In a time where Parks & Recreation says goodbye to us definitely, ‘Cougar Town’ is in its last season, shows like Happy Endings and Selfie disappear into the abyss and we are in abundance of CBS-style multi-cam comedies that should have been left behind a long time ago having inexplicable success (I am sorry, The Odd Couple, you aren’t even that bad, but did we really need you?) the need for feel-good comedies in our TVs grows stronger.
Many of these multi-cam comedies tend to fall into a terrible pattern: the scripts are written for the audience to laugh at the characters, instead of with them. I get it, it’s classic Schadenfreude: it’s great to have someone to watch that has it worse than you. There is something satisfying about thinking “well, my life is crap, but at least I’m not THAT guy!”, but what is the issue with watching a comedy where you can end up feeling happy for the characters? Why do we put human empathy aside when watching television? Is it better to watch the characters in The Big Bang Theory struggle with basic human interaction than to watch Leslie Knope making her wishes come true? Given the ratings difference between the two of them, to many people it is.
This is why Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt comes at a perfect time, when the number of shows that make us root for the people that live in their universe is alarmingly decreasing (thank you, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fresh Off the Boat, Bob’s Burgers and Jane The Virgin, you’re very needed). If you haven’t binge-watched this yet, you have probably been living in a bunker after being kidnapped by a pre-apocalyptic cult, have just made it out and thus you are forgiven, but please learn about what Netflix is, watch the show and then come back to read this blog post.
Kimmy Schmidt has had some terrible things happen to her. She was only 14 when she was kidnapped and forced into a bunker. We never quite delve into the really bad stuff, but we do hear hints of it (“And yeah, there was some weird sex stuff going on in the bunker” “You’re garbage, Kimmy!”) and yet when she leaves that world behind and decides to stay in New York instead of coming back to Indiana her outlook changes into utter wonder and positivism. Nothing that happens to her now is going to be worse than what happened to her before. She is unbreakable: she is is wary of people (and terrified of Velcro, what’s up with that?), but believes in the inner goodness of most of them. She tries to deal with her issues, she stands up for herself and she doesn’t let others step on her or on her friends, because she can now recognize manipulation at the drop of a hat.
The show itself is a compilation of hilarious gags with the catchiest main theme ever and characters that sometimes fall into a caricature category, but that doesn’t make it any less good. It tries to take stereotypes and subvert them (with more or less success, like Titus discovering he is treated better in a werewolf costume than as an African American man or Dong’s story and introduction as a love interest vs. Jacqueline’s questionable arc about embracing her real identity) and it has a really strong sense of self-awareness. It looks and feel exactly like an NBC show that would have aired between 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation— which is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your taste– and Ellie Kemper takes the wide-eyed (literal) ingénue to a whole new level.
Kimmy Schmidt isn’t only an example to follow to people who have had bad stuff happen to them, she is an example to everyone– especially women, cause females are strong as hell!– because we all have had to start anew, we all have had to leave stuff behind and start over, and many people feel, regardless of their age, like their lives haven’t even started yet. She is proof that your life can start late, she is proof that you can retain your innocence in a harsh world and she is proof that kindness deserves nothing but respect.
And that is the kind of message you want comedies to send. Here’s to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and here is to feel-good TV. You are needed.