Monday, March 23, 2015

TV Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

As one watches the inaugural season of the Netflix original series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, with its smartly written absurdest comedy, its lovingly mocking tone, and its self-referential meta-esque humour, one is easily put in mind of NBC's 30 Rock. And really, one probably should be. Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the creator/star and show runner, respectively, of the aforementioned 30 Rock, and exec produced by Fey, Carlock, Jack Burditt, David Miner, and Fey's own hubby, Jeff Richmond, all of whom were producers on 30 Rock as well, and even co-starring Jane Krakowski, playing an even less put together version of her Jenna Maroney character (if such a thing is even possible), it is probably pretty inevitable that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is compared to the former show. But not to worry, for Kimmy Schmidt goes into the comparison machine, and just like her plucky lead character, comes out the other side unbroken.

Sure, the naive, but plucky single gal trying to make it in the big city scenario, is a tale as old as time (well, maybe not that old, but still pretty old), and it is a plot that has been used over and over again, in varying degrees of success, but give the creative reigns to Tina Fey, hands down the smartest and funniest thing about TV lo this past decade or so, and you've got yourself a show that acts as one part parody of a genre (or sub-genre, if you will), one part heartfelt gooey center of said genre or sub-genre, and one part smart-as-a-whip satire of life itself. Yeah, all that, and a bag of chips. That bag of chips is actually the show's naive but plucky lead, and the woman who plays her, Ellie Kemper. Kemper is most known for her five year stint as the naive Erin, Pam's receptionist replacement on The Office. Here Kemper plays an even more jejune character. In the opening of the first episode, we see Kemper's titular Kimmy, along with three fellow kidnapped women, being rescued from an underground bunker, where they had been held for fifteen years by a whackjob reverend, convinced the apocalypse was coming. After a stint on the Today Show, Kimmy decides to stay in New York, and in plucky Mary Richards style, make it after all. Kemper plays Kimmy to a the proverbial capital T. Having grown up inside a mad man's bunker (she was just 15 when kidnapped), Kimmy is just now, closing in on 30, having her first real taste of life - and she really has no idea how to do such a thing. Kemper is pitch perfect in the role, and combined with the deft writing behind her, Kimmy, both character and show, is a bang up, boffo success.

But Kemper. who was seemingly born to play this character, is not alone out there. Fey and Carlock, who also wrote several episodes, have brought together a wonderfully eclectic cast with whom to surround their intrepid title character. We've already made mention of Jane Krakowski, who plays Jacqueline Voorhees, a rich Manhattan socialite, and Kimmy's new boss. Krakowski's beauty obsessed gold digging second wife (she gets plastic surgery on her toes because of her husband's foot fetish) plays to the actor's strengths. Yeah, it may seem as if she is just playing her 30 Rock character in a different venue, but the lady is pretty darn good at it. There is also Broadway star Tituss Burgess (and former 30 Rock cast member as well) as Kimmy's new roommate, Titus Andromedon, a flamboyantly gay Broadway wannabe (and my favourite character), Dylan Gelula as Xanthippe Voorhees, Jacqueline's obnoxious teenage step-daughter, and the always wonderful Carol Kane as Lillian, Kimmy and Titus' crackpot landlady. With guest stars ranging from Martin Short and Jon Hamm to Tim Blake Nelson, Jerry Miner and even Tina Fey herself, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a success in both acting and writing, both done with a wry yet quite ridiculous comedy chutzpah. But don't tell NBC that.

The show was originally commissioned by the Peacock Network, but once Fey and Carlock presented the show to the powers-that-be, NBC did a flip-flop and said no go.  On a stupid bent almost equal to that of the network canceling Community before its time last year, NBC may have been scared of the show's lack of PC goodness. But just like how Community has found a new life (and a sixth and final season) on Yahoo Screen, Kimmy Schmidt has been reborn on Netflix, debuting all 13 episodes of the season just last week - and with a second season promised for 2016. Granted, the show may be framed by the rather overused plot device of innocent girl in the big city (one critic has all but accused Fey of stealing the basic outline of the show from the show, Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23), but its witty, rapid-fire comedy, a la 30 Rock style (and again, this comparison is meant only to compliment), and Kemper and her co-stars firing those rapid jokes at us and each other, make the damn thing work. The haters and scaredy cats at NBC be damned. Thank you Netflix for saving this show - a show that will almost certainly find its way onto my eventual Best TV of 2015 list. Now get on over to Netflix and get your Kimmy on! That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

4 comments:

  1. This Kimmy Schmidt character looks cute "plucky Mary Richards style" indeed. But man, how many sweet (small-town?) girl in the big, bad city stories are they going to throw at us?

    Perhaps NBC will regret passing on this...or perhaps they'll just throw another NYC show in their lineup and won't miss it. But whether this show is a hit or not, there's no denying that Netflix is giving the old networks hell.

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    1. Yeah, as I said, it is a tired plot device, but it works well here. Very absurdest and fun.

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  2. Sounds like a new take on an old formula and, once again, NBC seems to have shown their stupidity in passing this up

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    1. For a while there, NBC was the most progressive of the major networks, from Seinfeld through Parks & Rec., but lately they've become almost as boring as CBS. Well okay, maybe not as bad as CBS, but still...

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