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TV Review: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Special to The Chronicle
Special to The Chronicle

If you've been fighting 30 Rock withdrawal, Tina Fey has something to fuel your comedy dependence, a new Netflix series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Now let's be real, nearly everything Tina Fey has written is comedy gold. From Mean Girls to her tenure on Saturday Night Live, Fey has a knack for delectable, situational and ironic comedy that is simply gut-bursting. If you couldn't tell already, I am a total Tina Fey fangirl, and so it was expected that when I heard that Fey was coming out with a new show with 30 Rock executive-producer Robert Carlock I totally soiled myself in excitement. Clearly, my expectations were high for this series, and the truth is, they were met––sort of.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt features The Office star Ellie Kemper as the plucky, innocent and determined Kimmy Schmidt. After being liberated from a religious cult that held Schmidt and three other women in an underground bunker, Schmidt tries to make a new life for herself in New York City. She rooms with the fabulous Titus Andromedon, a struggling actor and singer, played by Tituss Burgess (known for his stint on 30 Rock as Angie Jordan's hair stylist DeFwan). In the city, she works for wealthy socialite Jacqueline Voorhees, played by 30 Rock's Jane Krakowski, as a nanny for her son and step-daughter. With a cast this comedically vetted, only hilarity could possibly ensue.

From watching the preview, my main concern was that the series would be about this overly happy, Barney-incarnation navigating the mean streets of New York. However, the fact is that Kemper's portrayal as a woman with the mind of a naive and feisty 8th grader is successful and develops throughout the season. She is sweet and lovable, but has her moments of grit and assertiveness. Kemper's portrayal of Kimmy greatly differs from her character Erin on The Office, who was mostly a flat, absent-minded, genial character. On the show, Kemper creates an interesting dynamic and foil to the high-maintenance Jacqueline as well as to the more dramatic Titus.

As far as the comedy goes, the situational comedy is truly on-point and satirically mellow. Points of the show comprising of nothing more than saucy one-liners are gut-wrenching and mostly come from Titus and Jacqueline. Kimmy's naivety provides a lot of humor where a viewer will probably think, "well, that's nice and cute." It's not really the same quirk that the perpetually frustrated Liz Lemon has on 30 Rock—humorously reacting to the chaos around her. In Unbreakable's defense, it doesn't necessarily carry the outright premise of criticizing anything in particular—like NBC is criticized in 30 Rock. Unbreakable has all the smiles of Family Matters with the dark, sardonic characteristic of Fey's work. However, it takes a certain sense of humor to appreciate this series. If you're looking for a Chris Rock or Seinfeld type of comedy, this series probably isn't up your alley. However, if you're a fan of Parks and Recreation or New Girl, this is the show for you.

Also, something pretty remarkable about this series is the amount of diversity featured. Titus is a gay, black man who is not afraid of being himself and who attempts to pursue his dream of being in the limelight. Jacqueline is a closeted Native American trying to make it in a predominantly white society. Dong is an uberly smart, Vietnamese immigrant who is Kimmy's GED classmate and love interest. One of Kimmy's fellow mole women is a Latina. However, in spite of all of this diversity, each individual personifies a stereotype to an extent. Titus is sort of this over-the-top, flamboyant gay man; Dong has illegal immigration problems and very prevalent English problems; Jacqueline trivializes her heritage, and the Latina, who refuses to speak English, was a cleaning lady prior to being locked up in the bunker.

While many have taken to the Internet to criticize the portrayal of these stereotypes and even consider them careless inclusions for cheap laughs, I couldn't disagree more. The fact of the matter is that despite all of the embodiments of these stereotypes, many characters have a redemptive quality about them that proves that the intention of these traits was for satire and social criticism rather than racist portrayals. Nevertheless, Unbreakable succeeds in providing a light-hearted medium to work-out and giggle at some of society's evident problems.

So if you are looking for the next binge series on Netflix, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt should definitely be your next choice. While the comedy hones on a specific breed of humor, Unbreakable is definitely a series that will give you chuckles somewhere down the road. And if you enjoy Jon Hamm and his gloriousness, well, he's in there, too—an added bonus.


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