Written by guest contributor Dave Fox
Online streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix have changed the television game over the last few years. Starting life content to stream films and TV shows people had already seen, they then made the leap into original programming. Ever since Netflix consulted an algorithm to tell them what people wanted to see and produced House Of Cards, they have been scrambling to out do the traditional channels and networks.
Of course, they don't even have to produce their own content all of the time. They also have the option of hoovering up the shows that traditional, risk-averse networks pass on. One such show is Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, hands down the funniest sitcom of 2015. It was the post-30 Rock creation of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, originally developed for NBC. According to Fey, the network "weren't feeling confident" about the comedy and so passed it on to Netflix. They made a huge mistake.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has one of the catchiest theme songs around, and if it sounds familiar, it's because it is. We've all seen viral memes along the same lines: an excitable local resident gets interviewed about a crime, and his words get auto-tuned into an irritatingly catchy song.
The words in the opening credits are shorthand for Kimmy Schmidt's themes: "they alive, dammit. But females are strong as hell". The four women we see emerging from a bunker in the pilot episode's cold open had been held captive in there for fifteen years by a deranged preacher, the leader of a doomsday cult. The first face we see is that of the main protagonist, Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper). It's not what you might expect. She's not cowed, scared, broken or defeated. Instead, she smiles as bright as sunshine.
Soon enough, Kimmy and her three bunker-mates are shipped off to New York for a round of television interviews, but as they head back to Durnsville, Indiana afterwards Kimmy decides to make a break for it. She doesn't want to return home where she'll forever be viewed as a victim, one of the "mole women" who escaped from an underground bunker. She resolves to make a clean break and forge a new life for herself in Manhattan.
She finds herself a tiny basement apartment complete with a crazy landlady (Carol Kane) and an out-of-work gay actor roommate named Titus Adromedon (Tituss Burgess). She even stumbles her way into a job working for Upper East Side socialite Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski). Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's first season charts Kimmy as she adjusts to her new life and tries to deal with her past - she gets a job, a boyfriend, gets caught in a love triangle and goes back to school. She - accidentally - joins another cult, this one cycling and fitness based and reluctantly attends the trial of the man who kidnapped her, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm).
Ellie Kemper's larger-than-life performance steals the show, but her co-stars have chance to sign too. Tituss Burgess crushes every scene he's in as Kimmy's roommate and 30 Rock alum Krakowski is on career best form as the rich and out of touch Jacqueline.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is undoubtedly hilarious, but given the subject matter - a woman kidnapped and, it's strongly hinted, abused for 15 years of her life - is rare material for a sitcom, so maybe it's understandable that NBC passed, but the network should have been stronger and had more faith. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt doesn't make jokes about dark subjects to offend or shock in the way a lesser show would. They aren't exploitative, and Kimmy's such a well drawn character that she is more than her traumatic past. Her story didn't end when she came out of that bunker.
Ultimately, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt doesn't trade on cynicism or offence for the sake of it. It's message is one of resilience and hope. You'll come away from binge-watching the first season on Netflix sore from laughter, but with a message you can take into your daily life: find that small, unbreakable you inside yourself, and never let it go.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Directors: Tristram Shapeero, and others Writers: Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, and others Studios: Netflix, Universal Studios, Little Stranger Inc, Bevel Gears, 3 Arts Entertainment