Tuesday, April 21, 2015

TV Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt

Its a strange thing, that just as social media is driving us back to the idea of all watching TV "together" again, party to avoid ever present spoilers, but partly just because of the joys of a massive conversation about it, streaming giant Netflix is pioneering the "drop"; releasing a whole series on one massive lump. It's great if you've got a weekend to binge on something, of course, but what it has meant is our shared experience is still pretty fragmented as we all find our own way to watch a series at our own pace, dodging spoilers as we go. The recent release of Daredevil is a great example - 13 hours of TV that some people will still be watching in 12 weeks time, and some people finished the first day. It is a great strategy for creating "buzz" though, as social media - and this driven a lot by social media - can light up for a week or so as a series is consumed. So I'm catching up on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt long after that buzz has faded, although we've only just got through it's initial run of 13 episodes. 

Being a pretty big fan of american sitcoms in general, and 30 Rock especially, the idea of a new series co-created by the team of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock was something I'm predisposed to like. It's a very different proposition though, mile away from the satire and smart-alec delivery of TGS, and instead aiming for something sparkly and unquestioningly fun. Its starts with a seemingly dark premise - after over a decade of imprisonment, Kimmy and three other women are rescued from a bunker where they'd been kidnapped and told the world had ended. Faced with the truth that her life had been taken away from her, Kimmy moves to New York, and tries to start again. 

So this could easily have been dark, angsty stuff full of bitterness and anger. But Kimmy is Unbreakable, and she wears light-up shoes because light-up shoes are awesome, and she is going to put her past behind her and have adventures. She's going to get a job, and finish school, and meet boys and go to parties. And she does! And it's really funny, and uplifting, and clever. The satirical edge is still there, and the sharpness of the writing, but it's wrapped in bright colours and an uplifting tone that feels really, really, fresh. 

Rounding out the main cast is Titus, Kimmy's black, gay roommate, Lillian, who lives upstairs and can be relied on to "know a guy" if you need "things done", and Jacqueline, a rich New Yorker who employs Kimmy as a Nanny. None of these characters are what they seem at first - in fact, the running theme of the show is that everyone is living - or trying to - a life they've chosen to have, not the one that was put out in front of them. Being who you are is a major message of the show, and the thing that gives it it's weight. Amongst the jokes, this is a program reaching to say something, which I rather like about it. 

With another series on the way, the first tranche of episodes for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt feel like an overture, a warm up, setting up all the characters and lining them all up for future journeys to echo Kimmys adventures in New York. The cast is fantastic, all veterans of stage and screen, and all giving it full bore whenever they can. It's a pleasure to watch on the performances alone and most of the guest starts (including, of course, Tiny Fey) work hard to steal whatever scene they are in. The whole thing is just lovely, and I totally recommend it.