Have you ever had a show in your life where you forgot you dislike it until you watch it? Like if it’s been a few months and the show comes up in conversation you’re like “yeah yeah, I’ve seen it, it’s so funny!” but then when you actually go to binge that show you’re like “wait this is actually kinda a crap show?” Well for me, that’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
As you probably know Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the brain child of Tina Fey and her frequent collaborator Robert Carlock. It’s no surprise to me to that this show came from someone with a background in sketch comedy because in some ways, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is quite similar to Saturday Night Live in terms of consistency. Sure, SNL occasionally comes up with comedic gold that is widely circulated throughout the interwebs, but when you actually try to sit through an entire episode you’ll find yourself sitting through just as many forgettable, unfunny sketches.
Likewise, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt certainly has its moments. The classic of course is “Peeno Noir”:
Every few episodes you get a great moment that feels like an exceptionally good SNL sketch. But then you also can sit through 2-3 episodes at a time and think “Well…is this really going anywhere?”
The fact of the matter is that despite some funny moments, I’ve never really gotten emotionally invested in the zany characters that populate Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I think this lies in an inherent flaw in the premise of the show. That premise of course is that adult woman Kimmy Schmidt starts a new life in New York City after living the previous 15 years in an underground bunker because she was kidnapped as a child. The inherent flaw is that the longer Kimmy lives in New York, the more this initial hook fades. Eventually, Kimmy has to learn how the modern world works and the show turns into just another “20-something trying to make it in New York” show.
I have a hunch that the writers know this deep down so it almost feels like they’ve gone out of their way to add weird novelty aspects to the show to the point that it just feels desperate.
– “Ok, so Kimmy learned how to make a life for herself in New York, but WHAT IF JACQUELINE WAS A NATIVE AMERICAN WHO ALSO MARRIED INTO THE FAMILY THAT OWNS THE REDSKINS.”
– “Sure, we’ll give Kimmy normal plotlines like getting a job, deciding who to date, and going to college but WHAT IF HER ROOMMATE WAS A SASSY BLACK GAY MAN WHO JUST GAVE US AN EXCUSE TO MAKE HILARIOUS MUSICAL NUMBERS?!?!?”
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt wants to be off-the-wall ridiculous, but it never seems to give those off-the-wall ridiculous storylines to Kimmy herself. That can still work, except that Kimmy isn’t your traditional straightwoman. She often embraces and encourages all the ridiculous whims of the people around her. In both comedy and storytelling in general, that’s a recipe for disaster.
In Bob’s Burgers, Bob is begrudgingly dragged into ridiculous situations by his rambunctious family. In Rick and Morty, pretty much everyone except for Rick disapproves of Rick’s sci-fi shenanigans. Even in Fey’s own 30 Rock, much of the comic value comes from the somewhat normal Liz Lemon putting up with the eccentric personalities of Tracey, Jack, and Jenna. In Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, you have a protagonist trying to lead a normal life who just kinda says “sure, ok, sounds good” whenever the supporting cast wants to go off on crazy adventures.
The result is a show that lacks an emotional core but isn’t really funny enough to get away with not having an emotional core. Sure, it’s capable of being funny, but not reliably funny. I’ll just wait for Titus to get his own spinoff, then check back in.