If House of Cards is boring you this season (is that just me?), don’t give up on binge watching Netflix just yet.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, follows the transition of Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), who moves to New York City after her rescue from the bunker in Indiana where she has been held captive for fifteen years in a cult by a deranged apocalyptic minister. Arriving in New York City with no job, no money, and no friends, Kimmy decides to stay and finds herself a sketchy pad with roommate Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and a shaky job working for trophy wife Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski). Oh but don’t worry – this is a comedy.
And it’s not a dark comedy, either. Kimmy is a bright, snarky sitcom in the brilliant tradition of 30 Rock. Ellie Kemper is adorably hilarious (you may remember her as Erin from The Office or Becca from Bridesmaids). You can occasionally see the Tina Fey etched into her face as she performs, but Kemper is a talented comedic actor in her own right, and as the show progresses, she reveals her own branding more and more. Tituss Burgess is marvelous as Kimmy’s gay, black roommate, and Jane Krakowski makes her triumphant return as Jacqueline, in a role that reads like an SOB version of Krakowski herself, if those orange juice commercials are anything to go by.
The plot spins like cartwheels in the fantasy funland of Fey’s mind, gleefully unleashed from the bunker of television patriarchy. Kimmy is pure fun, and the show doesn’t need Alec Baldwin to appeal to (get this) both men and women. My husband and I were laughing from the first five seconds in. When the patriarchy does show up, they are peripheral and occasionally downright evil characters, including Jacqueline’s never-at-home rich husband and the no-good girl-kidnapping doomsday minister Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm). That name’s not a typo, by the way, it’s just awesome.
The writers play with racial, gender, and sexual identity tropes with abandon, free from the supervision of the networks and the structures of traditional plot lines. Such comedic devices, of course, run the risk of crashing hard, but the writers are well aware they’re playing with fire. Kimmy revels in turning overripe tropes on their heads time and again, setting the viewer up with all the usual dominos before smashing the pieces and running away cackling.
The greatest, of course, is the trope-smashing arc I’m calling The Redemption of the Dong, featuring Kimmy’s GED classmate and eventual love interest, an undocumented Vietnamese immigrant named Dong Nguyen. The original Dong trope was, of course, the infamous Long Duk Dong from John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles, and there have been many since, right up to today’s Han from the CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls. So naturally, as a diversity in media writer particularly sensitive to this trope, I hated the character and physically winced every time he was onscreen (which takes some acting on the part of Ki Hong Lee, who’s not exactly naturally wince-inducing).
Well. He certainly showed me.
People are not tropes. All people, including optimistic gingers, rich socialites, fabulous roommates, and guys named Dong will naturally resist categorization and will constantly surprise you. If there was ever a great theme for a sitcom, this is it, and I believe it’s going places next season. Hell, if the redemption of the Dong is possible, anything is.
The first season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is now streaming on Netflix