After a series of straight hour-long hits (i.e. House of Cards, Orange is the New Black), Netflix has finally come out with an original half-hour comedy. Critical and viewer reception has been much like that FOX’s comedy The Mindy Project, where critics are mixed but the vast majority of feminist female twenty-somethings find something in the show that truly speaks to them and represents their voice. While, in my opinion, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt soars in terms of warm-hearted friendships and dry, scathing, parodical wit, it falls flat as far as diversity and inclusivity are concerned.
I’ll admit, I never fell in love with 30 Rock the way that most television buffs did. Something about the humor was a little too understated for my taste, and every character was too unlikable for me to ever become attached to the show. Unbreakable parodies and pays tribute to the millennial generation much like 30 Rock both represented and mocked the television industry. In the first episode, Kimmy is broken out of a bunker with three other women who were told by an evangelical preacher that the apocalypse had happened and that if they wanted to live, they had to stay in the bunker. Much like most recent college graduates, Kimmy is in for a rude awakening when she discovers the challenges of acclimating to the real world, where she’s forced to pretend that Most jokes center around common topics of discussion among people our age, like how unprogressive states like Indiana are, or how absurd the One Percent’s lifestyle is.
Ellie Kemper OWNED the role of Kimmy. At the beginning of the show, when Kimmy has hundreds of dollars at her disposal and the ability to choose what to feed herself, she exclaims, “I can have candy for dinner!!!” And you’d be hard-pressed to find someone of the millennial generation who HASN’T opted to go at least one day only eating junk food and drinking alcohol. She starts out with the same kind of endearing naiveté her characters from The Office and The Mindy Project had, but over the course of thirteen episodes, she sheds most of that innocence and maintains a surprisingly firm grasp on reality. Her innocence puts many situations we encounter every day into perspective (such as her “well I wish I was your yellow hat!” response to a cat-caller), but her struggles feel genuine. Without Kemper’s persistent earnest-ness, the character of Kimmy would be silly and annoying. But as per usual, we instantly fall in love with Kimmy and with her, the other characters she charms into her life.
Titus Andromedon provides the best example I’ve ever seen of a character who could easily fall into the role of underused sidekick, but the show uses him to his full potential and he steals every single scene that he’s in. He grows along with Kimmy, and the show doesn’t mock his desires to become famous. Kimmy and Titus provide each other with the push each needs to pursue their dreams, making him indispensable. Titus is also, hands down, the funniest character on the show. Every time he sings I just about die laughing. He balances out Kimmy’s constant optimism, and breaks the “sassy black gay friend” stereotype with his own strength of presence.
While the plethora of female characters was great, I was frustrated by how every single character was white except for Titus and the hispanic bunker woman who only spoke Spanish that no one could understand. Though the hispanic woman stereotype was turned on its head in the finale, she’s still defined by her sexuality and chooses against advocating for herself when given the chance. Tina Fey’s main criticism seems to be that she only speaks for white feminism, and there’s some validity to that. It’s hard to argue that “unbreakable” white people who want to be different kinds of white people without actually pushing their boundaries. Kimmy does, to an extent, and she’s the heroine, but I’d have loved to see her inspiring other people more than she did. She “saves” the other bunker women, but nothing she does encourages other people to really save themselves. As long as the white women are better off than they were when the show started, Unbreakable seems to think that its job is done. Which it absolutely is not. Maybe in season two they can turn things around?