First things first, you should know that I am a HUGE fan of 30 Rock. I have a unique (and sometimes annoying) ability to tie anything that happens in life back to an episode of 30 Rock. I’m pretty sure my friends are so tired of hearing me say “this reminds of that time on 30 Rock ___.” I just can’t stop myself.
Given that, you can imagine that I had some pretty large expectations going into Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the new Netflix sitcom from 30 Rock‘s Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Perhaps disappointment was inevitable, but that isn’t totally fair because Kimmy shows some promise and has a lot of genuinely funny moments. Besides, 30 Rock had some ups and downs in its first season. I actually stopped watching 30 Rock after two episodes when it first aired, then rejoined halfway through the first season when the show had begun to hit its stride.
So there’s a good chance that Kimmy will work through its kinks. Doing a weekly show allowed 30 Rock to course correct with each episode until it found its voice. Airing on Netflix, Kimmy doesn’t have that luxury. The entire season had to be presented at once. I’m going to be cautiously optimistic that season 2 will improve.
The problem with Kimmy is that its central character is essentially Kenneth the page 2.0. How well you respond to a show centered on that kind of cock-eyed optimism depends on whether or not you liked Kenneth on 30 Rock. Personally, I thought he was the weak link in the cast, but recognize that his recklessly positive attitude provided an essential counterbalance to the rest of the cast’s sardonic cynicism. The thing about making his character type the focus is that the other characters basically have to yield to that aw-shucks attitude. By the end of each episode, every character has to embrace Kimmy’s positivity and everything is sunshine and rainbows. It makes otherwise stellar characters like Titus Andromedon and Jacquelyn Voorhies feel muted–as if they don’t really have the room to stretch their wings.
I do give Kimmy a lot of credit for not shying away from its central premise: Kimmy Shmidt was kidnapped at age 15 and kept in an underground bunker with three other women. The man responsible for their imprisonment was an apocalyptic weirdo in full-on religious cult mode. Now that she’s free, Kimmy has decided to move to NYC and experience everything she missed out on. That’s a really dark premise for a sitcom, especially since the script refuses to dodge the more difficult ramifications (asked if there was weird sex stuff, Kimmy replies yes). A regular TV network would have no idea what to do with this kind of a show. Kimmy also deals with her fellow survivors, who have adopted their own coping mechanisms. One uses her fame to launch a Mexican cooking line, one leverages how bad everyone feels for her to get everything she wants in life (even the boy she had a crush on in high school–despite the fact that he’s totally gay), and one was so brainwashed that she continues to live by the cult’s rules even though she doesn’t have to.
Kimmy’s determination to live an honest life in order to make up for lost time is admirable–she’s got real courage in her drive to move on. Which makes it difficult to point out that she’s also frequently unbearably annoying. Not just because of her relentless positivity, but because everything she does is so wildly over the top.
Thankfully, she’s balanced out a bit by Titus Andromedon, her flamboyantly gay, self-centered roommate. If the show were centered on Titus, there would be no problem. There’s also fine supporting work from Carol Kane as their wacky landlord. Not surprisingly, Jane Krakowski does excellent work as Kimmy’s super-wealthy new boss Jacquelyn Voorhies. The fact that I wanted Voorhies to be more of a Jenna character is woefully unfair to Krakowski, but it should be noted that the moments Voorhies shines brightest are the moments she calls back to Krakowski’s 30 Rock character the most.
Still, as I said it’s hard for these characters to truly shine when they have to yield the spotlight to Kimmy. Rainbows and lollipops Kimmy.
There’s enough promise here to make me return for season 2, but I remain hopeful that some of these kinks will be worked out. If they aren’t it may make Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a tough pill to swallow going forward.