A new age of sitcoms is on the horizon.
While most network shows reside in the tired world of typical family crises and wannabe Ross and Rachel relationships (Friends), Netflix’s new original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a force to be reckoned with as an innovative sitcom with a spine of societal criticism.
The show—penned by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, creators of NBC’s 30 Rock—stars Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids, The Office) as the adorable, naïve Kimmy, who was held in a bunker for 15 years with three other women after being kidnapped by the proclaimed messiah of a doomsday cult.
Following a rescue mission by an FBI SWAT team, an Indianapolis TV station headlines the story as “Three White Women Found.” Underneath a subhead reads: “Hispanic woman found also.” This scathing wit is the foundation of the show.
The social critiques continue with the so-called “Indiana Mole Women” appearing on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. After one of the women recalls being kidnapped when a man invited her to look at bunny rabbits in his car, Lauer says, “I’m always amazed at what women will do because they’re afraid of being rude.”
The show’s mantra is revealed in the theme song: “Females are strong as hell.” The feminist anthem is performed by a bystander watching the rescue from his trailer, as in homage to viral auto-tuned news videos. The song was created by Jeff Richmond, former 30 Rock composer and the creator of the viral hit “Bed Intruder Song” (hide your kids, hide your wife!).
One of the most amusing elements of the program is Kimmy’s adjustment into modern life in New York City. Being kept underground since the age of 14 makes her experiences, as the theme song observes, “a fascinating transition.” With newfound freedom and over $10,000 from the “Indiana Mole Women” fund, Kimmy buys light-up sneakers, eats candy for dinner and discovers the magic of automatic sinks and hand dryers in a montage reminiscent of Elf.
Eventually she finds herself living with the neurotic Titus (Tituss Burgess), a gay black man aspiring to steal the spotlight from Ben Vereen on Broadway. With over-the-top dialogue and bountiful musical numbers, Burgess, a Broadway veteran, is truly in his element and steals the show. Titus also reveals many truths when he observes that he’s treated better dressed like a werewolf than as a black man.
The show also takes a jab at the one percent. Kimmy gets employed as a nanny to the delightfully snobbish and aloof Upper East Sider Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski), who spends most of her time in therapy involving a hand puppet and at the cult-like exercise club SpiritCycle.
Despite its comic heart, the series is much darker below the surface. Not only does it point out the hypocrisy of the justice system in later episodes, but it also shows a woman overcoming PTSD as well as being labeled a victim. This theme might explain why the show, originally developed for NBC, was turned down. But it finds good company with Netflix’s variety of premium content that continues to outshine network television.