to bring NBC to the forefront of innovative content. But, nope, that will be Netflix’s win as this show is FANTASTIC. Funny, poignant, and weird as hell, Kimmy is a blending of comedic genius, social commentary and utter craziness that fills the void left by it’s spiritual predecessor 30 Rock and it’s tonal cousin Scrubs (also a much abused NBC series).
Kemper owns this show as the wide-eyed 90s throwback who always does her best to stay positive in the face of adversity (see, the bunker). She is surrounded by a supporting cast of sublimely crazy; Carol Kane as her landlady who may have lived the 70s in New York too hard, Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon her gay roommate who is desperate to achieve the fame New York has thus far refused to offer him, and Jane Krakowski as Jacqueline Voorhees a spoiled trophy wife and possibly the ultimate endgame of her 30 Rock character Jenna Maroney in terms of insanity. All 3 add a new dimension to Kimmy’s journey to reclaim the life that was stolen from her by her years of captivity through their own personal (insane) world views. Even the supporting cast including Ki Hong Lee as Dong, her GED classmate, and Dylan Gelula as Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees (really!), Jacqueline’s stepdaughter, shine as they get rolled into Kimmy’s world.
Kimmy’s “journey” as it were becomes less central to the plot as the season progresses and she begins to fall into the role of the happy fixer of her friend’s problems. Many focus on her trying to help her boss, Jacqueline, be less of a terrible person (episode 4 “Kimmy goes to the doctor”) or helping Titus get the recognition he deserves (episode 6 “Kimmy goes to school”). But, most episodes simply allow funny people to be straight up hilarious. From Kemper’s awkward throwback slang (“word to your mother”), to Kane’s bizarre ramblings (“real floor, not just painted dirt”), to Burgess’ fantastic sung jokes (episode 13’s national anthem joke is my favorite), to Krakowski vamping around as the ridiculous diva you know she probably is in real life (“someone’s anus is purely decorative!”), every joke lands perfectly and completely works.
That said, as with most series the cast grows into their characters as time moves on and the show becomes stronger the further you get into the season. I would say by the halfway mark in the season there really are no weak moments. One thing that is wonderful about Netflix’s release model is that the viewer can really watch a show evolve. While it’s built for bingewatching it’s also perfect for people who want to just dip their toe in a show to see if it shows any promise. You can watch as much or as little as you want.
If you don’t like weird, surreal comedy then this show isn’t for you. Kimmy really answers the promise of the later season of 30 Rock when the writers felt that no one was watching so why not just go crazy. In this case, “crazy” was the starting point and they went from there. However, even if you’re not a fan of the more…oddball jokes I doubt anyone could resist the infectious joy that Kemper exudes throughout the series. NBC claims that this show just did not fit into their schedule but with their perpetual 4th place ratings perch and their reliance on dubious “event series” (see just cancelled Allegiance, laughably titled The Slap and the upcoming-whether-anyone-wants-it-or-not Heroes Reborn) they really should have dumped some garbage for this delightful series. A+ Must Watch (All episodes of season 1 now streaming on Netflix)
Oh and the theme song? I’m a little obsessed.