Sunday, August 2, 2015

It's Not GARBAGE! But Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 1 Is More Mediocre Than Spectacular.

The Good: Some funny lines, Generally decent performances, Interesting plot progression
The Bad: A TON of recycled ideas, Derivative performances, Concept overwhelms the characters
The Basics: In its first season, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt sells itself adequately, but leaves very little room for the future.

Whenever I sit down to review a television series, I work very hard to rate it solely on the work itself, not on how it compares to other works by the same creators. With the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I found that to be virtually impossible as the problems with the show are almost exclusively the result of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's prior work, 30 Rock (reviewed here!). But, the truth is, the problems with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt come from the fact that it utilizes its cast in a virtually identical way to 30 Rock and has a similar patter and progression as Fey's prior endeavor (it makes sense; she was writer, executive producer and star of 30 Rock).

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 1 is a thirteen episode season released on Netflix (and, given its awards nomination, NBC has got to be kicking itself for letting it go there!) and while I found it, ultimately, to be fairly average, my wife had a very different perspective. While I looked at Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt strictly from a funny and analytical perspective, my wife pointed out that the show is unique in that it provides a perspective not usually shown on television. Kimmy Schmidt is, essentially, a survivor and the fish-out-of-water quality she possesses is something that is not commonly shown on television. In that way, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt does a decent job of showing something new; but in many other ways (specifically, to fans of 30 Rock) it is a repetition of what Fey has put out before.

On the outskirts of Durnsville, Indiana, a subterranean bunker is raided by the F.B.I. Inside, they find four women and the cult leader who had imprisoned them in the bunker for the prior fifteen years. The survivors are thrown out into the world and with her (partial) middle school Kimmy Schmidt decides to remain in New York City to start her adult life. In short order, Kimmy finds a place to live and a job. She starts living in a basement apartment (barely a closet) with street performer Titus Andromedon and she starts working for the wealthy Jacqueline Voorhees. Determined to pretend to be normal, Kimmy tries to keep her history secret, but has to confide in Titus when her backpack (with her money) gets stolen out of the club they go to.

While trying to help Titus get a legitimate acting gig (by helping him get new headshots taken), Kimmy acts as a nanny for Jacqueline's son, Buckley, and works to keep her past history secret from Jacqueline's step-daughter, Xanthippe (who is suspicious of her). As Jacqueline's marriage falls apart, Kimmy tries to empower her and she begins taking G.E.D. classes, where she tries to inspire her fellow students.

In the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which might well have the most infectious opening theme song ever!), the primary characters are:

Kimmy Schmidt - A naive young woman from Indiana, she ends up in New York City after her fellow cult prisoners are released from the bunker and interviewed on a national morning show. Armed with cash that was given to the survivors, she takes a closet apartment with Titus and tries to get him to follow his acting dreams. She takes a G.E.D. course and she meets two guys, including her fellow student Dong, are interested in her. She is optimistic, but uses outdated cultural references, which makes Xanthippe suspicious. When the cult leader, Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, goes on trial, Kimmy has to return to the bunker to find the evidence needed to get the conviction against him,

Titus Andromedon - An effeminate gay man who has worked as a street performer as an off-brand Iron Man. He supports Kimmy's secret and tries to trade in the suit to get new head shots. He immediately identifies Gretchen's fiance as a closeted gay man and he becomes morbidly fascinated with the court case as it picks up,

Jacqueline Voorhees - The socialite wife of a millionaire businessman, she neglects her children and is a parody of the not-suffering New York City housewife. When her husband is caught cheating on her (but not with the woman she thought!), she considers divorce and is talked into it by Kimmy (compound interest!). She has a secret Native American past that she has kept from everyone,

Lillian Kaushtupper - Titus and Kimmy's drug-addled slumlord. She accompanies Titus to a funeral for someone Titus did not actually know (when he tries to hide that he has money from her),

Gretchen - Another one of the women imprisoned in the doomsday bunker by "Reverend" Wayne, she is given a number of benefits after the women are released, including the crush she had before she was imprisoned. Despite him being gay, Gretchen is eager to live her dreams and is worried when Kimmy does not immediately come back to Indiana for Wayne's trial,

and Xanthippe - Jacqueline's stepdaughter, she is an angsty teen who has a very different persona with her friends than at home (she actually is a pretty decent student and does not take drugs like her friends). She is suspicious of Kimmy and Kimmy becomes suspicious of her when she realizes some of Xanthippe's excuses are from one of the books Kimmy had in the bunker with her!

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is funny, but very average. The best performances of the season come exclusively from lead Ellie Kemper. Kemper's Kimmy Schmidt is almost exclusively played as enthusiastic and wide-eyed excited and Kemper nails it in every scene. She perfectly embodies a woman stepping out into a world that she does not know at all.

That is not to say that Jane Krakowski (Jacqueline) and Tituss Burgess (Titus) are bad, but they're playing what they've already done before. Krakowski is, yet again, playing an ego-centric dimwit which she played on both Ally McBeal (reviewed here!) and 30 Rock. She's hit the niche before and mastered it. She shows us nothing new in the first season on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Tina Fey has typecast her. In a similar way, while Tituss Burgess has a fun role in the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Titus is virtually identical in performance requirements to D'Fwan (Burgess's character on 30 Rock). Titus and D'Fwan would be a huge acting challenge for a masculine heterosexual who can't sing; Burgess is playing an effeminate, openly gay, theater performer . . . two out of the three of those are the function of simple casting (Burgess is not particularly effeminate or over-the-top in his performances like his character!). In other words, Burgess is playing the same part as he did in his television breakout role.

I cannot think of a show I have watched as much before reviewing as the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I've watched all thirteen episodes four times now and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt manages to hold up over multiple viewings. It is a fun collection of lines and the protagonist is generally enjoyable to watch. But Tina Fey's guest performance at the end of the season is solid schtick and the writing feels like jokes that just wouldn't have fit - from the context - on 30 Rock. Is it fun to hear Fey's jokes about pop-culture elements from the turn-of-the-Millennium? Sure. I'm still waiting for the Austin Powers reference and the fact that it didn't come in the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt gives us something to look forward to in the second season. Strangely, after watching the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt so many times, it's really the only thing . . .

For other works from the 2014 – 2015 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 2
The Flash - Season 1
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3
Sense8 - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 1
Agent Carter - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 3
House Of Cards - Season 3
Doctor Who - Season 8
True Blood - Season 7
The Walking Dead - Season 5


For other television reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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