Firstly, thank the lord for Netflix. Since they helped Norwegian TV series Lilyhammer gain an international audience, they’ve become a safe haven for a lot of original program that can’t find a distributor- be it a BBC show popular in the UK or an original series starring Kevin Spacey. Since the success of House of Cards, its been the “in” thing to cash in on trend of writing a show made to be binge-watched. Netflix’s latest original, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt differs in the sense that it was originally written for NBC to replace 30 Rock after it ended its run in 2013, and at times it’s obvious- for one, whereas other Netflix shows make liberal use of blood, tits and use of the word “fuck” every tenth second, and run on average 30-60 minutes with no breaks for commercials, Schmidt wears its NBC influence on its sleeve with sanitized language and a runtime convenient for TV airing. However, that doesn’t make it any less hilarious than it is.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt may not be exactly as fantastic as 30 Rock, but it has a similar sense of humour and has exactly what made that show so great- cringe comedy and bizarre jokes at every turn. It has the kind of post-modernist tone that its superior boasted, but with even more weirdness- ever met someone with “Lannister” and “Voorhees” in their name? No? Well you will here, and as those names suggest, said person is a total bitch. Even more fittingly, that character is played by Jane Krakowski. Tituss Burgess plays a fabulous gay black man who uses “pinot noir” as a euphemism for black penis. And to top it all off, the main character was formerly in a Doomsday cult and the bulk of the show centers around her trying to adjust to life in the city that never sleeps, and Tina Fey is at the pen behind it all. That should pretty much be a jackpot for fans of Tina Fey’s very warped sense of humour. The sheer bizarreness and its willingness to be as out there as possible is definitely the greatest thing about the show, but even better is the sheer enthusiasm from the show’s main cast, who, even when the show isn’t as great as it should be, elevate it and manage to still make it fun to watch.
Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) escapes from an apocalypse cult in a bunker in the rural Midwest, and is given a chance to start over again. She uses said chance to build a new life in New York City, and things get fun from the start: after finding a kid stealing candy twice in the same span of time, she marches him home and tells his mother, Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski), who employs her as a housemaid in their home, so she can move into her previously sight-set basement suite, sharing the suite with struggling actor Titus Adromedon (Tituss Burgess). From there on, things only get more bizarre. Kimmy is forced to put up with Jacqueline’s insolent step-daughter, is visited by her distant father and sister, she dates a handsome British businessman who despite his smooth exterior turns out to be VERY seedy, makes friends with a Vietnamese illegal immigrant named Dong, and those are only just the tip of the iceberg.
That’s about as much of the 13 episodes I can give away without spoiling. Unbreakable really is a show that has to be seen to be believed. I managed to get through it in two days, and like most Netflix shows, was held in by its tight pacing and unexpetedly memorable and quotable moments. In addition to its weird-as-fuck plot and even weirder jokes, Unbreakable also succeeds with moments such as unexpected celebrity cameos and jokes about popular televison commercials- it appears that Tina Fey also seemed to have had the words “rape shack” come to mind upon seeing those Febreeze commercials where people are taken into, because the show parodies those by having people taken into dingy looking locations that smell good, followed by a clip of them taking their blindfold off and freaking out upon finding out where they really are. There are even obligatory references to Friends, where Schmidt and Dong try to do a hilarious reenactment of the opening credits in a fountain, only to be informed the real fountain is in Burbank, California. And of course, Fey herself has a role as a shady lawyer in the latter half of the season, and she nails it. On that topic, this show also does not waste its extremely varied and talented cast. As fit as Burgess and Krakowski are in their roles (and Burgess really does steal the show), Ellie Kemper makes for a loveable and vibrant lead, showing the perfect amount of comedic timing and also doing suprisingly well with the few, but inevitable dramatic moments to be found. Carol Kane as crusty old landlord Lillian is a perfect match, where Kane brings a sense of weirdness and seediness (with quite the Noo Yahk accent to boot) and elevates it so that we love her right off the bat.
Though Unbreakable may not be on the same level as Fey’s previous outing as showrunner, or other Netflix originals such as Bojack Horseman, it manages to keep cranking out the laughs in a typical yet still satisfying fashion for Fey, and despite a rough pilot episode, consistently improves with every episode. It is also quotable to no end- in fact, I haven’t been able to log into Facebook lately without seeing people put “Pinot Noir” as their statuses or reenacting The Lion King‘s opening sequence with their cats. It’s already been renewed for a second season, and I’m already excited for it. While I look forward to this Friday’s upcoming Netflix original Bloodline, I doubt it will be as addictive as this.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Season 1 (2015)
Tina Fey starts her second show as showrunner in style, blending hysterical cringe comedy with vibrant performances from its enthusiastic cast.