‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Gets on TV!

If there’s a hole in your heart where “30 Rock” has been, fear no more. NBC-turned-Netflix’s sitcom “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is the new and improved “TGS with Tracy Jordan.”

Created by Liz Lemon — I mean, Lemon’s real-life alter-ego Tina Fey — and co-writer Robert Carlock (“Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock,” “The Dana Carvey Show”), “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is the type of show Lemon wanted to produce during her stint as a TV writer at 30 Rockefeller Plaza: the quirky feminist New Yorker comedy unapproved by the big corporate networks. In reality, the show was released by NBC because the network thought “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (like “30 Rock”) would be too niche.

They were right. But that doesn’t bother Netflix — whose micro-genres include “quirky TV shows,” “irreverent TV sitcoms” and “witty TV comedies with a strong female lead.” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is all these things — and delivered in 23-minute chunks (which makes it even more binge-worthy than “Orange is the New Black” or the latest season of “House of Cards”).

While “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” would have been a pioneer a decade ago, Fey’s “30 Rock” paved the way for dozens of female-centric TV shows from “Parks and Recreation” (with Fey’s SNL co-star Amy Poehler) and “The Mindy Project” to “Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23,” “2 Broke Girls” and “New Girl.”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is like an unofficial “30 Rock” spin-off, who looks and feels like its predeccessor. As the pilot opens, the show’s heroine, Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, “The Office”), is at 30 Rockefeller Plaza on the familiar set of NBC’s “Today” show. Sitting across from her is anchor Matt Lauer.

Schmidt and her sister-wives were snatched up by Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) 15 years ago and forced to live in a religious underground cult in the fictional small-town of Durnsville, Ind. Its news threads resemble a cross between the “bedroom intruder” story and the Cleveland kidnappings. 

Fey and Carlock satirizes Amanda Berry‘s story among others, even auto-tuning the girls’ release. But the show isn’t about life locked up in a bunker. It’s about life after.

Approaching her 30s, Schmidt’s (like Kemper’s “The Office” co-star, Mindy Kaling of “The Mindy Project”) trying to navigate the Big Apple as a strong woman. That means living despite her past as an “Indiana Mole Women” — the adopted moniker for her and her kidnapped peers. So she lives with her sunny wardrobe and unbelievably bubbly optimism (which rivals Kenneth the Page’s).

Fey models Schmidt after her character in “30 Rock.” Once upon a time, Liz Lemon bought a whole cart of hot dogs because a guy cut her in line. Like Lemon, Kimmy Schmidt is a stickler for rules. Schmidt follows a kid (Tanner Flood) who stole a candy bar, returning him to his incompetant socialite mother, Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski, “30 Rock”). When she finds out that Mrs. Voorhees has no plans to punish her son, Schmidt takes it upon herself to punish him.

This leads her to her first job as Buckley (Flood) and Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula)’s nanny as well as Mrs. Voorhees’ assistant/personal slave. Meanwhile, she finds boarding with gay diva Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and his cat-lady landlord Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane).

These characters rival the quirkiness of the cast of “30 Rock.” Like Lemon, Schmidt spends her days like a TV producer — trouble-shooting for her insecure friends (Titus has enough attitude to rival Tracy Jordan and Jacqueline can be as self-centered as her “30 Rock” persona Jenna Maroney). Unlike Lemon though, Schmidt doesn’t have a mentor like “30 Rock’s” Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). Instead, girl power carries the show.

Fey and Carlock’s 13-episode pilot season showcases female empowerment. While Kimmy Schmidt isn’t a doctor like Mindy Lahiri of “The Mindy Project” or a politician like Leslie Knope of “Parks and Recreation” or a TV writer/producer like Liz Lemon of “30 Rock,” she conquers mundane everyday tasks like solving math, getting a GED, or breaking up with a guy. Despite her strange beginnings, Schmidt proves that anyone can conquer anything and that women are truly unbreakable.

It’s as Kimmy Schmidt says: “I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for 10 seconds… All you gotta do is take it 10 seconds at a time.”

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was created by Robert Carlock and Tina Fey. Season one is available on Netflix. 


‘Neighbors’: a non-stop party

Remember Joel Schumacher’s 1985 Razzle Award-winning coming-of-age film “St. Elmo’s Fire”? The New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote, “Its characters are old enough to enjoy the first flushes of prosperity, but still sufficiently youthful to keep their self-absorption intact. But soon enough, they will be forced to give up their late-night carousing at a favorite bar and move on to more responsible lives. In the film’s terms, which are distinctly limited, this will mean finding a more sedate hangout and learning to go there for brunch.”

That, too, is the basic premise of Nicholas Stoller’s comedy, “Neighbors.” Written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, “Neighbors” stars new parents, Mac (Seth Rogan) and Kelly Radner (Rose Bryne). They’re convinced that they’re the “cool” parents — who can take care of their baby and go to all-night ragers.

“Just because we have a house and a baby doesn’t mean we’re old people,” says Kelly.

“We can have fun and a baby,” adds Mac.

But when the Delta Psi Beta boys (with leading men Zac Efron as fraternity president Teddy Sanders and Dave Franco as VP Pete) move next door (they burned down their last frat house), Mac and Kelly learn that they actually prefer brunch at farmer’s markets and making themed baby calendars and going to bed at (gasp!) 10 o’clock.

Like last summer’s comedy hit “This is the End,” half of the appeal of “Neighbors” are the the surprise celebrity cameos. Andy Samberg’s (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Saturday Night Live”) featured as the toga party founder in a Delta Psi Beta flashback. Lisa Kudrow (“Friends”) plays the university’s dean. Adam DeVine (“Pitch Perfect,” “Modern Family”) invents beer pong. Jake Johnson’s (“New Girl”) the creator of the “Boot & Bally” — a maneuver where you drink until you throw up, which you drink again (Sadly, the “True American” isn’t one of the party games mentioned). Even Steve Carrell makes an appearance in the film as “The Office’s” Michael Scott. “Bros before hoes,” he says in front of a Dunder Mifflin sign.

At times, “Neighbors” feels like an audition reel for “Saturday Night Live’s” Lorne Michaels.  Zac Efron and Seth Rogan duel with their opposing Batman impersonations (Efron’s Christian Bale while Rogan’s Michael Keaton). Efron and Franco impersonate Robert De Niro. Ike Barinholtz (“The Mindy Project”) pulls a mean Ray Romano and Barack Obama. And Australian actress Rose Byrne plays a spot-on Anne Hathaway.

The comedy, though, is the spoonful of sugar that helps us swallow some of the film’s tougher storylines. Teddy’s graduating from college life. Pete’s a child of divorce. Everyone has to grow up — which is hard to do.

Like Rob Lowe’s character in “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Efron’s Teddy gets by with his good looks — batting his baby blues and strutting around half naked in front of an Abercrombie & Fitch store. He’s the Peter Pan who will never grow up — who can’t function outside his 4/20 parties and all-night keggers. The kind of alpha male who gets left behind when everyone moves on.

Before “Neighbors” shines that harsh light on reality, though, Stoller’s film extolls the hedonistic lifestyle with a number of highly stylized party anthems (including Theophilus London’s “Girls Girls $,” Icona Pop’s “All Night,” Fergie’s “London Bridge” and Kei$ha’s “Die Young”).

The fun lasts 96 minutes and is infectious: a non-stop party full of your favorite people — who just happen to be super-talented celebrities from TV and film.  And while this party isn’t at James Franco’s house (this time) — at least you can get in with the price of a movie ticket.

TRIGGER WARNING: “Neighbors” contains rape and gun jokes.

“Neighbors” was directed by Nicholas Stoller and written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien.

‘The Mindy Project’ Season 2 Episode 1: “All My Problems Solved Forever”

Remember those drunken nights when a bunch of thirty-something-year-old doctors hijack a college kegger? Or when our favorite OB-GYN, Dr. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling), got drunk and arrested for swimming in a private pool? Well, that’s not the vibe in “The Mindy Project” 2.0.

The FOX sitcom following the episodic dating and work life of Dr. Lahiri continues, but at first glance, it looks like “The Mindy Project” got a makeover.

In the season two premiere, “All My Problems Solved Forever,” Mindy’s finally settling down with steady pastor boyfriend/fiancé, Casey (Anders Holms), whose proposal replaces those hopeless crushes, flings and one-night stands. Her charity work in Haiti takes over for her New York City job. And Dr. McDreamy — a.k.a. Paul Leotard (James Franco) — fills in her NYC office as a new OB-GYN/sex therapist.

After 24 episodes of failed flings and a parade of suitors (including cameo appearances from Bill Hader, Tommy Dewey, Josh Meyers, Seth Rogan and B.J. Novak), “The Mindy Project” 2.0 looks mature and dull.

Mindy’s wardrobe of hospital scrubs and colorful, sparkly and fun form-fitting dresses are replaced by drab sweaters. Her long, luscious hair’s chopped off into a short, but flattering Rhianna-esque boy cut.

Meanwhile, Mindy’s getting married (as opposed to ruining ex’s weddings). But happily ever afters don’t make for good T.V. (or in Taylor Swift’s case, good love songs).

The old Mindy Kaling had attitude and style. She knew who she wanted and selfishly sought after it — even when she played “The Office’s” Kelly Kapoor and chased after “male prima donna” Ryan (B.J. Novak).

In comparison, this new “improved” introduction, in which she converts to Casey’s simplistic do-gooder lifestyle, is bland.

At least James Franco knows what’s up. He’s hilariously smug and ridiculously arrogant as Dr. Leotard, consulting co-worker Dr. Danny Castellano (Chris Messina) on his sperm.

“You notice they’re behavior,” Franco says. “They’re listless. They’re unhappy. They’re apathetic.”

While Franco’s talking about Danny’s sperm, he could have easily been describing the show’s audience — tired of watching season one’s re-packaged leftovers, served stale and uninviting.

Mindy Lahiri still imagines that she lives in a rom-com. And her co-worker crew of nurse Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) and doctors Reed (Ed Weeks) and Castellano still cheer her through the disappointments. But the routine is starting to get old.

In fact, the only tasty appetizer left is Kaling and Messina’s easy chemistry. Dr. Lahiri and Dr. Castellano are adorable and endearing (exchanging letters between continents like two characters out of “The Notebook”), but enough of the unrequited pining, platonic friendship and foreplay! Did it take Jim and Pam this long to get together in “The Office”? When will this relationship become the main course?

This half-hour rom-com sitcom lacks fire and heat and after a one season of failed flings, season two is starting off cold and unsatisfying.

“The Mindy Project” season two premieres at 9:30 p.m. EST/8:30 p.m. Central on Sept. 17 on FOX. Or you can catch a sneak peek on Hulu right now. 

Save a tree, Ride the ‘Lorax’

Hanging out with the Lorax at Universal Studios.

We grew up with Sam I Am, Horton the Elephant, the Grinch who stole Christmas and the Lorax. These classic characters from the Dr. Seuss canon brought us lessons like to try new things (like green eggs and ham), that “a person’s a person, no matter how small” and the joy of Christmas. In the case of the Lorax, we learned about conservation: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda’s new movie “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” may embellish the story we know and love with catchy tunes, 3-D animation and celebrity voiceovers from young stars such as Zac Efron and Taylor Swift as well as comedic voices such as those of Ed Helms, Betty White  and Danny DeVito — but the core message remains the same.

We need trees.

Luckily, we have the Lorax, who speaks for the trees. Luckily for us, he’s in 3-D.

Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul’s screenplay adaption of Dr. Seuss’s popular book follows a boy (Zac Efron) in love with a girl (Taylor Swift) who wants a tree in a world that real trees don’t exist. On his quest to please his crush, he meets the Once-ler (Ed Helms), who recounts his tale. Daurio and Paul’s screenplay humanizes the Once-ler character as a boy with a guitar who wanted to pleased his family. Helms, known for his role as Andy in the TV comedy series “The Office,” brings over his singing and guitar playing skills (but not his dancing) to this 3-D animated film. In a flashback re-telling of the story of the trees, a young Once-ler is spotted singing catchy tunes such as “This is the Place” and “How Bad Can I Be.”

Co-directors Balda and Renaud, both known for working on “Despicable Me,” adopted some of the graphics and animation style to “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.” Fans of “Despicable Me” will notice that the movie’s antagonist, Mr. O’Hare (Rob Riggle), is similar to the character design of the villain Vector: nerdy with dark hair. The Brown Bar-ba-loots, Swomee-Swans, Humming-Fish and other Dr. Seuss critters living in the Truffula tree forest are just as adorable as the minions from “Despicable Me” — their antics just as comical and endearing. In one scene, the Lorax and his forest minions are seen taking over the Once-ler’s tent — eating all the butter in the fridge and sleeping in his bed.

Although the Lorax is nothing like “Wall-E,” Disney Pixar’s animated, similarly-themed film which also demonstrates the importance of trees (especially in the world of capitalism), “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” shows promise in bringing the magic of Theodor Seuss Geisel to life. With eye-popping animation, a potpourri of color and catchy tunes, “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” is a cute, charming and enjoyable film with a good moral. But was it worth the $16 to see it in 3-D? I think Dr. Seuss would have liked you to save a tree instead.

Girl Power Makes A Comeback

Sometimes a brilliant performance only needs an open microphone and an empty stage. In addition to these two essentials, the crowd’s enthusiasm and the actresses’ talent made this year’s annual Valentine’s Day production of Eve Ensler’s popular play “The Vagina Monologues” a success.

As a part to the global V-Day movement to end violence against women, “The Vagina Monologues,” performed by the Ithaca College Players took place at 8 p.m. on Feb. 13 and 14 in Emerson Suites. Ending with a standing ovation, the play, under the direction senior Katie Venetsky, showcased immense talent.

Senior drama major Stephanie “Annie” Goodenbour, stole the show with her performance of “The Vagina Workshop.” One breath short of a nervous breakdown and panicked at the prospect of not having orgasms, the actress finished her undergraduate career in the IC Players annual showing of “The Vagina Monologues” as a poised and elegant British woman. The IC Player veteran was stunning, encouraging schoolgirl giggles from the lively audience as she paused briefly before she said the word “vagina.”

In another monologue, junior Yvonne Romero was like the sweet and sexy Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling) from the hit television series “The Office.” Starring in the segment “The Woman who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” Romero played a female prostitute who conducted an orchestra of moans. The other actresses hid among the audiences as Romero listed a series of moans. Popular moans included the “twitter moan,” “the college student moan” and the “musical moan” in which the actresses broke into a chorus of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

Meanwhile, sophomore Melanie Sherman’s “Angry Vagina” monologue was a humorous crowd pleaser, as women laughed at her comparison of having sexual intercourse to having a cotton tampon shoved up one’s vagina. Sherman’s funny monologue preached comfort with pleasure. As she described how one should not compromise her vagina for uncomfortable thongs or floral sprays, the audience filled Emerson Suites with applause and laughter.

While “The Vagina Monologues” included a dozen other performances, other highlights included freshman Nikki Veit pacing the stage like a rock star in the segment “Reclaiming Cunt,” and freshman Pascale Florestal’s mannerisms as a little girl in the monologue “The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could.”

Although some monologues were light and humorous while reflecting larger social issues, “The Vagina Monologues” ended on a more somber note, depicting the countless women raped by soldiers everyday in the Congo. While one may still giggle at the word “vagina,” one cannot help feeling more apt to stand up for women’s rights in the future.

Click here to see this article in The Ithacan. For more information on the V-Day movement, click here.