Let me preface this post by saying I am a huge fan of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and that I think NBC made a huge mistake in passing on this gem of a show. The series is a testament to female strength, both on-screen in the form of the Mole Women and off-screen in the form of the influence of Tina Fey.
It saddens me to see so many articles about race being a problem on the show. Sure, Dong is kind of a stereotype, but *spoiler alert* he wins Kimmy’s heart. How many television shows make the leading man in a white female protagonist’s life a sweet, Asian dude? Long Duck Dong would have been proud.
And related to that dated Sixteen Candles reference, there’s a more pressing, obvious issue with the show other than race: Kimmy Schmidt’s retro timeline.
While I love the idea of Kimmy’s captivity being like a 15-year time capsule, some of the jokes don’t line up. As someone who’s around Kimmy’s age and would have been 15 at the same time she was, some references simply don’t work if we’re supposed to believe Kimmy went into the bunker in 2000.
For example, Kimmy talks about Yo MTV Raps, which aired from 1988 to 1995. She speaks of it as if it were on the air right before she went into hiding. If we’re to believe the show exists in 2015, this feels a little off. If anything, Kimmy should have been talking about Total Request Live, which started in 1998.
Also, the only book she had to read in the bunker was The Babysitters Club’s Dawn and the Surfer Ghost from 1993, which comes into play in an episode where Jacqueline Voorhees’ stepdaughter Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula) gets caught plagiarizing the story as her own.
This feels off on many levels. Babysitters Club hit its height in popularity in the mid-‘90s, when the film came out. Also, the book was aimed toward late-elementary school students, even though it was about middle-schoolers, similar to the way girls who read Seventeen are rarely 17 (they usually move on to Cosmo at that point). Since all of the girls are around the same age in the bunker (except for Latina maid Donna Maria Nunez), it’s questionable that any of these young women would be interested in reading this book at this point in their teenage lives. Even more questionable, that a Millennial like Xanthippe would discover the book and read it when there’s modern-day competition like The Hunger Games (although maybe Xanthippe got tired of teen dystopia novels).
Even Kimmy and Titus’s relationship with Columbia House seems dated. Many ‘90s kids can recall eagerly awaiting for CDs to arrive in the mail—not cassette tapes, which is what the two roomies anticipate. CDs were the dominant culture. Kimmy may feel like a jog through Central Park with a Walkman is the most up-to-date technology, but most teenagers in the late ‘90s had portable CD players. Even the fact that she listens to EMF’s “Unbelievable” from 1991 feels disconnected (has she been in the bunker for 25 years?).
That’s not to say that Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t excel at any of the references. Some of them are on the mark, including Kimmy mentioning Tamagotchis, which would have been a part of her generation. Also, Hanson was popular, but where are groups like the ‘NSync and the Backstreet Boys, which you KNOW Kimmy would have a say on (I picture her as a Lance Bass kind of gal)? She has Vanilla Ice and Hootie and the Blowfish on her 30th birthday playlist, but where are the Spice Girls and Britney Spears?
Again, these false references don’t stop me from loving this show. After all, there’s a suspension of disbelief that goes with pop culture. Movies like The Wedding Singer utilized ‘80s references from all over the decade, from J.R. being shot (took place in 1980) to Madonna being the rage (her first album didn’t come out until 1983), and still, it’s an enjoyable watch.
The only difference with Kimmy Schmidt is that when you’re placing a character 15 years from a particular event, it should feel authentic, especially when 18-to-34-year-olds are most likely to binge-watch—a demographic who lived through the time period.