Friday, April 24, 2015

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - for weekend binge viewing

tv series review

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Season 1

Starring: Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane, and Jane Krakowski
Created by: Tina Fey and Robert Carlock
Tagline: Life begins when the world doesn’t end.

By changing the way audiences consume entertainment, Netflix has brought much joy to the world, while simultaneously ruining many a life, turning viewers into zombified couch potatoes  unwilling (or unable) to look away from their television screens until they finish binge watching the entire new season of their favourite shows. A major factor behind the on-demand streaming service’s ability to take over lives is the quality of their original programming and premium content that is both innovative and intelligent. One of their latest offerings, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt may not be as novel as some of their flagship series, but it still lives up to the standards of the now-celebrated online service.

The brainchild of comedy goddess Tina Fey and her 30 Rock collaborator Robert Carlock, Netflix’s first proper comedy series follows the story of Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), a 29-year-old Indiana native, who was kidnapped as a child by doomsday cult leader Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) and imprisoned in an underground bunker with three other women. Events kick off with Kimmy’s rescue from captivity and her subsequent arrival in New York, where she impulsively decides to stay, determined to start afresh. As she attempts to find a place for herself in the big city, she ends up living with a flamboyant roommate, the aspiring actor Titus (Tituss Burgess), and finds a job working as a nanny for billionaire trophy wife, Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski).

Even though there is a dark subject at its core, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt offsets its thematic darkness with literal brightness and colours that envelope the series. Despite its peculiar premise, much of the show’s comedy is rooted in conventional sitcom humour, with oddball characters navigating through (overly) zany turn of events. Kimmy’s wide-eyed acclimation to modern life is the show’s primary source of laughs, by way of dated references and her anachronistic naiveté, and it’s this same conceit that also allows the writers to offer a sly take on the modern world. But underlying this buoyant strain is a dark undertone, always ready to remind us that Kimmy has been through hell, which makes her resilience all the more remarkable to the viewers.

There are, however, instances when the series stumbles. Its characters and developments are not all evenly amusing, and at times the show takes some less effective detours. (SPOILER ALERT) Kimmy’s love life, for instance, ends up going down a less than satisfying arc; her pairing with Adam Campbell’s upscale Logan Beekman initially creates a more interesting contrast than her subsequent boyfriend, the very bland Dong Nguyen (Ki Hong Lee). 

Also, the show’s suitability for binge-watching is debatable. Unlike House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, the story here doesn’t have the level of suspense that would merit obsessive viewing. Plus its style starts to feel a bit repetitive if you watch too many episodes in a row, and its humour works better in smaller doses.

But the acting talent more than makes up for the show’s occasional flaws. The delightful Ellie Kemper effortlessly brings Kimmy’s brightness to the screen without making her sunny disposition feel forced or cloying (which it could very easily have been). Despite the fact that their characters don’t seem very original, Jane Krakowski and Titus Burgess totally own their roles, and their presence will especially appease 30 Rock fans.

Ultimately, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a bright, lively comedy sprinkled with clever elements (like its theme song, which takes the shape of a viral video and finds The Gregory Brothers at their best) that inspires with its protagonist’s resilience and skewers the world around us in the process. Of course humour is notoriously subjective; just like any sitcom, Kimmy Schmidt’s style and tone won’t resonate uniformly with all viewers, and its offbeat humour and comically exaggerated character depictions are likely to divide opinions. No one will, however, argue the fact that its diverse cast is totally committed to their, at times, kooky roles, and Kimmy’s strength really does shine through as it leaves viewers with the message that you can’t let the bad things that happen in your life define you; it’s how you deal with what life throws at you that shows who you really are.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 24th April, 2015 *

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