Note: Full spoilers for the season follow.
“We’re the strong ones, and you can’t break us.”
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is an infectiously energetic, quick-witted, and constantly entertaining show that both reflects the 30 Rock roots of its creators and crafts its own world with aplomb. It’s an easily binge-able 13 episodes, and although its jokes come rapid fire and make you laugh, there’s also a beating heart underneath it all: the story of Kimmy Schmidt, one of four “Mole Women” who is rescued from an Indiana doomsday cult’s underground bunker.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that this is far from the happiest backstory to give a main character, but what’s great about this show is its ability to balance the effects of Kimmy’s history with the smiling and endearing presence she is in the present. What could be tonally dissonant is instead compelling and hilarious and handled with care. The show doesn’t treat the bunker–which includes “weird sex stuff”–as merely a jumping off point for the story; rather, it’s a plot point whose effects we see play out throughout the season, and it’s handled in a tactful way. UKS immediately turns the spotlight on the media’s coverage of the bunker story, and it comments on the way these women are framed as mere “victims”, as stories to be exploited and sensationalized. The show’s message is perhaps summed up best by Kimmy at the end of the pilot: “Life beats you up, Titus,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you got tooken by a cult or you’ve been rejected over and over again at auditions. You can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can stand up and say we’re different. We’re the strong ones, and you can’t break us.”
One of the biggest reasons this message gets across is due to the stellar cast, which is anchored by Ellie Kemper as the titular Kimmy Schmidt. It would be easy to make the character an oblivious and stupid person living in the wrong times, but the show understands how to use Kemper well; Kimmy isn’t the butt of the joke for thirteen episodes straight, and while it’s certainly fun to watch her try to figure out her new environment, it’s also essential to be able to see her as a fully formed character with her own worldview and motivations. She’s optimistic and resilient, and she thrives by getting to know the people and the world around her. In addition, Kemper definitely plays well off of the rest of the cast, which includes Jane Krakowski playing Jacqueline Voorhees–presumably Jenna Maroney’s twin–and Tituss Burgess playing Titus Andromedon. The former is always entertaining and looks to be going down an interesting path for next season, whereas the latter feels like an indelible part of the show, even though he’s oftentimes not directly involved with the central storyline. In particular, his Pinot Noir bit is arguably the funniest of the season, and it definitely solidifies Burgess as a fantastic comedic actor.
As for the season itself, it does hit its peak in the middle third of the season, as there is a bit too much time spent on Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne’s trial near the end. However, there’s still quite a bit to like in those three episodes, specifically Jon Hamm’s terrific performance as the Reverend and Tina Fey/Jerry Minor showing up as inept lawyers. It’s a wacky setup with a very fitting conclusion–Gretchen, an ardent follower of the Reverend’s, finally seeing him for who he really is–and it’s a nice way to get our characters to confront their pasts. One of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s main questions is about how we deal with change and how we move on, and season two looks like it’s going to tackle that question head-on in the aftermath of the trial. I can’t wait to see where this show goes next, to see how Kimmy continues to grow and laugh and love as her world keeps on spinning, to see who Donna Maria and Gretchen and Cyndee are underneath the glossy media coating. Right now, we know one thing for sure: they’re alive, dammit. It’s a miracle!
-The opening credits. SO GOOD. I could watch them for hours and hours.
-The Native American controversy is ridiculous. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.
-Kiernan Shipka! Dean Norris! Nick Kroll! Richard Kind! Martin Short! Amy Sedaris! Jon Hamm! Tina Fey! Jerry Minor! There are a ton of great cameos throughout, and each and every one of them is great.
-Kimmy and Dong are great for each other, and the ending to season one suggests that Dong will have a bigger role next season. He essentially disappears during the courtroom scenes, but hopefully we see more next year.
– “Daddy’s Boy” is the best.
-Now that Orange Is the New Black is rightly classified as a drama for the Emmys, I’m hoping this show can pick up some nominations in the comedy category. It definitely deserves it, especially much more than Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory.
– “There’s a girl here who looks like Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers.” The subtitles this season are absolutely hilarious. This is probably my favorite one, and I love that there’s a “chica hamburguesa” callback later on.
-Carol Kane as Lillian is always great for some one-liners. “Indiana? I barely know Diana!”
-The best Xan quote: “…and he fought in some war with Germany, the guys from soccer.” By the way, Xan is a great character, and she acts as a nice foil for Kimmy throughout the season. The most ice-cold quote so far is Kimmy telling Xan: “2090 called. You’re dead and you wasted your time on Earth.”
-What happened to Charles (Buckley’s tutor)? I feel like his character just faded into the background over the course of the season.
-Yuko the Robot is a very 30 Rock thing to introduce.
– “Ay caramba.” “We all caramba, Donna Maria.”
-As always, Fey and co. are great at maintaining the running jokes. Some of my favorites: the constant water references, the Banana Boys actually showing up at a party later on, random people they come across oftentimes turning out to be gay.
– “The other day, I smashed one of those…oh gosh, what are they called? Kia Sorentos.”
-Looking forward to next season. It’s a long ways away. For now, feel free to share your favorite quotes/characters/episodes in the comments. I couldn’t possibly have covered everything in one review, after all.
Photo credit: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix