Do you like funny things? Good – go watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Do you feel like you’ve been missing something since 30 Rock went off the air? Better question – do you feel like you’ve been missing something since Parks and Recreation went off the air? Then go watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Ellie Kemper is perfect for the title role in Netflix’s new series. Either that or the role is perfect for her. It’s a distinction that doesn’t matter much to the viewer when the show works – as it does, completely and delightfully, here – but one that is increasingly at the root of the empty, forgettable stuff on networks (sadly Mullaney, The Odd Couple) and the tractionless also-rans on cable (Benched). Cast someone who only fits part of the bill and their star power or catchphrase isn’t going to sustain something worth watching. Write for an actor or actors and miss the mark – overengineered, focus-grouped network blah I’m looking away from you – and you’ll top out at polite laughter.
Not here, not no, not no how with The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. This show, the entire first season of which is streaming on Netflix, right now, without you, nails the match between performers and writing in a manner that elevates both. Despite some uneven plotting over the first third of the season,1 performers, characters, and plot all plow ahead with… look every word I’d place here (gumption, dogged determination, can-do-attitude) will just sound cliché and like the show is shallow or quirky or whatever and it’s not. It’s just a great mix of odd situational humor made surprisingly normal through some clever writing.
And brilliant little touches in the performances. Oh how I giggled over Carol Kane‘s deadpan asides.2 Holy crow does Titus Burgess find ways to ground a character who is the very definition of over the top.3
I occasionally got bored with Kemper’s dumber-side-of-naive character on The Office but here she’s all infectious energy with a toothy smile that never seems to mock the character, full of real human feelings, and an utter glee she so warmly, genuinely projects without ever becoming saccharine. Kimmy is a thirty year old woman with fifteen years of arrested development behind her, somehow pulling off naivety and competence at the same time. It’s impressive!4
My complaints about the first season (surely there will be more, Netflix. Say there will be more.) are few and spaced out far enough. Some of the jokes and setups involving race or sex, but mostly race, are too softball; that shades towards uncomfortable when the rest of your material doesn’t take the easy route. Jane Krakowski is playing a version of her 30 Rock self here, which was a version of her Ally McBeal self and, while it doesn’t overreach, it doesn’t land as well as most of the other characters. Sara Chase’s character could have been cut from the first two thirds of the season with no real downside. Tim Blake Nelson’s sad sack hick sheriff takes most of an episode to really mesh with the proceedings.
So, really, I have a few complaints about how the writing merged characters and plots over the episodes. But, even moreso than its nearest progenitor, 30 Rock, Kimmy doesn’t stand still long enough for those problems to stop the fun. It cleanly dispenses with its premise in 4.5 minutes5 and then gets down to the business of following one of the most committed balls of energy ever to grace the small screen. By the time the final third of the season wraps things up, and opens a half dozen doors, so neatly and effectively, I had lost all track of what episode we were on and was just lolling about enjoying where we’d wound up.
- Which made me wonder if actor availability caused some script shuffling. ↵
- Run Lillian! ↵
- That scene… at the funeral… heeeeeeeeee! ↵
- Don’t worry none about the exclamation points that ends each episode’s title. What could be twee is instead a spot-on reflection of the title character’s level of enthusiasm. ↵
- I went back and clocked it. ↵