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There I sat, wallowing in self-pity, feeling empty after having my wisdom teeth removed. I needed something to pick me up. Having already watched enough college basketball to drive one mad, I turned to Tina Fey’s new creation, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The show (the 13-episode first season is available on Netflix) follows Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) as she adjusts to modern life in New York City after escaping a doomsday cult, led by a preacher who convinced Kimmy and her friends that the world had ended so as to keep them in his secluded bunker. After 15 years, Kimmy and company are finally rescued, with Kimmy now a 30-year-old unfamiliar with life beyond the ‘90s. Starting from a farcical premise, the show quickly picks up steam as Kimmy encounters the joys and adversities of modern urban life. Here are just some of the reasons you should give Kimmy (and her friends, the hilariously titled “Indiana Mole Women”) a chance.
1.) Ellie Kemper is a joyous ball of energy.
After winning fans over with her work on The Office and in smaller roles in hits like Bridesmaids, Kemper gets the chance to be a star, and she does not let it pass by quietly. Tasked with playing a teenager transported fifteen years ahead in time, Kemper’s youthful glow, bright outfits, and exaggerated facial expressions allow her to effectively capture Kimmy’s childlike optimism. Amidst hopeless and deranged adults, Kimmy’s bubbly innocence plays as awkward, touching, and poignant all at once.
2.) Titus Andromedon was born to be a star.
Titus (played by Tituss Burgess) is Kimmy’s fame chaser of a roommate, blessed with a songbird’s voice but terrified of failure and disappointment. At first he sees Kimmy as a vulnerable asset, a rent dispensary with no sense of when she has been tricked or taken advantage of. Over the course of the season, however, their friendship becomes hilariously endearing, filled with Titus’ diva-mode outbursts and Kimmy’s overly trusting mishaps. Pinot Noir has never been so sexy.
3.) The show has elements of 30 Rock without being too 30 Rock-y
Fans of Fey’s NBC juggernaut will see plenty of familiar tropes. Jane Krakowski once again plays a self-absorbed woman facing mid-life crises, and her absurd, elitist one-liners make for some of the show’s best moments. References to pop culture new and old fill every episode, and running jokes litter the script without feeling overwrought or redundant. Perhaps most notably, New York is a star of the show. Kimmy’s interactions with the overpopulated, over-technologized city reveal just how strange our world has gotten in the years since she entered the doomsday bunker.
If one were to critique 30 Rock, though many would not dare, they might point to its endless stream of obscure references and wisecracks. At times, the show’s writers seemed to flaunt their wit simply to remind us how intelligent and “with it” they were. Here, that does not seem to be a problem. The writing remains Emmy-worthy, but it never overshadows Kimmy’s heartwarming adventures and mini-catastrophes. Cutaways and erudite gags still pop up, but they stay where they should, on the fringe around the show’s colorful stars. Burgess, Krakowski, and others spew out ridiculous references and odd turns of phrase, but the writers always allow Kimmy to take center stage, where Kemper’s energy and physical comedy do their best work.
4.) Tina Fey has a lot of famous friends, and they’re willing to be ridiculous for the sake of her show.
Everyone from Martin Short to Tim Blake Nelson to Fey herself pops up at some point in the season, and every familiar face morphs into a side-splitting caricature. Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) joins Nelson as Kimmy’s deranged and estranged family members, and Short steals scenes in his episode as a plastic surgeon doomed by his own handiwork. As with most things in life, though, the best friend to have is Jon Hamm. In the coming months, he will complete his run as the man whose manliness is outdone only by his profound flaws, but first he makes sure to infuse preposterous energy into some of Kimmy’s final episodes. I will not spoil his role here, but suffice to say Jon Hamm is an American treasure, no matter how hard Don Draper crashes and burns.
5.) You could listen to the theme song forever.
At first, you’ll think it’s catchy, then annoying, and then you’ll never be able to get it out of your head ever. The song and its viral performer eventually factor into the show, but I just wanted you to experience it in all its glory here and now.
6.) Everyone gets skewered.
Some have quickly come out to question the show’s treatment of race, as various moments bring with them playful jabs at everyone from Native Americans to Latinos to the Manhattan elite. A cursory glance at the show could leave one upset with the characterizations of Asian and Latino characters, but further examination makes it clear that they are not the main targets. Each time a questionable joke heads a minority’s way, the tone quickly shifts back towards one deriding the show’s white characters. This back and forth is never malicious. Instead of saying the show has a “race problem,” I would argue that it simply reminds us — in a usually lighthearted manner — that we as individuals and as a nation are working through one. One could even see the show as progressive, given the inclusive nature of its mocking. Seemingly stereotypical characters get some of the show’s best lines, taking advantage of white characters’ naivete or self-centeredness. Hierarchies are certainly present, with many minority characters striving to make their way in the world as white people stand above them, but the best comedy comes when the show takes aim at how exactly those wealthy, powerful whites are spending their time — in helicopters, house parties, and filled with face-lifting injections.
The show does not aim to pigeonhole members of various races but instead provides a portrait of an evolving America and the alienating influences it imposes on individuals of all colors. That’s a scary sentence, but thanks to Kemper and the rest of the talented cast, this illustration is a vibrant one, comic but never quite committing to satirical. At least for now. Who knows what next season will bring?