Six episodes of the first season of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
At one point during the endlessly giddy opening episode of Netflix’s new stab at binge-watching, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Ellie Kemper names the leader of the underground cult who trapped her in a bunker for 15 years. His name? Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne Senior Prophet and CFO of Savior Rick’s Spooky Church of the Scary-Pocalypse. Who besides Tina Fey and long-time 30 Rock showrunner Robert Carlock could come up with something so flippantly brilliant?
The magical thing about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – besides Kimmy herself – is that the show continually merits pausing and rewinding to catch every sight gag, every motor-mouthed punchline, and every exasperated expression. It’s not sheer luck and circumstance that merits its fantastic pilot, but a love and sweetness that permeates every joke on the show and leaves the series – or the six episodes I’ve seen of it – as one of the most consistently sincere and off-beat comedies since, well, 30 Rock had its last lunch.
It all begins when a group of police offers discover the bunker where four women, including Kimmy, are living under the impression that the world has ended in some form of apocalypse. “White woman found. Hispanic woman also found,” a news ticker reads as the quartet heads off to New York to make the morning show round under the newly minted nickname “Mole Women.” Soon after, the women decide to head to their respective homes, but Kimmy heads out into the bright lights of Manhattan with a sparkle in her eyes and skip in her step. You can easily imagine her as an overly-enthusiastic extra Liz Lemon would stumble across in her angst-ridden tirades around the city.
In fact, from the score to the cinematography to the quick-cut micro-flashbacks, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt could easily fit into 30 Rock‘s bizarro world New York City, with a few actors who worked on 30 Rock appearing as slight variations on their previous characters.
Jane Krakowski pops up as a Manhattan socialite with a perennially jet-setting husband, spoiled brat of a son (Tanner Flood) and bitchy step-daughter (Dylan Gelula). Her character is named Jacqueline Voorhees, her son is Buckley, and her step-daughter is Xanthippe’. (If that makes you laugh in a “Rural Juror” kind-of-way, you will love this show.) There’s more of a sweetness in Krakowski this time around, but with her ridiculously detailed insults – she calls Kimmy’s attempt at throwing her son a birthday party a “reception for an Appalachian incest wedding” – and pithy comments, the Jenna of it all rears its head more often than not.
Perhaps lesser known is Tituss Burgess, who played wine aficionado and self-proclaimed sexual maniac D’Fwan in the “Queen of Jordan” episodes of 30 Rock (and once kissed Alec Baldwin). Here, Burgess plays Titus, a down-on-his-luck singer with Broadway aspirations; same cloth, different pattern.
The pilot quickly establishes an expected odd couple paring between the gullible Kimmy and street-hardened Titus, but never falls back on the expected jokes. Kimmy, proficient only in Word Perfect and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, and Titus, whose current career involves dressing up as an off-brand Iron Man in Times Square, need each other. We all know where it’s going, with Kimmy gaining street smarts, and Titus a little bit more heart, but the show’s constant barrage of jokes are so searing and on-point – a character on Kimmy: “She does look like Wendy’s old-fashioned hamburger!” – that the slightly worn-out route taken to get to the punchline is never dull.