“Kimmy Schmidt”: How This Trauma Survivor Is “Unbreakable”

The 13-episode sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt became available as a new Netflix series just days ago. As it was created by Tina Fey and writing partner Robert Carlock, who were also behind a favorite of mine, 30 Rock, further research in the service of deciding whether to watch at first felt unnecessary.

But I couldn’t resist. And now mere watching seems out of the question—a healthy dose of binge watching is in order.

Here’s what I found out.

The Comedic Premise You Might Not Expect

Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), now 29, has been “rescued from the doomsday cult she’s been trapped in for fifteen years. If you do the math, that’s a harrowingly young age for a girl to be groomed into a sister-wife. ‘Yes, there was weird sex stuff,’ blurts the PTSD-ridden middle-school dropout, who’s spent more than half her life in a basement (with three other women)” (Inkoo Kang, Village Voice).

Liz Shannon Miller, Indiewire:

Rather than go back to her old life in Indiana — because what’s left to do there, aside from finish the eighth grade? — she decides to reclaim her life and stick it out in New York City, finding a place to live thanks to new roommate Titus (Tituss Burgess) [who’s gay] and something resembling employment thanks to uber-rich New York wife and mother Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski).

So, you know, it’s ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ if Mary Tyler’s origin story included a decade-long stay with Charles Manson…

Incidentally, not mentioned in the above paragraph is that the great Carol Kane plays Kimmy’s landlady.

On the issue of the dark subject matter, star Kemper recently told NPR:

I think it was a risk. But I think that we all did the job correctly and I hope that people appreciate and like the finished version.

Something that I already knew, but that was reinforced [while doing the show], is that bad things happen in the world. And the answer is not to shy away from them, but instead to address them.

Kimmy Schmidt

Jeff Jensen, ew.com: “Kimmy Schmidt is a product of her times—those times being the premillennial era. She quotes Billy Madison, confuses The Breakfast Club with St. Elmo’s Fire, and still thinks light-up Skechers are, like, totally awesome.”

Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com: “The hook of the program is that while Kimmy has been through stuff that anyone would find horrific, she refuses to let life get her down, but the people she meets in NYC who often have everything do nothing but complain. And Kemper’s ‘aw shucks’ timing is phenomenal. She jumps in with both feet and as many broad expressions as she can find.”

Liz Shannon Miller, Indiewire:

It’s full of jokes about how Kimmy doesn’t understand modern technology or culture, but it never makes light of her real trauma, and never belittles what she’s been through.

And it never belittles her for experiencing it. It’s a sitcom that talks about the word ‘victim’ as more than a label — as a choice. Right there in the title, ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ tells you its central character is stronger than what’s been done to her, and she will survive it.

A Couple Succinct Series Reviews

Jeff Jensen, ew.com: “…smart satire about ‘self’-obsession, from self-improvement to selfies…(T)he characters quickly gain depth, and by episode 3, you realize the show is about a culture that reduces people to caricatures and the folly of capable souls who underestimate themselves. Kemper leads a fantastic ensemble that corrals the chaotic elements of broad characters into coherence. The more they convert their cartoony personas into real humans of New York, the stronger Kimmy Schmidt becomes.”

Inkoo Kang, Village Voice: “Brightly lit and punctuated by bursts of yellow, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt focuses mostly on its protagonist’s efforts to adapt to the minutiae of her new normal: planning parties for her new charges, being asked on a date, learning about Google. But its core seems to lay an ambitious exploration of female victimhood and how it can warp or limit individuals’ possibilities — or be manipulated as a tool against others.”

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