Friday, March 6, 2015

REVIEW: 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' - Kimmy Ventures to New York City Determined Not to Be a Victim in 'Kimmy Goes Outside!'

Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Episode 1.01 "Kimmy Goes Outside!"

Imprisoned by a cult leader as a teenager, Midwesterner Kimmy is freed after 15 years. The first thing she decides to do is move to New York.

So much of the pilot for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt feels like a premise pilot. Setting up the world for the main protagonist with expositional dialogue and plot beats. Introductions are always difficult. Kimmy Schmidt (played by The Office's Ellie Kemper) was taken in the 8th grade and imprisoned in an underground bunker as a part of an apocalypse cult. The opening minutes of the episode show her and three other women being rescued from their confinements. After learning that the world still exists, Kimmy decides to stay in New York City to fully embrace a new life for herself where she's not defined as a victim. She finds a place to live, with a roommate named Titus (played by 30 Rock's Tituss Burgess), and a job working for wealthy socialite Jacqueline (played by 30 Rock's Jane Krakowski). She has her highs and her lows which build up to her facing the threat of returning to her hometown in Indiana. And yet, she makes the inevitable decision to stay because the show wouldn't have spent so much time setting up the world of New York if it wasn't going to be set here permanently. That's a frequent writing tactic for pilots. The protagonist questions if they should leave and not take this risk only to determine it's worth it in the end. We've seen it before and it plays out the same way every time.

All of this works though in the first episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt though because it is just so darn funny. Yes, the jokes are frequently hit-or-miss. But there is an infectious quality to this show. So much of that is because of Kemper and the joyful enthusiasm she brings to the role of Kimmy. Escaping a cult isn't the typical stuff of comedy. And yet, the narrative arc of the show is in Kimmy embracing this new world. She is naive to it for sure, but she never comes across as dumb or dim. She's enthusiastically seeing this world for the first time after 15 years. That joyfulness is apparent in everything that she does.

The world may see Kimmy Schmidt and the rest of the cult women as victims. During their Today show interview with Matt Lauer, he only wants to focus on how they were first taken, their lackluster or nonexistent future plans and giving them money from people who felt sorry for them. As they are shoved out the door, the production assistant only refers to them as victims. Kimmy doesn't want to be seen as a victim. She wants to make something of herself that is true to her and no one else. She wants to try to make it in New York City. The world has changed around her and she doesn't really know how to be in society anymore. But she wants to be seen as something more. It's an easily identifiable character beat for the show's leading lady. Everyone wants to stand out and leave their mark on the world.

The world may constantly be beating her down. They only want to see her as a victim because that's the least amount of effort they can do for her. After she gets the apartment and the job, Kimmy wants to celebrate by going out to a club - where her backpack with all her money is promptly stolen. She'll do anything to find it, but the club's security only cares about getting her out of there because she's the one making a scene. She's a strong and powerful woman which only makes it hurt more when she finds the backpack outside with nothing inside. This is a harsh world for her. It would be easy for her to return to Indiana. Titus has been in this city for years and has only gotten rejection. He was a chipper soul once and this city ripped that away from him. The next morning, he too pities what has happened to her. He learns her full story and wants her to go back home with the money they planned on using for the rent. It's a nice gesture on his part but it still elicits the feeling of pity that Kimmy doesn't want.

So, it's empowering when Kimmy gets recommitted to her plan and goes to pull Titus out of his funk too. In the middle of Times Square, she gets a chance to say one of the most powerful and moving pieces of dialogue in the show so far. "Life beats you up, Titus. It doesn't matter if you got taken by a cult or you've been rejected over and over again at auditions. You can either curl up in a ball and die. Or you can stand up and say we're different. We're the strong ones, and you can't break us." That is the mission statement of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kimmy and Titus aren't going to let anything else break them or tell them what they can't do. To them, it feels great to sing a song from The Lion King in the middle of Times Square. To the rest of the world, they just fade into the background. They haven't broken the image that the world sees them yet. But they are excited to keep trying in life to be something more than a victim or a reject.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Kimmy Goes Outside!" was written by Tina Fey & Robert Carlock and directed by Tristram Shapeero.
  • So, Kimmy found a rat living in the cult bunker but still believed Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne that the world above them still didn't exist. That moment did make her appear slightly dim even though it's paired with a moment in the present suppose to reinvigorate her energies.
  • Also, how long will it be before we see the Reverend's face? And why wasn't he also down in the bunker all the time?
  • Kimmy's gonna have to win back her job quickly. She was so happy to get it and then messed up on the first day - which was the only opportunity Jacqueline really wanted/cared to give to her.
  • "Dancing is about butts now." Yeah, Kimmy picked up on the 2015 lifestyle pretty quickly.
  • Titus explaining that he came from Mississippi was an information dump but it worked because of the amazing chemistry Burgess and Kemper have.
  • Carol Kane's Lillian describing Titus to Kimmy was very amusing.
  • So, I'm gonna try to do episodic reviews of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - with a new review popping up every day for the next 13 days. So please read the disclaimer below about spoilers.