Ahh the lovely Ellie Kemper. From bit parts in films like Bridesmaids and 21 Jump Street, and later to a role in The Office as Erin, I’ve always had a soft spot for her. So to see her take the lead role in a comedy series is great, and once seeing the trailer – it felt like the character was a match for her strengths. Add to the fact that it’s created by Tina Fey (30 Rock, SNL, Mean Girls) and Robert Carlock (30 Rock, Friends and um…Joey) it felt like all the stars aligned with a straight-to-series order from NBC. But with the state of NBC’s comedy line-up looking…well, dead – it shipped it off to Netflix.
So did this move mean anything? On the one hand you get a straight thirteen episode binge of a new show, on the other – it seems that creatively it frees Fey and Carlock to do more. See, the show has a guaranteed second season – and the move to Netflix means that they could get a little more freedom in what they want to do. This is apparent as the first half of the season is very much 22-minute episodes created for a network, but as the season goes on – the episodes get a few minutes longer, giving the story a chance to breathe. The season even morphs into a slightly more serialised element at the end, which feels more like a Netflix show than a network one. So perhaps Robert Greenblatt (NBC Entertainment Chairman) was right when he said that Netflix was the best place.
But what of the show itself? It follows Kimmy Schmidt as one of four women who was kept locked in an underground bunker for fifteen years by a crazy reverend who told them the world had ended. With her new found freedom, Kimmy looks to make a life for herself in New York but has the life experience of a middle-schooler. She manages to get an apartment that she shares with Titus (Tituss Burgess) and a job as a nanny for Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski). Topping off the regular characters are Carol Kane as landlady Lillian.
The show contains an absurd level of humour but doesn’t feel like it goes overboard like 30 Rock did, with some levels of believability kept in there. It manages to give a balance of crazy and reality that maintains some great wit but doesn’t make it a human cartoon. Perfectly set up with the Gregory Brothers-inspired autotuned news exposition of the “Mole Women” news story, the jokes are pretty evenly spread and Kimmy’s eccentric ways and youthful actions fuel the comedy for the first couple of episodes. Kemper just feels natural, as if it’s an extension of her actual personality – and manages to deliver old school playground insults really effectively against Jacqueline’s 15-year-old step daughter (who technically is the season’s first recurring villain).
But as she settles in, the story becomes more about trying to find a way into the world and learning she has a lot in common with the people she meets. With Titus, the struggling actor, the show has a little gem. Trying to find his way in the world. Burgess steals a lot of scenes he’s in when he’s singing at a funeral to helping bury a robot (don’t ask – just watch). His story heads towards some funny moments that oddly bookends with the start of the season. Whilst Krakowski feels like an older version of Jenna from 30 Rock, with an apparent vain rich woman (I say apparent, she is) who eventually reveals some hidden depths with a surprising background.
It’s not without its little niggles, though. There’s an over-emphasis on the usual gay and black stereotypes at times. There’s an episode where Titus finds himself treated better when in werewolf costume, and the episode where someone is revealed to be marrying a gay man and the usual gay-stereotypes are thrown about. These are twisted a little on their head later on in the series, but the show doesn’t half feel as if it’s trying to get humour out of stuff we’ve seen a million times before ten years ago that’s just not funny anymore. I’ve also seen people say that the season’s last few episodes set in Indiana feel at odds with the rest of the season. Whilst this is true, in terms of the general story of the first season this is when the Netflix style of arc plots comes in handy. In fact, the show really kicks in with these final episodes (and there’s some great casting here) and the character arcs fully reach their relative conclusions for the season.
A strong opening season for Kimmy and co. And whilst the generally positive reaction floats around the internet – I can’t wait to begin to wonder how the second season will unfold.
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