I'm always happy to find a new comedy that I completely fall in love with, all the more so because it happens so rarely. In the current television landscape that's filled with high quality drama series, it often goes unmentioned that the golden age of television comedy still belongs to bygone eras (particularly the 1970's, filled with sitcoms that still dominate lists of "greatest TV shows" alongside the more current dramas). But I'm thrilled that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is such a delightful and endearing show that it can be devoured in under two days if you're into binge-watching. Netflix was lucky enough to pick up the Tina Fey/Robert Carlock created series that NBC rejected, and it's all the better for it, since a show this quirky and rooted in a premise this twisted would surely be canceled in three weeks if aired on network television.
It doesn't seem likely that a show based on the rescue of four women kidnapped and held prisoner by a crazy preacher for fifteen years would be the foundation of a whole lot of hilarity, but if anyone can pull it off it's Tina Fey, whose social satire and clever wordplay is as biting and sharp as ever. It also helps that the titular character is played by the adorable and incredibly winning Ellie Kemper, who I've liked ever since she first showed up on the later seasons of NBC's The Office and parlayed her screen presence into a rare bright spot in most of those hit and miss episodes. Since then she's been a bit part scene stealer in comedies like Bridesmaids, 21 Jump Street, and Laggies, but here she's finally found a role she seems to have been born to play, and it's a total star making performance.
Kimmy Schmidt was kidnapped as a 15-year-old by the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, and forced to live in an underground bunker for the next decade and a half with three other women, having been told the apocalypse had happened above ground and there was no alternative if they were to survive. Now, after having been finally rescued by the police, it's Kimmy's chance to live a "normal life" as a single gal in the big city (New York, where else?) and she goes about trying to do all the things she's missed out on, like having a job, a boyfriend, an apartment, and a flamboyant black gay roommate (Titus Burgess, a scene stealer himself with some of the very best one liners). It may sound like a dark premise, but the show skirts the boundaries of the issue well, turning Kimmy into a self-determined, unwillingly naive yet eager to learn woman-child who only wants to be as grown up as everyone else, while marveling at the new technologies and societal changes in 2015 America.
The supporting cast is excellent, from Burgess as her hilarious roommate, to Carol Kane as their landlady, and most of all 30 Rock vet Jane Krakowski in a similar role to the one she played on that show as Jacqueline Vorhees, Kimmy's rich employer with a singularly unique backstory of her own. Krakowski is a rock of dependability as a supporting player (I actually wish she was in more episodes), fusing her materialistic narcissism with a sense of actual compassion and affection for Kimmy as the two become fast friends despite their differences. The dialogue is witty and piercing and Kimmy's various big city adventures amusing, until a couple of the later episodes that bring in Tim Blake Nelson as Kimmy's long lost stepdad and spend a little too much time hanging around with him as he surprisingly does not deliver the comedic jabs that the rest of this cast does so well.
Guest stars include Martin Short, Tina Fey and Jon Hamm, who makes the most of his time as the creepy kidnapper Reverend, but even though he is funny, the amount of time spent on resolving the bunker backstory in the final few episodes may be a bit of a misstep, since it veers a little too close to the horrifyingly awful premise. Given that this show was so obviously inspired by the real life horror story of the Ohio women found alive in 2013, mixed with a cult influence so as not to seem overly dark, it's still hard to spend so much time on what went on in the bunker without directly addressing the only reason any man would kidnap three teenage girls and hold them captive for fifteen years in the first place- we all know why Kimmy suffers from nightmares, PTSD and subconsciously attacks Titus in her sleep, but since this is a comedy it's probably best not to dwell on that too much, don't you think?
On the other hand, if the show really wants to go dark (and maybe it does, since it certainly doesn't hide from the scarring event that's shaped Kimmy's life, with regular flashbacks and all) since it was developed originally for NBC, maybe the next season will embrace the lack of censorship restrictions on Netflix and really get into the elephant in the room regarding Kimmy and her three bunkmates' experiences- as it is, the only thing alluded to was the confirmation of "weird sex stuff"- uh huh. So it may go even darker with an un-compromised version of the show in a second season, which would also allow Fey and Carlock to further explore the themes that do recur over the course of this one regarding female strength, empowerment and the ability of women to overcome their tendency to be manipulated by male authority figures.
But even if it doesn't, I'd still be happy to stick with Kimmy's NYC life, her odd couple friendships with Titus and Jacqueline, her romantic mishaps, and far too many gags and punchlines to keep track of within a single episode (I know I missed at least half of them). This is a series I can easily rewatch and probably will before next season rolls around. Ellie Kemper shines brighter than any recent comedy star that I can remember and as a viewer you want to spend as much time with her as possible- a key component in an actor's ability to carry a series. I hope the Emmys are paying attention.