UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT is Classic Tina Fey, Classicker Ellie Kemper
Ordinarily, I am not much of a binge watcher. I like to take shows on an episode by episode basis, as they were intended to be taken. A story always means more if you spread it out over time. You’ll never care as much about a character you’ve known for two hours as you do about one that you’ve known for three years. The Harry Potter books will still be effective to those who choose to read them now, but it will never be as emotional a journey to those of us who sat with the characters for ten years before getting to know who they hard poorly-named kids with. I believe that television succeeds because of its long form storytelling capabilities that are unmatched by any other medium.
I watched all of Kimmy Schmidt in a day and a half.
There is just something so inherently watchable about the new show from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, a big part of the team that brought us the television classic 30 Rock. The show is as colorful and packed with great joke after great joke as that combination of inspired elements might suggest. Feylock’s New York is a brutal place for its people but is injected with vibrant color around every corner.
The physical embodiment of that color is Ellie Kemper, in what had better be a starmaking turn as Kimmy Schmidt or so help me I will be coming after you, Earth. After serving her time as a winning supporting player in Bridesmaids, 21 Jump Street, and The Office Kemper is finally playing the role truly worthy of her comedic talent and innate likeability. As a woman trapped in a bunker for a decade and a half, Kemper must play a woman out of time, the female Captain America. She sees our familiar world with new eyes (“Dancing is about butts now!”) and never once do you doubt her performance, even as she drops some early nineties slang without shame or unintentionally drops some trivia as to just what went down in that bunker for all those years.
Kimmy’s allies out-of-bunker are few, but they are strong. She moves in with perpetually vain struggling actor Titus Andromedon (Titus Burgess). If the idea of our female lead having a flamboyantly gay best friend sounds like something that will scare you off, don’t let it. Burgess, a 30 Rock alum, is bombastically funny, acting beyond the typical broadness of the Tina Fey style and bringing every moment to its peak of colorful strangeness. Their landlord is Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane – Miracle Max’s wife in The Princess Bride for those unfamiliar), who manages to be the comedic standout in a remarkably strong ensemble. In every episode her layers grow and she drops a new surprise. Her delivery of lines like, “I hand out subpoenas on the side; that way when business is bad, business is good” is comedy refined down to a volatile science. And, of course, no Tina Fey ensemble from now until the end of time will be complete without Jane Krakowski. After giving Alec Baldwin a run for his money in the Best Delivery of Tina Fey Dialogue competition as Jena Maroney on 30 Rock, Krakowski has lost none of her empty-headed, upper class fire in the transition from one show to the next.
Kimmy Schmidt is great from its first episode. It knows precisely what it is and who is making it. The core cast is small but outstandingly game, and the surrounding rogues gallery of weirdos is memorable and lovely. This even includes the typical Fey glut of celebrity appearances that holds off until the last possible moment and then comes tearing in like a welcome Kramer, or like that game where you see how long you can be physically close to someone without making out with them so that it is all the more rewarding when you do.
The show’s entire first season is on Netflix, which you or someone whose password you steal has access to. You should check it out if you have always wanted to see Erin from The Office hold a rat in triumph. Or if you have a years long 30 Rock itch you just have had no way to scratch. Or if you have heard of the concept of comedy. You won’t regret it.