What to Watch on Netflix: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

The team behind 30 Rock has another instant hit on their hands with the ear-to-ear smiles of the secretly dark Kimmy Schmidt!

Editor’s Note: Our Netflix Pick of the Week is the service’s newest original series, and maybe its most promising, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. 

“Oh I’m very normal. I’ve had everything normal happen to me.”

Remember 30 Rock?

Well imagine that 30 Rock had a deranged stepsibling that was locked away in the attic and is only now allowed to be seen by anyone. A fate that is not only eerily similar to Kimmy’s situation, but the series’ itself, as it was shelved away by NBC before ultimately being abandoned entirely. Once Netflix rescued this malnourished sibling and let it loose, it became clear that this was certainly a stepsibling of 30 Rock but one that’s been fed a steady diet of Adderall and LSD. It’s a stepsibling of a show where things like Kimmy’s tragedy can be spontaneously turned into a hilarious auto-tuned viral video. This is a stepsibling that comes from a cartoon world, and it’s an incredibly enjoyable experience and another homerun for Netflix.

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The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (from 30 Rock‘s creative team of Robert Carlock and Tina Fey) sees Ellie Kemper as the titular Kimmy, a former cult member who had a secluded life in a bunker. Finally, this bunker was raided, and Kimmy finally sees freedom after spending fifteen years underground. Now this former “Mole Woman of Indiana” must try and restart her life in the hectic New York City. 

One of the most exciting things about the show is how dark it can be at times and how isn’t afraid to push things into murky territory. The premise alone is such a cynical idea that could be disastrous if it were mishandled. But things like braces on one of Kimmy’s cultmates that remain on her for fifteen years longer than they need to, contorting her teeth, or Lillian (Carol Kane), Kimmy’s chewed up, depressing landlord (who shot her husband in the face no less). Just looking at the devastation that wreaks havoc on Kimmy in the pilot is a little jarring, as are the sad, lonely lives behind the walls of Voorhes’ house. The fact that the show isn’t afraid to go to these places ultimately gives it a lot more freedom in the end. 

Beneath all of this bleakness is also a touching treaty on the idea of reinventing yourself and not being defined by your past. That’s really what this show is all about. It’s not enough to just rise above your circumstances, but you have to do something about it. “Escaping is not the same as making it,” we’re told, and we see every major character going through this and trying to break into a fresh existence.

There’s a stunning false, wide-eyed optimism to New York and life in general in this show that it feels like the perfect counterpoint to the parallels that were explored in 30 Rock’s pilot. It has the same laser-quick pacing and dialogue of Fey and Carlock’s former series, and there’s even cutaways to augment the comedy too, but even still, this is far from some 30 Rock clone. This feels extremely different, but for the exact same audience, or maybe for after they’ve hardened up a bit. Its rapid speed also makes it extremely bingeable, and don’t be surprised if you clear through the season in a day or two.

It won’t be hard to fall so deeply into this show either because Kemper absolutely kills it as Kimmy. Reorienting herself through a “glass half full” New York City is so much fun as she takes absolute delight in the important aspects of her life that she reacquires, as well as the very simple ones. It’s hard not to love her endlessly cheerful attitude as she “face acts” her way through her new life. Fey, Carlock, and Kemper have created a surprisingly deep character beneath this blaring caricature. I could also seriously just watch an entire episode of Kimmy dancing.

While much of the show’s daring perspective is courtesy of Kimmy’s strong voice, the rest of the cast also really shines here. Jane Krakowski is Kimmy’s vapid, self-centered boss (who’s also Native American), Jacqueline Voorhes. Jacqueline’s extremes against Kimmy’s also work exceedingly well while feeling effortless. Very early on this show not only manages to establish its voice, but build a strong, equal bond amongst its cast. Even Jacqueline has great depth to her, as her bankrupt marriage and search for acceptance breaks through her go-go-going attitude. Kimmy’s roommate, Titus Andromedon (Titus Burgess), is also the perfect foil for her, as a savvy flamboyant gay man, who is a struggling actor and Iron Man (or rather, Metal Hero Friend) in Times Square by day.

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Whether you’re a long time fan of the creatives behind Kimmy Schmidt or simply looking for something new and crazy to dig into this Saturday, this show is the right choice for you. It’s daring, whimsical, simultaneously bleak and uplifting, and an addictive experience that you’ll wish you were locked in a bunker with for fifteen years.

This review was based on the first four episodes of the season.

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4 out of 5