I admit I’ve been a bit tardy catching up with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the buzz US show that marks Tina Fey’s return to the television landscape following the end of 30 Rock. I’ve been so slack in fact that the show released here in Australia in late March and I’m only just getting around to watching it now. But you know what – it doesn’t matter because the only place you can see it on Australian television is via Netflix, meaning you can watch it pretty much whenever you like. You don’t even have to worry about setting a time to record it.
It also means you can watch all 13 episodes from the first season (so far the only season; though Netflix in the US apparently committed to a minimum 2-season deal, so expect to see more later this year or early 2016) in one sitting if you want. And that might just be what you want, as the show is pretty addictive.
The show uses the now-established trope of the small-town girl making her way in the big city. The twist here is that the girl, the eponymous Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) has been held captive in an underground bunker for the past 9 years by a mad preacher (an unrecognisable Jon Hamm) in rural Indiana. After she and three other women (dubbed the “Indiana mole women” by the media) are released, Kimmy wants nothing more than to get out of Indiana and head to New York City. Predictably, life in the big smoke is a little different – particularly for someone cut off from the outside world for the best part of a decade. With limited resources, she ends up renting a room from the ditzy but mercenary Lillian (Carol Kane); which entails sharing with the flamboyant Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), an aspiring but largely unsuccessful Broadway performer. To support herself, she ends up getting a job with the fabulously wealthy Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski) as nanny to her two spoiled kids.
The season is built in two “halves” – the first sees the ever-bubbly Kimmy navigating life in NYC in 2015; while the second involves her dealing with events from the past. I suspect much of the first “half” (I use quotes because it’s actually more than half the episodes) is setting up for the second season; while the second “half” is pretty much self-contained.
A key element of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is what I’ve seen described as “joke density”. The sheer barrage of witticisms flying around is dizzying, and you have to stay on your toes to keep up. Of course, if you’ve watched any of 30 Rock, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Some of the situations are a bit silly (although that kind of comes with the territory) but even if one joke falls flat, there’s another on you so quickly, it doesn’t really matter.
Despite (or perhaps because of) that, the show has been embroiled in controversy when tragic real life events engulfed a person who was lampooned in the show. That tragedy certainly colours the episode in question, watching it in hindsight.
That aside, the show is certainly full of the kind of acerbic observation and contemporary social commentary that’s become a feature of Fey’s writing. As well as serving as co-creator (with Robert Carlock) for the series and one of its writers, Fey also appears in the final three episodes of the season as a clueless lawyer.
The other thing that keeps this show afloat is the incredible energy of Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids) in the title role. Without her by-jingo enthusiasm in every scene, the show wouldn’t have a chance of living up to its title and the whole thing would fall flat. She is however ably supported by Tituss Burgess (30 Rock) as the equally indefatigable but slightly more worldly Titus Andromedon; and another 30 Rock alumnist in Jane Krakowski as the vain and clueless employer. I should also mention the fabulous Carol Kane (Gotham) who is wonderfully eccentric in the role of the landlady.
If you have Netflix (and there are plenty of offers going at the moment), you should do yourself a favour and check out Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It’s one of those shows that makes it hard to keep a smile off your face – and really, what more could you want from a comedy?
Day & time: Any darn time you want
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television