Mosaic / Reviews / April 15, 2015

Flix: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” brings new life to old jokes

Actress and comedian Tina Fey acts as the show's creator and executive producer. She also gives guest cameos in episodes eleven through thirteen of season one.

Actress and comedian Tina Fey acts as the show’s creator and executive producer. She also gives guest cameos in episodes eleven through thirteen of season one.

Flix is a weekly series that reviews either a movie available on Netflix or a Netflix original series. This week, I review the Netflix original series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

All too often in our modern television-watching age, we tend to forget that good shows don’t have to be brooding, spirit-crushing dramas; we tend to forget that TV shows were once fun and lively providers of carefree enjoyment. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s original Netflix series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is a gleeful reminder that frivolity and cheerfulness can still make for an engaging show.

Set in a highly stylized New York City inundated with primary colors, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” follows Kimmy Schmidt, one of four “Indiana Mole Women” who spent the last 15 years of her life in a bunker awaiting the apocalypse. After she is saved and learns that the world is still intact, she decides to move to the Big Apple in order to forge her own identity separate from her status as an “Indiana Mole Woman.” On her escapades in New York City, she befriends Titus Andromedon (played by Tituss Burgess), a flamboyantly gay aspiring actor, and Jacqueline Voorhies (played by Jane Krakowski), a wealthy and insecure mother of two who originally hires Kimmy as a nanny.

While the show is guilty of playing with many of the same cheesy tropes we’ve come to expect from a quirky sitcom, what makes the show so refreshing and invigorating is that it doesn’t rely wholeheartedly on these played-out tropes to carry its story. Rather, it is aware that it uses these cliched tropes and isn’t afraid of making fun of itself for it. It’s a show that trails the ambiguous line between irony and sincerity: is the outlandish and campy premise of “Unbreakable” intended to be genuinely fun, or ironically funny? It’s an important question the show never really answers. But as the viewer moves through the 13-episode first season, the show becomes so much more than its zany overarching plot; it becomes a tale of maintaining one’s cheerfulness in the face of harsh realities.

Of all the show’s elements, its characters are by far the best. From both a writing and acting standpoint, the main characters of the show are well-developed and well-executed. Ellie Kemper (whom you may remember from “The Office,” “21 Jump Street” and “Bridesmaids”) stars as the unbreakable titular character. In Kimmy, Kemper molds a character that is as bright and lively as the colors of her wardrobe. Her depiction of Kimmy is a nuanced and deeply relatable one; although Kimmy often acts naively and childishly, she is still a headstrong woman who wants nothing more than to forge her own independence. Probably the best attribute of Kimmy’s character is her relationship with her past. One cannot help but notice how the show’s writers deal with the subject of trauma as both a slyly comedic and deeply personal plot point. Kimmy never feels like she has to be defined by her awful past and relegates her terrible traumas to a passing joke. Her life in the bunker becomes a recurring gag that works effectively in the context of the overall story.

While the show’s well-developed and engaging characters are certainly worthy of acclaim, the show nonetheless has some serious issues it needs to reconcile, namely the rather insensitive depictions of Asian American males. For a show that critics have touted for being so progressive, it seems a bit odd that the writers would still find cartoonish racial stereotypes funny. As critics continually debate over the social implications of Ki Hong Lee’s recurring character, Dong Nguyen, perhaps the writers will rethink their racist humor for season two.

Overall, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is an awesome reinvention of the classic sitcom formula. It’s one of the few shows that can successfully introduce new life into some old jokes.

Stefan Torralba

Tags:  bunker death cult Flix Indiana New York Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

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