- Ellie Kemper as the unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
When 30 Rock aired its final episode in 2013, television lost something special. Tina Fey created a universe in which there was no ceiling for silliness, women could be powerful cynics, and an NBC page could be immortal. More importantly it was a world that was filled a high laughs-per-minute quota while shedding light (sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly) on issues from gender equality to FDA regulations. There was nothing like it on television, and technically there still isn’t; its worthy replacement, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is streaming on Netflix.
Fey and 30 Rock show runner Robert Carlock introduce a more optimistic lead than Liz Lemon in Kimmy Schmidt, played by Ellie Kemper who more than holds her own in her first turn as a leading lady. But it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Her upbeat nature comes from getting a second chance at life after being kidnapped as a teen and forced to live in an underground bunker as part of a religious cult for 15 years. We see New York through Kimmy’s eyes: a colorful world full of endless opportunities where there’s always a helpful man in a van available to help you figure out your real bra size.
For Kimmy, the garden-level apartment on the wrong side of town with a walk-in closet/bedroom is like a mansion compared to her underground prison. So when she arrives at an actual mansion, the home of her employer Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski), the culture clash hits a new level. Jacqueline is a woman who offers Kimmy a water and, when it’s declined, throws the whole bottle into the trash. Kimmy is a woman whose entire life fits in a purple JanSport backpack. Still, they become friends, and thanks to top-notch performances by Kemper and Krakowski, the mismatched pair appear to genuinely care about each other.
In fact, for how outlandish the characters are, none of them seem disingenuous. Kimmy’s roommate Titus (Titus Burgess) truly believes that getting hired as a singing werewolf at a theme restaurant will be his big break. Their landlord Lillian (Carol Kane) knows in her heart she’s saving her neighborhood from gentrification when she uses an old oar to bash in every nice car that parks on the block. Kimmy can’t help being amazed by iPhones (“Is this a Macintosh?!”) or believing that Jesus’s stepbrother Terry was a real biblical figure—she’s been trapped underground for half her life with a charismatic, lie-spewing maniac, the perfectly named cult leader Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. Each person in this group of delightful weirdos is grounded in their own reality without a straight man in sight to tell them otherwise, and that’s a good thing.
Amid the nonstop jokes and jaunty score (Jeff Richmond, Fey’s husband and 30 Rock composer, stuck around for this one), some dark subjects are addressed so seamlessly that it’s barely noticeable. Luckily the first 13 episodes of this show are endlessly rewatchable (I zoomed through the season twice in three days) so you won’t miss a thing. It’s good to have Fey’s wacky, whimsical, and thoughtful view of the world back in our lives.