If you are like me and automatically reject 99 percent of what people recommend, you probably are already grimacing at the praise The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has received. If you are like me, you probably didn’t even read the reviews, because you saw Netflix and Tina Fey and figured it would be edgy and a bit mean, like the HBO version of 30 Rock, but trying way too hard. Well, it’s time to set things straight: rather than being overly clever, the show is a sweet treat with a surprising bite, like Sriracha Caramel Corn.
The premise: Kimmy Schmidt is one of four Indiana women who have been kept in an underground bunker for 15 years by a cult leader, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. They have been released now, and after an interview of the four “Mole Women” for the Today Show, Kimmy decides to stay in New York.
Kimmy (played by Ellie Kemper) is woefully unprepared for the real world, let alone NYC, but she blunders into the right environment when she finds a sublet with Titus Andromedon, a talented but unsuccessful actor who is alternately plagued with self-doubt or full of unwarranted confidence. The character is played by Broadway phenomenon Tituss Burgess, best known to television viewers as D’Fwan from 30 Rock. Burgess is pitch perfect in this role — yes, he’s flamboyant and gay, but he’s no Sassy Gay Friend. Titus is also sweet, vulnerable, and at the bottom of it all, an artist. He wants to be famous and he envies his peers who have gone on to more success, but there’s no disguising that Andromedon has a gift — his voice is magical — and even as he labors as a singing werewolf at a Times Square theme restaurant, it’s clear that he has a calling, he genuinely deserves to be successful, and that adds a poignancy to his efforts.
Speaking of 30 Rock, Tina Fey is the executive producer and mastermind behind this show, and it bears her stamp in all ways — from the humor that ranges from sly to slapstick, to the actors, many of whom also worked on 30 Rock (in addition to cast member Jane Krakowski, there are guest spots from Jon Hamm, Amy Sedaris, and John Cullum). IMDb lists more than 70 people who worked on both shows, which I like because it confirms my suspicion that Tina Fey recognizes and rewards talent.
And on to the main character. I have to admit, I was a little reluctant to watch this despite Fey’s pedigree, because saints preserve us from “plucky,” amirite? And someone named Kimmy, well, it seems like that’s the name of someone who embraces the pluck. Well, Kimmy is just on the right side of the line — sure she’s cute as a button, a fighter, and an optimist, but her experience has given her a warped view of the world that sometimes brings as many winces as laughs. The show has a deft way of delivering some of the darkest material as throwaway lines. I’m trying to avoid the temptation of listing some of my favorite lines from the show, because one of the key things about the show’s humor is that it involves an element of surprise. (OK, I’ll say one thing: “Daddy’s Boy.”)
Across the board, the characters of Kimmy Schmidt are quirky, but at the same time, they are motivated by the things everyone is: they want to be loved, they want attention, they want to be useful. Their goals are ultimately noble, and they deserve to be happy. It’s unusual to find a comedy where that’s the case.
I’d recommend this show for someone who wants to see something lighthearted yet sometimes faintly poignant. Even if this doesn’t sound like something you’d be interested in, you should still familiarize yourself with Tituss Burgess, because his voice is miraculous.