The pilot episode of Netflix’s new comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is one of the most successful pilots I’ve seen in a very long time. Produced and written by 30 Rock‘s Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, Schmidt packs so many laughs – both visual site gags and verbal jokes – into its brief 24-minute running time that the immediate reaction is to restart the episode and absorb it all over again. You just might have missed something funny because you were laughing too hard.
In a return to the “high concept” sitcom format, Fey and Carlock introduce us to Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, The Office), one of the infamous “Mole Women of Indiana” – a group of four women locked in an underground bunker by a religious zealot who convinced them they were ignorant enough to cause a nuclear apocalypse. There’s also a brief, seedy reference to some bunker sex games. But enough of that… Kimmy Schmidt, despite her dark and tortured background, is determined to emerge from the bunker as a sunny optimist.
After appearing on the Today Show with her bunker mates, Kimmy decides to abandon her past and give New York City a try, thus setting into motion a spin on the classic “fish out of water” sitcom trope. But the approach really works. The beauty of the series is how it elicits Kemper’s natural good-humor and upbeat disposition as its focal point. Her optimism is a contagion that no one catches, and Kemper aces the role with an amazing confidence for an actress previously relegated to supporting roles. I look forward to watching Kemper grow with the role as the season continues, and assuming she does, Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus should watch her back come Emmy time.
Rounding out the main cast are Titus Burgess (Broadway’s The Little Mermaid) as Kimmy’s new black, gay roommate who works as an Iron Man-knockoff in Times Square and, in a nice casting coup, Carol Kane as her zany landlord. 30 Rock‘s Jane Krakowski stars here in a role similar to that show’s Jenna Maroney – an improbably self-absorbed and wealthy mother who ultimately offers Kimmy a job as a nanny. I’m hoping Krakowski is able to grow her role down different paths than her previous role because, while she is a very funny actress, I have almost no interest in directly revisiting Jenna Maroney’s drug-induced insanity.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt feels like a breath of fresh air, thanks to Tina Fey’s intelligent and sympathetic writing and the charms of its very appealing cast. I’m not going to ruin all the jokes for you – you need to discover them yourself. But just trust me. In the gluttony of super-serious and intense TV dramas of late, this comedy gold feels so very right. Since it’s on Netflix and given its brief running time, I have the urge to binge all of it as quickly as possible. Yet, it’s something I want to savor and relish for months to come.
It’s like having a big bowl of candy for dinner. And I love it.