When Tina Fey and Robert Carlock were asked to create a show for up and coming actor Ellie Kemper, they noticed that her smile seemed to radiate virtue but to also emit an unyielding resolve. It was this innocent expression that had a real strength behind it that would be the show’s inspiration. The role they created in Kimmy Schmidt could not have been a more perfect fit for her.
Kimmy is one of the infamous Indiana Mole Women. Kidnapped at the age of 15 by a mad preacher who had convinced her fellow captives that the world outside was destroyed in the apocalypse, Kimmy spent half of her life in a bunker, underground, held captive from society. Once she emerges she realises that she has no ties to her hometown in Indiana and settles in New York for a fresh start.
Only being a teenager at the time of the abduction Kimmy is a woman knocking on her thirties yet whose only cultural touchstones are the ones she knew as a tween. Caught in perpetual adolescence, Kimmy didn’t lose her childhood, rather she got trapped in it. This is where the natural innocence of Ellie Kemper’s face comes in handy.
Being a fifteen year old girl denied her personal development, Kimmy is an eternal example of the optimism and energy of youth. Her swearing is done in the euphemistic code of the Mid West, all ‘fudge,’ ‘darn,’ and ‘heck,’ she has no knowledge of mankind’s worst instincts (despite having been the victim of some of the most egregious examples), and her expression is of constant, determined positivity. She always looks on the verge of punching the air and yelling “All right, yeah!”
She gets away with all that relentless hopefulness because, having every right to play the victim, she never does. In fact, it is not wanting to be a victim that drives her to begin her new life. She faces all of her challenges with an almost painful amount of pep.
It remains tolerable because that kind of outlandish character is a perfect match for the cartoonish writing style of Fey and Carlock. Their 30 Rock brand of surreal, high energy and rapid fire comedy goes perfectly with Kimmy’s fish-out-of-water persona. Their endlessly inventive wordplay, the outrageous and bizarre situations, the moments of Warner Bros-esque insanity create some real laugh-out-loud moments that will have you in uncontrollable fits. And they’ve wrapped it all up in a story about loss and tragedy, but most importantly, rising above it.
At the heart of Kimmy Schmidt there is an uphill struggle for normality in a world gone mad. For all the determination she has to get past her previous life and not be crushed by it, the world is trying awfully hard to get some crushing done. It’s fighting this battle and winning it through nothing other than sheer force of will that makes Kimmy not just an entertaining comedy but a compelling piece of television.
The show’s dedication to presenting a world constantly trying to drag not just Kimmy but all women down, provides a feminist point of view that encourages viewers to take control of their own lives. There are moments when looking at the show from this point of view can get uncomfortable, especially when you realise that the origin story for this wacky comedy is ripped directly from Joseph Fritzel’s headlines.
You cannot talk about Kimmy Shmidt and only talk about the star, however. This show, like Fey’s previous work, contains some of the most interesting, unique and hilarious supporting characters on TV. Jane Krakowski renews her partnership with Fey as a rich white woman who has no right to be as sympathetic as she is. No matter how privileged she gets you still winding up wanting her to do and be better. Her clueless naïve delivery brings joy to a ridiculously out-of-touch character.
But the show stealer is Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon, the fame hungry Broadway hopeful who is as distracted by shiny things as an epileptic magpie. His wide eyed prima donna is a riot in every episode. Titus throws himself into a barnstorming performance that leaves no scenery unchewed in this studio or the next.
Kimmy Schmidt is yet more must see television from Netflix. It is a gentle and kind comedy that pushes the envelope from all the right directions. The performances are gold, the jokes vary from rib-tickling to seizure-inducing and its heart is visible in every frame.
Creators: Robert Carlock, Tina Fey
Starring: Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane
Cinematography: John Inwood
Music: Jeff Richmond
Run time: 25mins/ep