Adventures with Netflix: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Another Netflix binge watch! 

Ellie Kemper plays Kimmy Schmidt (via Vanity Fair)

Ellie Kemper plays Kimmy Schmidt (via Vanity Fair)

Netflix has been giving TV networks a run for their money in recent times, with House of Cards, Orange Is The New Black and Lillyhammer all enrapturing subscribers. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt looks to set to be another winner for the online streaming service. Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the comedy follows the eponymous Kimmy, who escapes from the underground bunker she has been held for the last 15 years by crazed cult leader, the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (an inspired casting choice in Jon Hamm).

Taken to New York with the other ‘Mole Women’ for an interview about their experiences (the host observes that it’s amazing that women will put up with in order not to appear rude, in one of many on-the-nose gags in the show) Kimmy decides she’s staying in the Big Apple. She finds an apartment, rented out by the spacey, racist Lillian (Carol Kane) who is definitely a drug dealer and probably murdered her husband. Her roommate is Titus (Tituss Burgess), a gay musical theatre actor, who swiftly becomes her best friend. Kimmy also falls into a job as a general dogsbody for rich trophy wife Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski). Yes, you may recognise those names from 30 Rock, and if you liked that, you’ll love this.

The jokes never let up, and some hilarious moments off the top of my head include the richer characters’ absurd names (Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees and Julian Rommel Voorhees are Jacqueline’s stepdaughter and husband respectively); Titus’ song Pinot Noir (“an ode to black penis”; ‘Pinot Noir/mid-sized car’); the farcical trial of the Reverend (with Tina Fey appearing as the kind of lawyer who makes Lionel Hutz look like Atticus Finch); an old billionaire thinking Kimmy is a Nazi spy because of her surname; Titus’ experiences with a “Straight Coach”. Actually any moment Tituss Burgess is on screen is pure gold. Not many actors could make going to the ATM and attempting to withdraw $2 so funny.

As a big fan of the Coen brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou I was delighted to see Tim Blake Nelson, who plays the dopey Delmar O’Donnell in that movie, show up here as Kimmy’s even dopier stepdad Randy. He nearly manages to imprison Kimmy in the bunker again and ends up in his underpants while trying to get a cat down from a tree.

Given the premise, you would expect that some of the humour is pretty dark, and how much you enjoy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt depends on how twisted your sense of humour is. It’s not all dumb laughs though; this show is smart and tries to deconstruct stereotypes where it can. It doesn’t always succeed, but putting Kimmy with the sweet, kind Vietnamese student Dong (oh yes, there are jokes about that name) over the spoilt Connecticut WASP who talks with a British accent (“I didn’t speak American til college”) is outside the norm. It’s sad that that’s the case in 2015, but in mainstream Western entertainment, Asian men are not seen as romantic leads, and least this show is bringing this to our attention.

Another close to the button joke is the fact that Titus gets more respect dressed as a werewolf in New York than he does in his normal incarnation as a black man. The show has garnered some controversy for these jokes, and for having the blonde, Polish-American Jane Krakowski playing a Native American woman (there’s a whole backstory about her disowning her heritage). The Indian Country Today Media Network has actually praised the show for this storyline.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt never feels mean-spirited. Like Kimmy herself, it’s upbeat, kooky and slightly surreal. Thankfully, Netflix have already commissioned a second series. As Titus would say, “Sweet Tia and Tamera Mowry!”

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