Fans of NBC’s late, great 30 Rock will want to check out the new Netflix series from Tina Fey and her creative partner, Robert Carlock. Like the earlier series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a style of joke-writing that’s fast, loose and literate. It’s the kind of series you can simply enjoy on one level, and also study on another. It’s like a masterclass in the craft of TV comedy writing.
Kimmy is headlined by the very funny writer and actress Ellie Kemper—a performer whose likability is so natural it must exist on the cellular level somehow. Kemper plays a 29-year-old survivor of a Midwestern doomsday cult, recently liberated from her underground bunker and set loose in the wilds of New York City. The central premise is simple and inspired—Kimmy’s indefatigable sunniness versus the onslaught of contemporary urban life.
The series’ other lead role belongs to Broadway veteran Tituss Burgess, who also starred on 30 Rock as the flamboyant hairdresser D’Fwan—one of that show’s most reliably funny bit players in the later seasons. (You may remember D’Fwan’s boutique winery venture: “D’Fwine: Please D’Fwink Responsibly.”)
The two leads have an instant and potent comic chemistry, and the cast is rounded out by some other reliable comedy vets, including Jane Krakowski and Carol Kane. Later episodes continue the 30 Rock tradition of casting high-octane guest stars, including Jon Hamm, Amy Sedaris, Tim Blake Nelson and Martin Short as a deeply disturbing plastic surgeon.
Kimmy’s charm and kookiness depend largely on Kemper’s performance—Tina Fey created the role with her in mind—but also on the top-shelf comedy craftsmanship of the writing team. The usual setup-punchline combo of traditional sitcoms is almost entirely absent. Instead, dialogue loops and swirls, creating crazy rhythms and rapid-fire joke runs that occasionally require use of the pause button.
There’s also an inherent sweetness in the characters and the comic setups. Kimmy’s unbreakable spirit grabs the attention of the various NYC cynics and weirdoes that she meets, and bounces off them in interesting ways. Kimmy’s relationship with her boss, Karakowski’s Manhattan aristocrat, gets more complex as the season progresses. But it also gets funnier, as the writers mine deeper strains of comedy that are rooted in character.
With its initial season run of 13 episodes, Kimmy is the first major launch on Netflix’s original programming slate this year. It’s already one of the best new shows on any platform—network, cable or streaming. Let the binge-watching begin.
Other recommended releases this week, now available on digital and disc:
Steve Carell goes darkside in the biographical true-crime drama Foxcatcher, with Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo.
Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss and Jonathan Pryce headline the literary indie drama Listen Up Philip.
The latest installment in the popular dystopian sci-fi franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 is enjoyably dark and effective, considering it’s just half a story.