Recently finished my latest binge obsession, the Netflix comedy “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Dammit.
(If that mini-swear seems obscure, you have to watch the show to get it. Sorry.)
The show comes from Tina Fey, who clearly has a Midas comedy touch. It’s irreverent, unafraid and, well, kind of uncomfortable. But it manages to do all that in a bizarrely funny way.
Admittedly, the premise isn’t the least bit funny, especially given the real-life headlines of recent years: Four women are found and released after being kidnapped and held for 15 years in an underground bunker by a man who told them the apocalypse had wiped out the rest of the world.
Wouldn’t immediately think comedy, would you?
Yet Fey and production partner Robert Carlock not only manage to make that grim premise comedically acceptable, but also use it to skewer several of society’s most offensive stereotypes. It’s so not PC, it’s irreverently PC.
But that’s one of Fey’s greatest talents, to shoot down the most offensive wrongs with sharp and skillful wit.
Not that the show hasn’t had its critics. Most center on those above-mentioned stereotypes. I expected to see far more hits against the show from those who would find it unseemly to make light of kidnapping and long-term captivity.
Seriously, the intro to every episode is an auto-tuned “viral video” of a man who witnessed the women’s release with much animated shock and surprise. Dammit.
(There it is again!)
Instead, the show has taken a little heat for its depiction of minorities of nearly every kind – blacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians, gays, women, senior citizens, etc. Those critics miss the satire.
Kimmy Schmidt emerges from her 15 years of captivity wanting to grab back life, to experience it in all its freedom and possibilities. She moves to New York City instead of going back home to her small Indiana town (which also gets a very un-PC skewering) and ends up rooming with a gay black man named Titus in a ramshackle apartment owned by a batty older woman (deftly played by Carole Kane).
She doesn’t want to be tagged “damaged” by her just-past ordeal and tries to hide her background. But she’s got a seventh-grade education and a lack of knowledge of all things modern technology has wrought. She ends up working for an Upper East Side “Real Housewives”-type played to unbelievably naive and disgustingly privileged glory by one of Fey’s “30 Rock” cohorts, Jane Krakowski. The character, Jacqueline Voorhees, has her own secret: She’s actually an American Indian who’s pretending to be white.
I know, it doesn’t sound funny at all. Totally offensive, right?
But Ellie Kemper plays Kimmy with an effervescent zeal and adorable innocence. Tituss Burgess (another “30 Rock” alum) is her roommate, who, by the way, steals every scene he’s in and gets all the best lines.
When “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm (yet another Fey and “30 Rock” favorite) enters to show off his comedic prowess as the “reverend” who held the women captive all those years, it’s a bizarre surprise.
“The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” got a two-season green light from Netflix after NBC first planned to produce the show, then backed out. The writers seem to get away with more on the streaming service than they might have on network TV, so that ends up being a plus from what should have been a negative.
Being “Unbreakable” obviously is the show’s backbone – for victims, minorities and the just plain wacky – and it’s also its mantra for taking satire to the very brink of too far.
Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at email@example.com.