Full disclosure: I watched most of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt with a fever. Normally I would think my altered mental state was the cause of my excessive laughter and extreme-bordering-on-delirious joy, but no, this show is actually just that delightful. It has been a long time since I finished binging a series and wanted to immediately rewatch it, but I anticipate I will end up watching all of these episodes multiple times during the probably far too long wait for season two. It toed that rare line between not being able to stop watching and also not wanting to watch too quickly because then it’s over and there are no more episodes.
The pitch for this show must have been downright bizarre, which is probably why NBC passed on it, leading the show to end up at Netflix (which I think is the perfect home for it). For a sitcom with the highest number of jokes per minute I’ve seen in some time, the premise is incredibly dark. In the opening scene of the pilot, Kimmy Schmidt (the fantastic and adorable Ellie Kemper) and three other women are rescued from an underground bunker where they have spent the past 15 years imprisoned by a cult leader who convinced them the outside world no longer existed because of an apocalypse they caused with their dumbness. We learn quickly via flashbacks that Kimmy was not like the other girls in the bunker. She never believed the things the cult leader, Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, said—he was never able to break her. This information explains a lot about Kimmy’s character, and about her decision to start a new life for herself in New York City instead of returning home to Durnsville, Indiana with the other “mole women.”
As a character, Kimmy is Buddy the Elf, Leslie Knope, and Liz Lemon all rolled into one. She’s sincere, motivated, earnest, and awkward, and her lack of knowledge about modern life leads to many hilarious moments (“hash brown no filter!”). Kemper is simply effervescent, really grounding a character who could have easily fallen into the realm of ridiculous and unbelievable in the hands of a lesser actress. She also has spot-on comedic timing—I cannot stress enough just how many laughs there are per episode, and I have a feeling it’s the kind of show where you catch even more subtle jokes upon a second viewing.
The supporting cast is also a huge part of what makes this show work. Tituss Burgess, an accomplished Broadway actor, plays Titus Andromedon, Kimmy’s eccentric roommate. “I envy you, I’ve never been able to meet me,” Titus says upon meeting Kimmy, telling us basically everything we need to know about him. He is the first, and for a while, only, person Kimmy tells about her past, and he helps her navigate this brave new 2015 world, all while having his own hijinks: filming a music video (“Pinot Noir,” a highlight of the entire series), dressing up as a bootleg Iron Man in Times Square, and playing a werewolf at a themed restaurant. Carol Kane plays their crazy landlady, Lillian, and reminds me of The Mindy Project‘s Beverly a bit—she’s completely nuts and gets some of the best one-liners as a result. Jane Krakowski plays Jacqueline Vorhees, a spoiled socialite who hires Kimmy as her nanny and assistant. Yes, the character is very similar to Jenna Maroney, but who cares, it works.
The influence of series creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock results in some inevitable 30 Rock comparisons, but otherwise, it is hard to compare Kimmy Schmidt to anything else. The tone and the humor style are just so weird, which I mean in the best way possible. As I touched on earlier, the show has moments of real darkness stemming from the premise that sneak their way in, such as when Kimmy casually mentions that yes, there was “weird sex stuff” in the bunker. That is an incredibly disturbing statement that the show breezes right past—but it works, because the show is not about what happened in the bunker, it is about Kimmy’s efforts to rebuild and move on from that. We see this perfectly when she is visited in New York by Cyndee (Sara Chase), one of her fellow mole women, who has taken the complete opposite approach to life after the cult. She is soaking up everyone’s pity in Durnsville and capitalizing on her past to get the small town life she’s always wanted, whereas Kimmy is trying so hard to distance herself from it that she doesn’t even use her real last name for most of the season. “We’re the strong ones, and you can’t break us,” Kimmy often says. For a show with such a far-fetched premise, there are some real nuggets of wisdom to be found that can be applied to everyday life. For example, a technique Kimmy used in the bunker to get through difficult situations that she later teaches to Jacqueline is to just think of everything in 10 second increments. You can handle anything for 10 seconds, and when those 10 end, you just start over. I feel like we can all learn a little something from Kimmy.
I need to mention that there are a lot of jokes written specifically for theater fans, which I obviously appreciated. In addition to the fact that half the main cast hails from theater, as do many of the guest stars, there are amazing moments like Titus auditioning for Spiderman Too: 2 Many Spidermen that kill me every time. The show really crushes the guest star game in general; some of my favorites were Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka as Kimmy’s younger sister who was born while she was imprisoned and Jon Hamm in a role I will not spoil.
The show is not perfect. The backstory of Krakowski’s character has come under fire by some critics for being potentially racist. Kimmy’s first love interest, the Vorhees children’s tutor, vanishes never to be seen or mentioned again after a few episodes, which is common for first season shows that are still figuring out what works and what doesn’t (exhibit A: The Mindy Project). But overall, this was one of the most delightful first seasons I have seen in a long time. If you need to find me, I’ll be over here singing a mash-up of “Pinot Noir” and the incredibly catchy theme song while impatiently waiting for season two.