They’re Alive, Dammit! (Series Review: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”)

A hilarious send-up of our headline culture, skewering familiar media tropes such as ‘Kidnap-Victims-Freed-from-Captivity’, ‘Self-Professed-Messianic-Cult-Leaders’, and ‘Small-Town-Girl-Dares-to-Dream-in-the-Big-City’, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt aims high and low as only Tina Fey can deliver.

 

SnapShot Plot

In one of the most delightfully silly and inspired opening scenes of any comedy series ever, the camera zooms in on four women dressed in pioneer garb dancing around a Christmas tree, singing (to the tune of O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree)  “Apocalypse, Apocalypse, We Caused It With Our Dumbness.”  Suddenly a small door is kicked in by a SWAT team and they are pulled out of the rural Indiana bunker where they’ve been held in captivity for the last 15 years by a self-proclaimed prophet and erstwhile Walmart employee called, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, who’s had them convinced that the entire world and all God’s creatures have been wiped from the planet. Local and national TV coverage ensues with increasingly insipid headlines (my favorite: White Women Found!), as well as a looping sound bite from the Black neighbor next door, and suddenly the whole un-PC scene morphs into a rap remix set! Next thing you know, the media-minted ‘Indiana Mole Women’ are sitting across from Matt Lauer on the Today Show couch, overnight celebrity victims completely out of time and step with the rest of the world.

As an NBC Page bids them farewell at the 30 Rockefeller Plaza street exit (“Thank you, Victims!”) Kimmy Schmidt has her eureka moment, realizing she doesn’t want to be forever identified as one of the Mole Women. No, Kimmy Schmidt decides to begin a new, anonymous life in the Big Apple. Victim No More, Dammit!

 

 

Parting Shot

Kimmy Schmidt is the bold creation of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, who pretty much re-wrote the TV comedy rule book with 30 Rock. In fact, if you close one eye and squint with the other, it’s not that far-fetched to imagine Kimmy as the country mouse cousin of 30 Rock’s beleagured leading lady, Liz Lemon. For all Liz’s acerbic wisdom and put-upon demeanor, she always had that obedient schoolgirl inside who at least tried to avoid stepping on the cracks. And Kimmy may be fresh faced and terminally cheerful, but she’s got quite the right hook when provoked. Indeed, there are several connections between the two shows, most notably in the ingenious casting of the inimitable Jane Krakowski as the spoiled Upper East Side socialite, Jacqueline Voorhes with whom Kimmy miraculously finds employment. Fans of 30 Rock may also recognize the male construction worker who cat-calls Kimmy early on in the show; the actor Mike Carlsen also appeared in 30 Rock occasionally, cast as the same character. Even Jacqueline’s little pooch is the same dog her character Jenna had in 30 Rock.

But the reason this show works is more than the insanely funny, rapid-fire dialogue and ridiculous set-ups and punchlines. It’s Ellie Kemper’s effervescent command of the character of Kimmy Schmidt that makes this carousel turn turn turn. You’ll recognize her from The Office, Bridesmaids and bits on The Daily Show and what she brings to this project is more than a zany physicality (can a face actually stretch that far into grins or grimaces?) and amazing clown craft. It’s that witch’s brew of farce and realism that you can’t bottle or teach . . . she’s a one-woman tour de force.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, originally intended as a classic episodic TV series, was instead optioned by Netflix which is why there are thirteen 23-minute shows (originally timed to include broadcast commercials). There’s even a smile in the titles of each episode, delightfully nostalgic and reminiscent of the old Dick & Jane readers from grammar school: Kimmy Goes Outside!; Kimmy Gets a Job!; Kimmy Kisses a Boy!, etc.

Strangely, real life has intersected tragically with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt with last week’s news of the apparent suicide of Manhattan Dermatologist to the Stars, Dr. Fredric Brandt, who was portrayed in an eccentric caricature by Martin Short on the series. Word has it that the doctor was very hurt by his comic depiction (the character’s name is Dr. Franff) but no one is alleging that this was the reason he hung himself in his Florida home on April 5th.

Fittingly, I’ll sign off with a nod to The Gregory Brothers for one of the most lingering earworms in ages. Move over, Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’ . . . the theme song to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has moled down deep into my brain, and Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne didn’t have to kidnap me either; I chose to watch this show. “It’s a miracle! Females are strong as hell . . . “Dammit!”

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is presently streaming on Netflix.

YouTube Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNKEKlXY3Z4

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