Culture of Pop

Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Debuts on Netflix

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt came to Netflix on Friday and it’s such a fun, watchable series, I easily watched it in one day. The show was created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, who was a showrunner for 30 Rock. It shares a lot of the same very clever, snappy humor that 30 Rock had, but I thought it had an emotional honesty and earnestness that really elevated it and made it stand out.

As you might expect, the show tells the story of a woman named Kimmy Schmidt. She’s played by Ellie Kemper, in a pitch perfect performance. Early in the pilot, her physical comedy is utilized, then as the show progresses she becomes a very deep and unique character. It’s a great coming together of material and star. Kimmy has been in an underground bunker for 15 years after being kidnapped by a cult leader and now she’s trying to start her life over. In a wonderful, character-defining flashback early in the series we see her questioning the cult leader. He declares that he will eventually break Kimmy Schmidt and she just grins back, with a fire in her eyes, saying that he never will. For the rest of the series, she keeps her upbeat spirit by saying that the worst thing that will ever happen to her as already happened. The show uses its high concept to be surprisingly relatable and emotionally resonant. It’s not subtle about how this is really a story about all women. The very fun theme song actually includes a man declaring “females are strong as hell!” At several points they paint Kimmy’s experience, both directly or indirectly, as an extreme version of what many women go through with men gaslighting and controlling them, or convincing them that their own perspectives aren’t as valid as what a man tells them. The point is made very explicitly, but I don’t think the lack of subtly is a bad thing. The writing is very smart about all the little ways men do this to women and it made me very glad this show exists.

The show has a great supporting cast of characters. Jane Krakowski as Kimmy’s boss Jacqueline Voorhees and Tituss Burgess as her roommate Titus Andromedon are great scene stealers. Kimmy’s love interest Dong Nguyen is another great character. He’s a Vietnamese immigrant trying to get his G.E.D. while working as a delivery boy. It’s very refreshing to see a sitcom set in New York be more representative of the actual population. Dong is played by Ki Hong Lee from the Maze Runner. He was #4 on People Magazine’s 2014 Sexiest Men Alive list and Marie Claire magazine named him one of the “ten actors who are going to make your ovaries melt in 2015.” So, yeah, you’re rooting for Kimmy to get with him. But, Kimmy and Dong’s chemistry together goes beyond them being two very very adorable people. The writing of their relationship portrays them as getting along and enjoying spending time together. It’s one of those immediately likeable relationships that makes creating a great on screen couple seem easy. The show ends their relationship on a cliffhanger, but fortunately Netflix has already ordered a second season of the series.

There’s some hit-or-miss stuff with edgy humor, most notably there’s a bizarre running gag about how Krakowski’s character is actually a Native American woman who dyed her hair blonde and started wearing blue contacts. It’s cringe-inducing every time they reference it. But, for the most part I thought the show was a lot more pure-hearted than 30 Rock and often had effective satire.

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