Remember when Ellie Kemper played mousy, naïve Erin Hannon on “The Office?” Having succumbed to the terrible plague of typecasting, Kemper now plays the exact same mousy, naïve woman as the titular character in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Despite being a product of Tina Fey, whose previous show, “30 Rock,” seems destined to be her greatest achievement, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is rough around the edges in the pilot. What can you expect though when the show is only available for streaming on Netflix amidst the ranks of “House of Cards” and the hotly anticipated “Bloodline”?
The pilot episode begins in a bomb shelter where four women, Kemper included, have been stashed away by their cult leader for fifteen years. They have been conditioned to believe that the world has erupted into madness, and that humanity “caused it with [their] dumbness.” Upon their rescue, the “mole women” are thrown into the national spotlight. After a heartless interview with Matt Lauer on “The Today Show,” the pilot’s funniest moment, Kimmy (Kemper), decides to remain in New York City. Kimmy finds lodging with a gay street performer named Titus Andromedon, played with strangely intriguing frustration by Tituss Burgess. Titus, who had his dreams of performing on Broadway crushed when he arrived in the Big Apple, now resides in the basement of an apartment building and faces eviction. Together, the unlikely duo attempt to keep a roof over their heads, as well as money in their pockets.
Poor Ms. Kemper now finds herself in that lucrative yet eternally underdeveloped pool of talent that continuously returns to the same roles. Charlie Day of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” fame can be the first to illustrate its effects. His characters in film have yet to show an ounce of individualism from his nitwit alter ego, Charlie, on “Always Sunny.” Still, like her curious secretary on “The Office,” Kemper’s Kimmy is painfully optimistic. One cannot help but laugh, however, at the reactions Kimmy has to everyday things. She marvels at her new bedroom, essentially a closet, because all she has ever known is the compartmentalized life of a bunker. Still, observational comedy of this sort has a life expectancy rate far shorter than the thirteen-episode season, which means Kimmy’s eventual adjustment to her new world will surely slash the laughs in half.
Set aside the comedic shortcomings and you still have a powerful social commentary. The “mole women” have been subjugated to a life of guilt and subservience. Upon their rescue, they are paid off by the government to return to their normal lives. Kimmy is the anomaly who decides to catch up on the last fifteen years without the support of the only family she can remember. She’s been battered, and she’s held some seriously gross rodents by the neck, but she is unbreakable. Given the rise of strong female leads in the media today, Kimmy Schmidt may not break the mold, but she fits right in.
Gilboard is a member of the class of 2015.