Sitcom shines, thanks to stellar cast and razor-sharp writing
Comedian Tina Fey is best known for her dead-on impression of US Republican Sarah Palin. Fey, a reputable actress in her own right, honed her comedic writing skills as the head writer for Saturday Night Live from 1997 to 2006. When The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt came out in 2015, she had already set a high standard with her first sitcom, 30 Rock (2006 – 2013, 2020).
Unlike 30 Rock, Kimmy Schmidt had a relatively unknown lead actor and supporting cast. The most famous actor was Jane Krakowski, a fellow SNL cast member, also known for her supporting role in the 1990s hit Ally McBeal. When Fey took a chance on casting lesser-known actors, her gamble paid off. The cast received numerous awards for acting and writing, including Writers Guild of America Episodic Comedy Writing in 2017. The dialogue was full of razor-sharp wit, and the show also engaged the viewers with numerous humourous call-backs or inside jokes. In total, the sitcom picked up 17 awards and multiple nominations in various categories.
Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) was a young woman who was rescued from a cult. For the past 15 years, she had lived in an underground bunker with no contact with the outside world. When rescued, she started a new life in New York City. She moved into her first apartment, which she shared with roommate Titus Adromedon (Tituss Burgess), a gay Black man. She landed her first job as a babysitter for Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski). Her job was more like a personal assistant and often a sounding board for a billionaire’s wife.
Fey ran with the idea that Schmidt had literally lived “under a rock” for the past 15 years. Most of Schmidt’s pop culture references were allusions to the 1990s. This award-winning cast poked fun at these dated references and played up the main character’s innocence and ignorance. Many of these references created space for nostalgic flashbacks.
Another reason for the show’s success was the cast’s great chemistry: the relationships were authentic. They didn’t miss a beat in setting up and delivering punchlines. Fey also made cameo appearances as a psychologist by day but a drunk with boundary issues by night.
Kimmy Schmidt had incisive social commentary on interracial, employer-employee, and parent-(step) child relationships. The show also had universal themes that were relatable for most people, like figuring out life as an adult.
As the show progressed through its four seasons, the storylines grew more complex and the characters more nuanced. The writers and cast were not afraid to deal with issues surrounding diversity and sexuality. As a gay Black man, Titus struggled to find work as a singer and actor while looking for his life partner. He and the apartment landlord, Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane), often schooled Schmidt in life lessons and social etiquette. As Schmidt became more “woke”, the show had to move from her receiving her high school equivalent education to adjusting to working a full-time “real” job in an office like Google.
While the show did run its course, Kimmy Schmidt will be remembered as a quirky sitcom that wasn’t afraid of delving into some serious issues, but never took itself too seriously.