Tina Fey's Weird and Winsome Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Channels Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope

The world is a terrible place. That's the uncompromising truth with which Tina
Fey and Robert Carlock begin Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), their follow-
up to the under-seen but culturally monumental 30 Rock. The very first scenes of
Unbreakable's first season, which will be released in its binge-able entirety on March
6, find 29-year-old Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) being rescued from the doomsday cult she has been
trapped in for 15 years. If you do the math, that's a harrowingly young age for a girl to be
groomed into a sister-wife. “Yes, there was weird sex stuff,” blurts the PTSD-ridden middle-
school dropout, who has spent more than half her life in a basement (with three other women).

But the cheerfully determined Kimmy refuses to give in to the awfulness of her past or the
arduousness of New York City, where she will start her life anew. It's her sunny indomitability,
along with the show's surprising thoughtfulness and sly, gimlet-eyed wit, that makes
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt so weird, wild and winsome. Fans of 30 Rock will
immediately recognize Fey's mordant and absurdist comedic voice, as well as Jane Krakowski,
the erstwhile Jenna Maroney, here playing a striving trophy wife who hires Kimmy as a nanny.
Newcomers to Fey's work, meanwhile, will find a rare combination of rapid-fire hilarity, affecting
existential crises, a fully realized network of characters, and the rare creative team that's firing
on all cylinders right from Episode 1.

Kimmy's liberation from the cult immediately brings about new challenges. She and her
fellow captives are instantly branded as the Mole Women by the media—a careless
insult that helps Kimmy realize that, as long as her reputation as a victim precedes her, she'll
never be free to be herself. And so she joins a long list of sitcom heroines, led by Mary Tyler
Moore, who start over in a new city. In Kimmy's case, it's because only in a metropolis as
crowded and as anonymous as New York can she hide until she's ready to show her true face.
In the meantime, she has to navigate work, dating and her roommate situation with flamboyant,
out-of-work actor Titus (Tituss Burgess, who played D'Fawn on 30 Rock) with a naive
and outdated understanding of the world. “Are you into molly?” she's asked at a club. Kimmy
practically wags her tail in response. “She's my favorite American Girl doll!”

Kimmy's optimism eventually proves infectious even to the world-weary Titus, who spends
his days panhandling for change in an Iron Man costume in Times Square. But relentless
positivity doesn't necessarily translate into a happy ending. Titus' decision to resume
auditioning despite his seeming lack of talent—”You are not passing as a straight
giraffe,” sniffed one casting director who rejected him for The Lion King—might well become one of the series' darker developments. As a swishy swooner, Titus is
probably the most familiar among the character types. But Fey and her writers give Burgess
plenty of funny things to do, especially by making him their primary entrée into satirical jabs
at the entertainment industry. When Titus goes to audition for a troubled Spider-Man
production on Broadway, the producers just need to test one thing: Can he continue acting after
a flying Spider-Man falls on him?

While Kimmy, Titus and their loony landlady (Carol Kane) eke out an existence, the wealthy
Voorhees family drives itself batty with its embarrassment of riches. Krakowski's Jacqueline
counts among her blessings a young son who bonds her to her always-traveling millionaire
husband and a designer dog that doesn't need to poop (“They bred that out, so his anus is
purely decorative”). The stewardess-turned-socialite mostly exists to throw curveballs at Kimmy
and to represent the grotesque excesses of the moneyed elite, but she isn't without a softer
side. When her teenage stepdaughter (Dylan Gelula) attempts to rattle Kimmy by investigating
the latter's suspiciously vague background, Jacqueline, who's sitting on her own trove of
secrets, supports the new nanny's right to erase her past and forge a new identity. Kimmy will
have to reveal her Mole Woman status in due time, but her spontaneous efforts to cover up
her 15 years underground in the first few episodes add an unexpected sense of urgency to
largely low-stakes story lines.

If you're counting at home, that's three targets of comedy—Christian extremism,
the ruthlessness of show biz and the dumbassery of one-percenters—thus far that
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt shares with its 30 Rock predecessor. Also in
common is their portrait of New York—much more expanded here—as a
harsh, economically polarized obstacle course that ultimately proves itself to be a meritocracy.
The result is not unlike watching the maniacally twinkling Leslie Knope from Parks and
—or a girl-version of the beaming goon Kenneth the Page from 30
—try to make it in Liz Lemon's perilous New York.

But if Fey made the question of whether Liz Lemon could “have it all” as a female creative
professional and the scared, vulnerable heart of 30 Rock, she broaches an even darker
issue here: Did Kimmy's suffering and anguish make her a better person—or simply
an unhappier one? How will she know when she's done healing, assuming there even will be
an end? Brightly lit and punctuated by bursts of yellow, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
focuses mostly on its protagonist's efforts to adapt to the minutiae of her new normal: planning
parties for her new charges, being asked on a date, learning about Google. But its core seems
to lay an ambitious exploration of female victimhood and how it can warp or limit individuals'
possibilities—or be manipulated as a tool against others.

In her first starring role, the goofy and gawky Kemper thrives in a part written for her open
face and joyful bewilderment. Kimmy Schmidt hasn't yet figured out who she is, let alone where
she belongs in this terrifying world, but I'm delighted Netflix has already given Fey and Carlock a
second season for this brave new girl to figure herself out.

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