On March 6th, 2015, Netflix addicts and comedy connoisseurs alike rejoiced as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt premiered. The show, written and created by Tina Fey, chronicles the journey of the eponymous Kimmy Schmidt who has just been freed from an apocalyptical underground bunker she was trapped in for 15 years by the devious and oddly charismatic Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, played by Jon Hamm (of Mad Men fame). The episodes follow Kimmy settling in New York and trying to act like the 29-year-old she is, after being freed for the first time since the 8th grade. The 13 episodes in the first season have a 96% ‘freshness’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the series has been renewed for a second season.
Starring Ellie Kemper in the lead role, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is unabashedly and gloriously kooky and twisted. Ellie is the perfect actress to embody the light-hearted humour that aims to showcase and mock racial and LGBTQIA stereotypes, and everyday complications of being a woman. With a catchy viral video theme song and bright 90’s fashion in every episode it doesn’t disappoint. In the first episode, Cyndee, another woman who escaped the bunker, explains that she went into Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne’s van just so she wouldn’t seem “rude.” The TV anchor’s response to that was pure gold: “It’s amazing to me the things that women will do so they don’t seem rude” – a clearly pointed jab at society’s perception of the ideal woman being harmonious and people-pleasing.
In New York City, Kimmy quickly becomes Titus Andromedon’s roommate, a theatrical, gay, black, aspiring Broadway actor. Titus arrived in New York in 1998, was rejected from auditions 20 times in 15 years and was getting paid in quarters in a job he hated when Kimmy arrived. While she convinces him to continue following his dream, he begins to help her navigate the waters of being a single 20-something in the Big Apple. Kimmy lands a job with Jacqueline Voorhees, a rich Manhannite Trophy Wife, who hires Kimmy as ‘the help.’
Throughout the season Kimmy grows up, retaining her endearing, optimistic, rose-coloured glasses, and searches for a way to get her GED. In the process, she meets Dong Nguyen, a recently arrived Vietnamese immigrant who becomes her major love interest despite persistent obstacles getting in their way. She has a choice between Logan Beekman, a rich man from a prominent family, and Dong who is continually afraid of being found out by Immigration.
The effortless inclusion of diversity in every plot and story arc is part of the massive appeal of the show. Rather than ignore inequalities and petty injustices of being different, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt embraces and revels in it. From Titus realizing that he was better treated dressed up as a werewolf than as a black man in New York, to Jacqueline finally coming to terms with her First Nations heritage, the show is doing better than breaking stereotypes and misconceptions – it’s acknowledging them while simultaneously showing the ridiculousness of their veracity.
While the show has been widely critically acclaimed, there has been some criticism levelled at it from a minority of viewers. The criticism is never quite consistent – some viewers found issue with Titus being portrayed a “typical, larger-than-life gay man,” while others found it unnerving that Jacqueline, a very obviously blond white woman, was of First Nations heritage. However, the majority of viewers had different opinions. A quick Twitter search showed:
In light of these different perspectives, perhaps the only thing to do is to watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for yourself and see how you like it! Quirky, positive, and good-humoured, it’s a must see. With the fanbase growing everyday, the viral video theme song sums it up best: “Unbreakable/They alive dammit/Females are strong as hell!”