Mar 6, 2015

Channel Surfing: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - "Kimmy Goes Outside!"

Ellie Kemper
Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
It is a series of legend and one that will only boost the Netflix myth. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was a sitcom that was originally created for NBC but eventually was dropped and saved by Netflix. It made no sense considering this was creator Tina Fey's follow-up to the iconic and highly influential comedy 30 Rock. Between that and memorable gigs hosting the Golden Globes, Fey was a bankable name that seemed like a shoe-in. Considering that NBC has all but abandoned the comedy model with the departure of Parks and Recreation last month, it feels like Netflix's existence in this narrative is one of saving grace which alongside the brilliant Orange is the New Black and Bojack Horseman places it as some of the better programming out there.
Watching the first episode is to only justify this statement more. For those expecting another 30 Rock, it kind of delivers. The cast isn't as massive nor is there anything immediately iconic. It has MVP Jane Krakowski back playing the familiar airhead millionaire Jacqueline Voorhees. The music has the peppiness and the various cutaways feel very much lifted from its predecessor. Fey has a formula that she uses to present the comedy and what earned her a hoard of Golden Globes and Emmys before is so distinct that it doesn't matter how similar the show is down to its New York setting. 
However, there's one piece that makes this feel like the sugary, zanier sister of 30 Rock. Ellie Kemper and her fantastic smile leads the show as Kimmy Schmidt, whose oblivious nature mixed with ripe enthusiasm makes for one of the most endearing fish out of water portrayals since Amy Adams in Enchanted. With Fey's ability to write great asides, she controls a scene, let alone the advertisements for the series. The show moves fast and it's largely thanks to her ability to commit and never quite fit into a situation.
However, it is the premise that adds a darker and discomforting subtext to the bright and shiny package. The series begins with Schmidt and a few other women being rescued from a cult where they have been brainwashed into taking abuse for being dumb. When forced to consider what her next move is, she turns to New York where she shacks up with a roommate named Titus (Tituss Burgess) and work for Jacqueline as a personal assistant. From there, the show allows the character free will to perform sporadic chores. This is where the disconnecting charm comes into play and Fey's witty remarks begin to populate the story. The show isn't as complex as 30 Rock (at least on a meta level), but it does approach disconnection from a fascinating and creative standpoint. 
However, what gives the show some weight is that the cast in particular is strong and features great chemistry. Later scenes with Titus and Scmidt are lively and subversive in cheerful ways. It may not always make the most sense, but Fey is comfortable in writing these characters and that's where everything pays off. Even the choice to make a theme song from an autotuned news story in an infectious manner adds some personality to how experimental it is in its focused nature. It doesn't immediately seem as great as other Netflix series, but Kemper's performance is one for the ages and will likely only blossom as the series progresses (there's already a second season in order). 
So once again, the Netflix brand has saved a failing show that is worth discovering. From here, it will be interesting to see where it ranks alongside their other shows that have come to define them as a brand. Maybe NBC will kick themselves, especially with their lack of quality comedy at the moment. However, between this and The Last Man on Earth on Fox, there's a lot of great and original sitcoms coming out that you should be checking out. Good luck trying not to simply pop through a bunch of episodes of this series in one go. They're short and sweet much like Kemper. If you loved 30 Rock or simply miss Fey, then there's really no excuse to miss this one.

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