Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Don’t Let the Man Get You Down

Ever since Parks & Rec announced that the seventh season would be the last, I have been wildly searching for something to replace the Pawnee shaped hole in my heart. I began re-watching 30 Rock again, almost as an act of denial. If I could just keep watching either Amy or Tina on repeat  for the rest of my life then maybe I could pretend that both shows had never ended…

To my delight I soon discovered that Netflix were going to be releasing a new series. Written by Fey, starring Ellie Kemper (Erin from The Office), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt looked like it could be the answer to all of my prayers. Would it be too good to be true?

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the latest addition to the ever expanding list of Netflix Originals. Which, most importantly, means the entire first seasons was released last week and so we could all tuck in for a good binge session. Unbreakable is great for binging; 20 (ish) minute episodes, with easy to follow individual narratives and hilarious one-liners every other minutes. What’s not to love! We follow the story of Kimmy Schmidt, a 29 year old woman who has just been released from an underground cult where she was kept hostage for the last 14 years. Kimmy was kidnapped at the age of 14 from her front garden, by the mysterious Reverend Wayne Gary Wayne, and forced to live underground with three other women. Sounds dark, right?

It really isn’t. Kimmy’s past is clearly traumatic, but the main theme of Unbreakable is just that. Being unbreakable. Kimmy chooses to live in New York and invent herself instead of going back to her hometown where all she will face is pity and the press. There are moments where we catch a glimpse of how awful Kimmy’s experiences must have been – Titus’ question about whether there was any weird sex stuff is telling – but dwelling on negativity is not the point of Unbreakable.  Kimmy is determined to make the best out of her situation, and so she does.

Most of the humour in Unbreakable is born out of Kimmy’s missing 14 years in the real world – she has literally been living under a rock and so has no knowledge of anything post the mid 1990s. This on it’s own is pretty hilarious (‘I googled you’, ‘really, I didn’t feel it?’) but it’s Ellie Kemper and the supporting cast who make the show fantastic. Titus Burgess and Jane Krakowski (both of ’30 Rock’ fame) make excellent companions to Kemper’s Kimmy. Krakowski’s character Jacqueline is basically Jenna Maroney in about 10 years time, but Jacqueline’s backstory makes her more likable and relatable than Jenna ever was.

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It seems that whilst writing Unbreakable, Fey has taken on many of the criticisms of 30 Rock. One major one (certainly one that I constantly griped about) concerned Liz Lemon’s lack of female friends. Or any friends. Whilst Liz is a bitter, friendless woman who often lets a controlling white man (Jack Donoghue) make decisions for her, Kimmy Schmidt is surrounded by wonderful people who really love her. Titus and Lillian, oddballs though they may be, constantly look out for her. Even her working relationship with Jacqueline turns into an odd mentorship (especially in ‘Kimmy Goes to the Doctor’). Whatever the nature of their relationship, it’s clear that both Kimmy and Jacqueline understand each other, and want to see one another happy. Jacqueline is first introduced to us whilst hiding in her house which she can’t leave due to her face peel. Kimmy misunderstands and assumes that Jacqueline is being held captive, just like she was. A hilarious moment, but one that also reflects on the strong feminist message that runs throughout the show. Essentially, both these women are being held captive, by a society that forces them to look,dress and think a certain way. Most of the life lessons in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are about breaking away from society’s expectations and being true to yourself. Kimmy’s unique situation, being kidnapped that is, means that she looks at the world like a 14 year old girl, not yet conditioned to hate herself like the rest of us women – ‘I’ve never seen my reflection’, ‘how do you know your self worth?’. It’s a hilarious dig at selfie culture and how distanced the upper elite are, but it’s also incredibly poignant when we think about how the media speaks about women.

In terms of diversity, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt wins again. There are only two prominent white men in the series; one is Kimmy’s brief uber-rich boyfriend Logan and the other is Reverend Wayne Gary Wayne played by Jon Hamm. It’s certainly a refreshing change from ’30 Rock’s’ boys club writers room! The closest man to Kimmy is Titus, a gay black man embarking on an acting career in the big city. Titus embodies every stereotype that exists about gay men, especially gay black men (‘Pinot Noir’) but demonstrates that you can be fabulous by simply being yourself.  He isn’t just ‘Kimmy’s GBF’, he gets his own struggles and his own triumphs. As well as having his own sub-plots, he also provides the shows most hilarious one-liners.

It truly is a fantastically funny show. It’s got the sharp humour of 30 Rock, it’s as meta as Community and it warms the heart in a way that only Parks & Rec does.  I have two episodes yet to watch but I’ve already taken away three very important life lessons. You can’t fix what is inside by changing the outside, you can deal with anything for 10 seconds and never let a white man lock you in a room and determine how you live your life. Or rather, don’t let the white man who locked you in the room affect the rest of your life.  It’s also got the catchiest theme tune in the world.

Females are strong as hell. I love you Kimmy Schmidt.

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