Ben and I decided to take some time today to discuss the world’s new favorite show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt! If you watched it and liked it, our full discussion is below the cut. If you watched it and didn’t like it, you’re wrong, and please go away.
N: Well, it’s Monday, which means that a) life is terrible and b) you hopefully spent your abbreviated Daylight Savings weekend binging on Netflix’s newest offering, the Tina Fey/Robert Carlock doom-cult sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. We gave you all enough time to watch it (personally, I watched all of it on Friday and was furious at everyone else because I just wanted to discuss!), so let’s get down to it. IMPORTANT NOTE ON SPOILERS! We will begin this review by addressing vague-ish bits about the show but WILL be moving on to exciting things – the actor chosen to play The Reverend among them – and will note when that begins. If you haven’t finished the series, I’m not sure why you’re reading this, but we are nothing if not respectful.
B: It’s an easy series to binge, so really, no excuses. I think what strikes me most about Kimmy Schmidt is just how fun and positive it is. 30 Rock, while being one of the best sitcoms of the last decade, excelled in having something of a darker tone to balance the cartoonish madness of it all. There was anger and sadness underneath a lot of the joy of that series, which totally made sense for the crazed lives of the TGS staff. But it’s fantastically refreshing to get a show filled with characters just as crazy (if not crazier) who are also so dang positive about life. These are characters on the outskirts of it all just trying to make it day by day, and with the help of our eponymous heroine, they’re able to find new ways of getting through life. Damn if this show doesn’t make you smile.
N: But I would argue that one of the wonderful things about this show – and one of the most consistently funny things about this show – is that Kimmy is, yes, undeniably peppy and optimistic, but it’s easy to see there’s a noticeable amount of both determination and unbridled rage hiding underneath the surface. Kemper does a beautiful job with the beats where you can see a flash of angry Kimmy or disturbed Kimmy, since, remember – this girl was fucking kidnapped and locked in a bunker for 15 years. Of course she’s going to be pretty messed up. I felt like this show was the beautiful lovechild of 30 Rock and Parks and Rec; yes, the heroine is plucky and resourceful and caring, but there’s also a healthy amount of pathos just around the corner.
B: And of course, to the delight of a lot of people I’m sure, hardly any of the main characters are straight white men! You get two potential boyfriends who both turn out to be duds, but this is one of the more diverse casts we’ve seen in a sitcom for years, from Titus, Kimmy’s gay, black roommate (and my favorite character) to Dong Wang, Kimmy’s GED classmate and potential love interest. It’s also a show with a wonderfully powerful feminist message of staying strong and making the choices that are right for you. These women are UNBREAKABLE, DAMMIT, cuz females are STRONG AS HELL. On that note, the theme song is too damn catchy for it’s own good.
N: It’s stuck in my head right now. Jeff Richmond, Tina Fey’s husband and music supervisor for both this show and 30 Rock, is a national treasure. And also, to that feminist point! This is a show all about how women are fucking tough and get shit done. (Again. It’s in the theme song.) Throughout the show, Kimmy encourages the women around her – Jenna Maroney’s Mrs. Voorhees in particular – to be more assertive, and she is constantly standing up for herself and her friends, not to mention she’s the only girl in the bunker to openly challenge the domineering Reverend. Plus, the way she breaks a catcaller’s brain is genius, and maybe my favorite scene in the entire show. Should we head into specifics and throw up that spoiler tag, Ben?
B: Spoilers Ahoy, y’all! You should all go watch those 13 episodes of Season 1 and then head back.
B: You’re back? Great.
N: You know that movie We Need To Talk About Kevin? I’m remaking it but this time it’s called We Need To Talk About Jon Hamm. I think you can imagine how fucking pumped I was to see Tina Fey’s former 30 Rock boyfriend and Ellie Kemper’s former acting teacher (yes, that is true) show up and bring the weird to play Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. (GREAT NAME.)
B: Jon Hamm is probably contractually obligated to be in every Tina Fey project from now on (which is not at all a bad thing, Nina feels compelled to add). He fits in quite well with the manic universes she creates, and his turn as Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne is as inspired as it is monstrous. But there are so many other ridiculous celebrity cameos along the way, from Martin Short’s horrific plastic surgeon, to Nick Kroll as a deceitful spin cycle instructor, to Amy Sedaris as an emotional fellow socialite of Jacqueline Voorhees. And that isn’t even counting all the cameos from Broadway actors like Jefferson Mays, James Monroe Iglehart, John McMartin, John Cullum, Christine Ebersole, THIS SHOW IS PACKED TO THE WAZOO WITH TALENT.
N: And let’s not forget about pop-up appearances from more hilarious people like Richard Kind, Tim Blake Nelson (whom I mostly recognized as the guy who wasn’t Clooney or John Turturro in O Brother Where Art Thou?), Kiernan Shipka (who did not share any scenes with her Mad Men co-star), fucking Hank from Breaking Bad, and, um, Horatio Sanz. And of course, the Tina Fey cameo – fingers crossed that Amy Poehler might have a spare few minutes to join in the fun during season 2. But since we’re in spoiler territory, let’s talk a little bit about the big emotional journeys contained in this little series. Sure, Kimmy’s is front and center, but Jackie’s got issues too – her Native American heritage led to a series of gags where Jane Krakowski had to play a teenager – and her stepdaughter, Xanthippe, spends her time gunning for Kimmy to hide her own nerdiness.
B: I think everyone is just trying to find themselves, and escape something from their past. Kimmy has her bunker, Jackie has her Native American family, and Titus has a wife, apparently, in a storyline which I hope will be hilariously explored next season. But everyone here is just trying to show the world that anything is possible; Titus wants to be a star, even if it means singing at a spooky-themed midtown restaurant. Kimmy wants to go get her high school diploma, even if she can’t get it through Billy Madison-eqsue means, and Lillian (the underrated Carole Kane) is convinced she can legally operate an apartment that has a floor that is just painted dirt (her words, not mine). But in the end, even Kimmy learns that you can never escape your past, and in one way or another, it’ll come knocking on your door, whether it’s a step-sister named Kymmi, or a dolphin with a bow on it.
N: And, to some extent, I think this show is telling us that since you can’t ever escape your past, it’s best to just embrace it. It made me think of Graham Moore’s “stay different, stay weird” speech that went viral after the Oscars – Kimmy’s past, even though it’s traumatic and horrible, made her who she is, and that’s a smart and resourceful person, albeit with outdated pop culture references. I also thought the show handled jokes with her past remarkably well, since when you really think hard about this concept, it’s kind of a 30 Rock subplot or SNL skit that Fey and Carlock cleverly crafted into a fully realized show, and they’re smart enough to sidestep a lot of mistakes that could have been made here. Yes, the show does have a ton of jokes about Kimmy not understanding basic stuff, but the jokes are varied and smart enough that they never feel tired (particular favorites that come to mind: Kimmy telling the housekeeper to “shut up” in Spanish instead of saying hello because she hears Jackie say it; Kimmy misinterpreting and repeating pop culture references or middle school taunts out of context; or, my favorite, when Kimmy admits to Siri that she’s a mole person, whose disembodied voice just says, “That’s messed up,” which made me howl for five straight minutes). To add to that, Kimmy is naive and clueless for sure, but she’s definitely not dumb – I keep using the word “resourceful,” which I think sums her up well, and she’s usually the first person to solve any given problem. I mean, she sends the Reverend to jail by catching a timestamp on his Apprentice audition tape!
B: It’s an ingenious way to end an already ingenious show. And with a second season already on the way, we’ll be sure to have even more fun on Kimmy’s next adventures! Until then, I’ll be staging a remount of the classic 1938 musical, Daddy’s Boy.
N: Fucking perfect first season, man.
Well, there’s our discussion of the first season, though I have a feeling we’ll be fighting over who gets to include this show in our 2015 Roundup. And, yes, I know there’s not much criticism in here – but we don’t have much. This show is better than candy for dinner or running outside. Or even light-up sneakers!