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.