Originally, I was going to write a big ol’ piece on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a week and a half ago, after watching the middle episode of the season (Kimmy Goes to a Party!). It was not going to be pretty. There…was going to be mansplaining. It’s not that there isn’t plenty to like, even love, about this show. But I…am a premise Nazi. If you sell me on a show about a girl who is kidnapped in the eighth grade and spends 15 years in a bunker as part of an apocalypse cult, I’m going to want that premise to saturate every minute of the show. Because that’s a hell of a logline, and definitely something that both shoos you ahead of the sitcom pack, and puts a huge burden of proof (that can’t be right, but bear with me) on the show to deliver on that setup. If you don’t deliver, then every show could have a premise like that. Woody Boyd from Cheers could have been a human clone, bred by Martians to infiltrate Boston and steal their brewing secrets. And in the first half (slightly more) of the season, outside of the pilot, Kimmy Schmidt (or Smith) could be literally anyone for 90% of her screen time.
Okay, taking a break here to go over the positives. Because there are many, and I don’t want anyone thinking I don’t like this show. Ellie Kemper is great, Carol Kane is great. Jane Krakowski…is Jane Krakowski. Solid, but I’ve seen it all on 30 Rock. Although I did read that she came in late as Jacqueline, so I’ll give them a pass. She handles her lines well, but it’s nothing new. Honestly…hold on, more positives first. Umm, theme song has been stuck in my head since the first time I listened to it. The jokes fly fast and free, and I love the absurdist touches both in the throwaway one-liners, and in many of the actual plot/story elements. Comparing Kimmy to 30 Rock isn’t an insult by any means. 30 Rock was a fun show and I watched every second of it. Also, once the series wraps up Season 1 in the last 3-4 episodes, it is a fun fun fun ride, and more than worth getting through episodes 2-8. And hey, if your expectations are lower, then you’ll love it start to finish. Premise Nazi. My issue, not yours/theirs. Xanthippe is also a good idea for a character, and she really gets shortsheeted over the course of these 13 episodes. The show is beautifully shot, and the color palette, especially for Kimmy, really pops, even on my phone screen.
Okay, back to griping! So much of early Kimmy seems like Tina Fey found a big folder of unused Kenneth storylines/jokes and wrote “s” in front of all the “he”s in the scripts. If you skipped the pilot, then most of the jokes turn into “naïve girl from Indiana moves to New York, is confused”. Which, they also recycle that joke series when Kimmy’s father, sister, and fellow bunker pal come to town. And I’d already watched both seasons of “Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23”, so I was already worn out on “Midwest bumpkin comes to New York” jokes. WE GET IT. New York is weird and awesome and changes people and etc.
I haaaaaaaaate Titus. And maybe I’m supposed to, so Mission Accomplished. Or maybe whatever the character is supposed to accomplish is not aimed at me, and I’m okay with that. And the actor really dove headfirst into the part, so there’s that. But, haaaaaaaaaaate. Jacqueline just feels like a retread, and her stories don’t jibe with what is going on (or allegedly going on) with the main theme of the show. There is plenty of meat on the Kimmy bone to where whole swaths of screentime don’t need to go to Jacqueline and her story. By the finale, it starts to feel like someone had this very thin idea for a series about Jacqueline, a Native American who shuns her culture and goes full white, blonde, and shallow, and then no one bought it so it was awkwardly stapled onto the Kimmy script.
Honestly, that leads me into one of the other nagging issues; this series doesn’t feel like “one series”. It’s uneven and the story emphasis keeps flipping around between Kimmy, Titus, and Jacqueline. Then Buckley just disappears (literally), and then a promising subplot of Xanthippe trying to discover Kimmy’s secret just peters out, even as Xan starts to turn from “stereotypical rich party girl” to “secretly decent human being masquerading as a party girl”. Another good idea, and just slapped around and then dropped like a sack of flour. Imagining this series going on NBC and being played out a week at a time, rather than 13 episodes dumped on Netflix at once, makes me think that this might not have made it to the brilliantly weird endgame with Tina Fey, Jerry Minor, and Jon Hamm showing up to salvage LITERALLY EVERYTHING.
There is plenty to love, and there are plenty of perfectly good building blocks ready to go for Season 2. Ellie Kemper can anchor this show for as long as she wants, it just needs a little more focus and a lighter touch. I like the idea of “Kimmy wants to have a normal, non-Mole Woman life”, but other than the occasional “Oh, it’s funny because I don’t know what pop culture or technology are” joke, which lost their specialness when Kimmy’s dad came to town. Instead, Mole Woman status was almost ignored until the back half of the season. Premise Nazi. Can’t apologize. Anyway, good show that should have been great, but I’m relieved it didn’t dip into awful. Let’s hope for a solid Season 2, right the ship, and give us eight more years of Kimmy.