Netflixing: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

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The phenomenon of Netflix as a paradigm shift is far more interesting than the simple idea of being able to stream movies and TV shows into your home. The best thing to come out of the platform is the way it has redefined what “a movie” or “a TV show” can be.

No longer do shows have to chart their plot points around commercial breaks. No longer do episode runtimes have to be a round number. You can have 12-minute, 47-minute, and even 4.5 minute episodes in a series. Why even bother with a uniform episode runtime? You can have long episodes and short episodes in whatever order works best for the story.

And, best of all, the economy of producing a Netflix series allows creators to take chances on niche products that TV networks would dismiss as “too risky”. And when those projects turn out to be some of the best stuff on television, you have to ask yourself why we ever chained ourselves to the way TV used to be.

This is where we find The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Some Background

This show was created and developed by Tina Fey, of 30 Rock fame. And while Fey was also the creator of that previous series, she did so while heavily entangled with NBC. If you’ve watched 30 Rock (or read my review of it), then you’ll remember that a lot of the jokes on that show were about the stifling constraints of trying to produce a network show, and all the friction that happened between the writers and creators against the suits and cigars.

So it is hard to ignore the notion that Miss Fey used The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as a way of reveling in artistic autonomy. The show’s story, after all, is about what it’s like to experience freedom after a long period of captivity. In many ways, it is the perfect show for Netflix. It breaks rules. It challenges long-held conceptions of TV comedies. And I noticed the runtime of each episode gradually getting longer as the series progresses.

Not to mention that catchy theme song.

“It’s a miracle.”

Let’s dive right in.

The Story

Kimmy Schmidt lives in an underground fallout bunker with her three sister-wives as part of an apocalyptic cult. The only other person living with them is the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, their husband and captor who has taught them that the world outside the bunker was completely destroyed due to their incompetence.

After fifteen years of imprisonment, the women are finally found and freed by the police. They emerge into the world above to find that it has not been destroyed, and they couldn’t be happier.

The story shocks the nation. The four “mole women” (as the media calls them) become world famous for fifteen minutes. Good Morning, America flies them all the way to New York City for an interview. And while in the city, Kimmy decides that she is not going back to Durnsville, Indiana. She bids the other mole women goodbye to start a new life for herself in New York.

She finds a place to live, she gets a sassy roommate, she gets a job, she gets robbed, and she gets fired.

And that’s just the first episode.

The Continuity

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt derives its humor from character and situation. The story is driven by events that run from bad to worse for the main characters. The creators could quite easily have made the whole thing entirely modular and episodic, but instead opted to create a rigid continuity.

The episodes must be watched in order. Otherwise, the story is lost.

Continuity also plays a big role inside each episode, as much of the humor relies on running jokes and throwbacks to earlier outbursts made by the characters. These running jokes rarely last more than one episode, strangely enough, since all the other elements of the show are perennial.

One unexpected side effect of this emphasis on continuity comes in the form of world building—a subject normally confined to the realms of Science Fiction and Fantasy. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt establishes certain rules to the way that this version of reality works, and those rules, once established, are never ignored.

For example, in one episode a business magnate reveals that his company has invented robotic workers for use as manual labor. One of the main characters accidentally “kills” the prototype robot, and this becomes a plot point for the episode. This could so easily have been a throwaway gag, and yet, throughout the rest of the series, you will occasionally see worker robots in the background of various scenes, going about their business. They became a permanent element of the world.

For a sitcom, that is just unreal.

The Characters

But the greatest strength of this show has to be its characters. Each one is memorable and highly watchable, and every time they get together, comedic sparks fly. There are a ton of funny supporting characters. But the stars of the show are definitely the main cast.

Kimmy Schmidt

A woman who was abducted at the age of 15 and forced into an underground cult until she was 30. After being freed from the clutches of the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, the one thing she wants above all is to leave the whole traumatic experience behind and just get over it. Her entire story arc is grounded in the idea that things can never be just that easy.

Definitely the most developed character on the show. Not necessarily the funniest, however, as she ends up playing the straight man in a lot of situations. Still, she gets a lot of zingers in, and even when she’s the butt of the joke she pulls it off with style.

I feel like a horrible person for saying this, but her funniest moments have to be the traumatic flashbacks she experiences as someone with PTSD. Nary an episode goes by where Kimmy doesn’t revisit some comically absurd memory of how rotten her life was in the doomsday bunker, and some of them are downright hilarious.

Titus Andromedon

Kimmy’s roommate. An actor who came to New York hoping to star in a Broadway production of The Lion King, but who has never landed a real gig. Titus is vain, prissy, and just a little bit crazy.

In some ways, he’s a lazily thrown together stereotype. He’s the sassy black guy and the sassy gay friend (gee, where have I seen that before?), but he makes up for it by being the second funniest part of the show. He gets outraged by small things but is not assertive enough to annoy anyone about it. He’s a genuinely good singer and charmingly naive about a hilarious range of topics. He’s more likely to be bewildered by danger than frightened by it. And he is also responsible for the funniest moment in the entire series. When you’re done reading this, Google “Titus Andromedon Trident” and watch the YouTube clip.

You’ll thank me.

Jacqueline Voorhees

Kimmy’s on-again, off-again employer and best friend. Jacqueline is basically the same character Jane Krakowski played on 30 Rock, transposed into a domestic setting.

She is the funniest part of the show.

A gold-digging flight attendant who became a gold-digging mistress and wife, Jacqueline is a ridiculously rich socialite woman whose complete disconnect from reality makes for some ostentatious humor. Narcissistic to a fault, she constantly takes advantage of Kimmy’s unselfish nature and makes outlandish demands at every available opportunity. Whenever she is forced into a situation where she actually has to do things for herself, it always goes explosively wrong. Still, she rarely loses her composure.

Lillian Kaushtupper

Owner of the derelict house where Kimmy and Titus live. Lillian is the street savvy and brutally honest landlady that forms the emotional heart of the show, kind of like Alice from The Brady Bunch, if Alice were a semi-psychotic spinster whose hatred of gentrification bordered on the criminal.

Lillian is the anti-establishment, anti-politically-correct voice in a world gone mad. As more and more hipsters try to clean up her neighborhood and turn every broken-down business into an ironic coffee shop, she becomes more irascible. Her humor is multifaceted, in that everything she does is funny.

My Judgment

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is one of the best shows on TV. It swears a pledge of allegiance to funny, all while being insanely original and fresh.

The show is a Netflix exclusive, and two seasons are currently available. The third season is set to air sometime this year, and I can tell you that I will be watching with great interest.

It’s shaping up to be a fun 2017.