Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt TV review: 'script full of razor sharp meta jokes but it's not laugh out loud funny'
Anything written by the makers of the hugely successful sitcom 30 Rock is going to be under severe scrutiny. When one of those writers is Tina Fey, darling of the comedy world/universe who can seemingly do no wrong, the pressure’s really on. How does Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the new Netflix comedy from Fey and Robert Carlock, measure up?
It’s the story of Kimmy Schmidt (played by Ellie Kemper, who spent four years playing Erin Hannon on The US Office and was also in the excellent 2011 comedy Bridesmaids), one of the "Indiana Mole Women", a recently rescued quartet who have been living underground for the past 15 years after being "tooken by" a Doomsday cult. With only the cash and “victim” gift bag from her appearance on the Today programme, Kimmy is left to fend for herself in Manhattan, and sets herself about finding a job and a safe place to live, "Don't wear that yellow sweater cos the crips will think you're in the Banana Boys. It's a new gang. There weren't any good colours left."
What's right with it? The Tina trademark: a script so full of razor-sharp meta jokes that there's barely enough time for the actors to breathe before they've moved on to the next one – let alone for the audience to fully appreciate every line on a first viewing. The characters are wacky, the colours are bright, New York is a main member of the cast. It's easy to watch and ideal for Netflix, and even if it's not always laugh-out-loud funny, it's definitely a smirker. It’s firmly in touch with the zeitgeist; even the theme song is an auto tune parody which will amuse the Youtube generation, and bemuse and probably irritate everyone else, but the pop culture references are well observed and well delivered: "You WILL sing at the Grammys with Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson!" she tells her new flatmate, who has auditioned for The Lion King more than 20 times and is now working as a robot in Times Square.
What's wrong with it? It might be no bad thing, but no one is doing anything new here. It's almost as if the writers studied the wide-eyed naivety Ellie Kemper has brought to just about every role she's ever had, and decided its only explanation could be that she has been living underground since she was 14 years old... and then based the premise of their series around that. After all, the part of Kimmy was written with Kemper in mind. She's energetic and chipper – possibly too chipper for someone who hasn't seen natural light in over a decade – but charming all the same, even if her demented grinning might have you rolling your eyes at times.