Netflix unleashed all 13 episodes of Tina Fey’s latest creation at the weekend. 30 Rock obsessive Hannah Dunleavy took a look (i.e. devoured it in two sittings).
How best to describe my attitude to Tina Fey? Well, I wouldn’t punch a colleague in the face to steal an interview with her. But only because I wanted to spare myself (and her) the ordeal of shitting myself with joy in front of her. So yes, I suppose you could say I’m a fan.
Did I lose sleep with excitement when I heard that a new Fey (and Robert Carlock) sitcom was coming? No. Have I slept much since it appeared on Netflix? Not really.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt starts with one of the darkest sitcom premises ever: Kimmy and three other women are freed from an underground bunker where they’ve spent the last 15 years after being kidnapped and held captive by a preacher who told them the apocalypse had happened. As the ‘mole women’ are thrust into the media spotlight, Kimmy jumps ship (minibus) to start a new life in New York.
The fact that she’s only got a middle school education and has missed out on the last 15 years of pop culture and technological advancements creates its fair share of laughs (and Kimmy’s endearing habit of referring to the present as the future). But these are often asides and throw-away gags. What really drives the comedy is Kimmy’s relentlessly chirpy nature and her steadfast belief that if she has survived that long in a bunker; she can survive anything. As a witness to the mole women’s release tells a news crew (words sampled in the rather addictive opening credits) females are strong as hell.
Ellie Kemper is luminous as the eponymous hero. In the early episodes Kimmy is part Liz Lemon, part Kenneth Parcell and part Erin, the exceedingly chipper receptionist with an unhappy past who Kemper played in The [US] Office. But as the season moves on she really comes into her own, as she reveals her many and varied methods of coping and attempts to pass them on to her new friends.
If Kimmy’s not Liz, she certainly lives in the same bright, cartoonish world. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the same mix of jokes, sight gags, pratfalls, cutaways, callbacks and successful cameos that made 30 Rock so easy to watch (and rewatch). In fact, it has one cutaway – a one-man performance of The Lion King – that deserves to sit alongside Alfie and Abner and Werewolf Bat Mitzvah as one of Fey’s greatest scenes.
(Speaking of werewolves, we do get a lovely little nod to that when Kimmy’s flatmate, aspiring Broadway star Titus Andromedon – Tituss Burgess, 30 Rock’s D’Fwan – has to dress as a lycanthrope and decides never to change back as “living as a werewolf is so much easier than living as an African American man.”)
Jane Krakowski’s millionaire Manhattanite Jacqueline – Kimmy’s new boss – isn’t a million miles from Jenna Maroney, although she is a lot more sympathetic. When she delivers the lines such as, “All my friends are just people I pay and I doubt they say things like, ‘Wow, your anus really responds to the laser’ because they want to” you remember why they cast her. And also that Jenna was never that self-aware.
As the series builds to its crescendo, the trial of the Kimmy’s former captor Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (played by, well, I won’t spoil it for you, but boy does he give it his all) takes centre stage. Then there’s Tim Blake Nelson as Kimmy’s stepfather and another familiar face (squeals loudly) as the prosecution lawyer, which means the final three episodes are literally bursting with jokes, talent and possibilities for the next series.
If only I didn’t have to wait 360-odd days to see it.
Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.