30 Rock, created by the infinitely talented Tina Fey, was a truly irreverent and whimsical sitcom that surprisingly was able to break into America mainstream media. The show, centered around a fictional version of SNL, played much like an episode of a sketch show itself, filled with larger than life characters, insane situations, and an impenetrable confidence and style all its own. It was a television comedy that depended on viewer loyalty, swimming in its own inside jokes and references. Now, Fey teams up with co-creator/ex 30 Rock show runner Robert Carlock to bring their distinct brand of comedy to Netflix.
To speak about a show like this is impossible without mentioning the characters, on which the production lives and dies. Luckily, the cast and writing staff have delivered by sticking to what they know. Because of this, in many ways, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt feels a lot like a prequel to 30 Rock. The sense of humor feels centered in almost exactly the same way, and many of the characters have inspirational counterpoints in the 30 Rock cast. Without looking too closely you’ll find germs of Kenneth, Liz, Jack, Tracy, and Jenna thrown in.
The show centers around the eponymous Kimmy, played by The Office’s Ellie Kemper, who has spent the last 15 years living in an underground bunker, held captive by an insane preacher that had tricked her and 3 other women into believing that the world had come to an end. They are rescued at the shows offset, and become a media sensation. When brought onto Good Morning America to talk about their story, Kimmy realizes that she has no plans for the remainder of her life, and therefore resolves to stay in Manhattan, adjusting to her new life and trying to reenter society as a normal person.
Now, if that premise seems a little too convoluted to work as comedy, don’t worry. This fact isn’t lost on the show. Kimmy’s dark and harrowing past is treated as a jumping off point to put a fresh spin on the small town girl meets big city cliche by bringing it to its logical conclusion. She is, for all intents and purposes a fifteen year old girl in a thirty year old woman’s body, stuck in the America of 1999, complete with walkmen and light up shoes. She’s immature, naive, and constantly amazed by the advancements society has made in her absence, suffering from a culture shock that points out just how rapidly we have changed as a society since the beginning of the millennium.
Kimmy, despite her initial immaturity, isn’t without her own virtues. Her experience has also endowed her with a strong sense of survivability and resolve, which defines the strengths of her character (and lends the show its title). It was her determination and positivity that gave her the ability to survive life underground, and she keeps both at the forefront of her personality throughout the show. To continue the 30 Rock comparison, Kimmy feels like a mix between Kenneth Parcell and Liz Lemon, a virtuously upbeat go-getter who’s more than a little behind the times. You’ll find yourself rooting for her almost immediately as her undeniable energy and upbeat youthfulness are constantly tested by the harsh realities of adult life in modern day New York City.
Tituss Burgess, who 30 Rock fans may remember as D’Fwan from ‘Queen of Jordan’. Burgess plays Kimmy’s roommate Titus Andromedon, an amazingly talented but under-appreciated theater actor struggling to make his debut in showbiz. While his status as an openly gay black man leaves him open to stereotyping, he is still a marvelously clever character. His personality doesn’t feel forced or insincere. Much like Tracy Jordan, he ascends the immediate stereotypes that a lesser show would milk him for. While he may be prone to the melodrama and self importance, he mainly acts as Kimmy’s confidant and her guide to the 21st century. Titus keeps Kimmy’s unbeatable optimism in check by being a world weary advisor that isn’t afraid to share harsh truth. The two make a marvelous pair, transcending their initial odd couple dynamic as they bond over their shared desire to fulfill their dreams.
Jane Krakowski returns in more or less the same role she played as Jenna Maroney, with a little Jack thrown in for good measure. The socialite wife of an absentee father and international businessman, she defines herself by her wealth and status, and brings a social duality to life in Manhattan, a city where the 99 percent share street corners with the 1 percent (or at least until the neighborhood is gentrified).