Every once in a while something wonderful happens on television and it’s time for a litte miracle again. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, since we know who is associated with it, but … let me start at the beginning.
The dark void that had settled in my TV-heart ever since the finale of Parks and Recreation last week made me realize that although there’s lots of great drama shows on TV (past and present: Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Walking Dead, Mad Men to name a few) what I love as much as anything else are series that are seriously uplifting. Not because they have an utopian view of the world itself, which can be a bleak and frustrating place, but because they approach and tackle important topics and still have a positive aura surrounding them. Parks and Recreation could have been an awful disaster, focusing on bureaucratic administrative problems not being solved by a disillusioned team, but instead it focused on an extremely positive human being, Leslie Knope, who wasn’t made fun of, but presented in her best light. The subversiveness and social and cultural criticism never ceased to exist, but was embedded in surroundings that proved to be truly progressive and uplifting.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
The same goes to say for Netflix’s new show „Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt“. I watched about half of the first season last night, and it has the same basic premise that I came to love in Parks and Rec (Happy Endings was another comparable uplifting show btw).
It’s a comedy that comes out of an enormously shocking and desolate background story.
Kimmy Schmidt spent her last fifteen years in a bunker, into which she’d been lured by a lying cult preacher. The series starts off with her and three other women being rescued out of said bunker and being let loose back into the real world. As one of the „mole women“, as the press decides to call them, she decides to make a living in New York, where she soon finds herself living with an unconventional roommate, a nutty landlady and working for a rich uptown mum. There are some expectable hick-ups plastering her way, since Kimmy had been locked up in a weird apocalyptic cult in a bunker for 15 years („Phones have cameras in them!“ – „Even the police men have tattoos“), but the jokes seldom fall flat. And that’s because the protagonist Kimmy Schmidt is just amazing: Although she might seem naive and quite innocent, she’s never stupid, easy or undignified. She approaches life with a smile and tenacity, although she has some truly upsetting experiences under her belt. She’s not „Adam“ from „Eve and the last Gentleman“, incoherent of her surroundings: she’s had „weird sex stuff“ happen to her in the bunker, she approaches dating kind of openly and never let’s herself get dominated by what she’s experienced. It might make her life more exhausting and harder to master than someone’s else (who’s not been held captive in a bunker for such an amount of time), but she is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
One flashback scene in the pilot encapsulates her quality as a survivor pretty tellingly: While the cult leader preaches to the captured women, Kimmy holds up a rat and asks him (dialogue loosely recollected by me): „If the world has been scorched and the apocalypse is upon us, how did I find this rat in the air vent?! How?“ and the preacher responds incredulously „One day I will break you, Kimmy Schmidt!“
No, he won’t. Her childlike demeanour might at times be bewildering, but she manages to walk the fine line of being a survivor and not a victim, even if the others might see her as one. She’s positive and weird. I fell in love with her.
Added to the main characters, who are interesting in their own rights – the uptown’s mum background story, whom Kimmy works for (Jane Krakowski – 30 Rock and Ally McBeal alum), is hilarious and totally comes out of the blue – is the social, cultural and societal criticism that elevates the material into something more than just a comedy. Just like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a show, that can be inspirational and positive all the while criticizing, illuminating and challenging mass media’s handling of human interest tabloid spectacles, the topic of interpersonal contact in current times and such dark issues as the abduction and abuse of women.
Do yourselves a favour and watch the show. If only for the marvellous opening credits that captures the series so well: It’s the mash-up of a first-hand witness of the SWAT team rescuing the Indiana Mole Women into an auto-tune song, which one might have stumbled upon on YouTube before. Funny, witty, very contemporary and such a catchy tune.
To quote: “Females are strong as hell!”
I just bought Amy Poehler’s book „Yes Please“ and will soon follow up with Tina Fey’s „Bossy Pants“. These two ladies (Tina Fey’s a producer of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Amy Poehler the incomparable Leslie Knope and co-producer of Parks and Rec) are witty, make for positive but snarky TV productions and hold their own in a male dominated industry.
Please excuse me, while I restrain myself from binge-watching season 1 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt right now. It’s just too good to be over soon.