There’s a new girl in town—that girl being former doomsday cult member Kimmy Schmidt and that town being, well, New York City. The latest in Netflix’s new line of in-house TV shows, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, follows the story of a girl who has just been discovered in an underground bunker where she has spent the last 17 years of her life, thinking the world had ended. Rather than returning to her life in Indiana, Kimmy wants a fresh start and takes her middle-school-educated self to New York City where she hopes to stay out of the public eye and simply “be normal.”
Kimmy’s attempts to blend in prove difficult, not least of all because of her hot pink pants and bright yellow cardigan. She finds a job, only to get fired the next day for showing up late. She naively sets her bright purple backpack, containing the only money she has, on the floor at a nightclub, only to have it stolen (could’ve told you that, Kimmy. That place was a den of iniquity). But after a few days, and a few more major mistakes, Kimmy does get the general hang of 21st century, caucasian, middle-class, unrefined, big city life.
Kimmy is played by the infectiously cheerful Ellie Kemper, known for her roles as Erin Hannon on The Office and Becca in the 2011 comedy Bridesmaids. Kemper plays Kimmy with relentless enthusiasm, creating a character personality that is built to last. Her innocence comes across as authentic where it could have easily fallen flat. She is complete in her embrace of the character, wearing her light-up sneakers with all the confidence and swagger they deserve.
As she did with the late 30 Rock, Fey packs the episodes full of clever jokes and cultural references. She takes old stereotypes — the gay, black roommate; the smoker landlord; the rich, oblivious Manhattanite — and makes them fresh by making them zanier. The premise of the show is outrageous and, for continuity’s sake, it only makes sense that the characters would be equally as outrageous. For example, at one point Jacqueline Voorhees, a rich woman who hires Kimmy to nanny her child, comments that her husband, who is in Japan, “could get a mistress in a vending machine over there.”
There is, however, one character model that Fey does not include that ultimately hurts the show — the normal guy. If you look at all the most successful sitcoms of the last twenty-five years, they involve a bunch of weird and ridiculous characters revolving around someone relatively normal: Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld, Jim and Pam on The Office, Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, Ann Perkins on Parks and Recreation, Michael on Arrested Development. These characters not only serve as foils for the more ridiculous characters, they also give the audience a point where it can enter into the show and get more enjoyment out of it.
What it lacks in relatability, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt makes up for with polished, smart writing and plenty of jokes that require attentiveness and thinking. Each episode is riddled with punchy one-liners that keep the viewer on their toes. The show draws more chuckles than belly laughs, but in the end, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt accomplishes what it sets out to do — amuse.