Netflix dipped its toes in the waters of traditional primetime sitcoms Friday by releasing “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
The show, created by “30 Rock” architects Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, was shot for NBC before being sold off to Netflix. Despite its comedy pedigree, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is just another underwhelming network TV sitcom with shiny digital wrapping paper.
The show’s formulaic structure is built around tired New York comedy stereotypes.
Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before: There’s a young woman. She’s from the Midwest, but she has always dreamed of life in the big city. She shows up, and boy – what a fish out of water.
The woman immediately befriends an unemployed gay man who’s just one big break from Broadway, and they live together under an aging eccentric landlord. She finds work as a nanny for an airhead millionaire who neglects her rebellious children.
The list goes on.
I am not saying this sitcom recipe is a bad one. There’s a reason it has been successful since the Nixon administration – it works.
The problem is that “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” doesn’t pull it off. All of the ingredients are there, but it feels like characters are just going through the motions of their particular stereotypes.
Ellie Kemper (“The Office,” “Bridesmaids”) stars as Kimmy, a 29-year-old Indiana native who spent the last 15 years living in a bunker as part of a doomsday cult. This provides an effective wrinkle in the formula. Kimmy is essentially a 14-year-old ‘90s kid stuck in a 29 year old’s body.
Waves of awkward social interactions and pop culture references follow, but they are shockingly hit-or-miss. I normally devour pop culture jokes, but it feels as if they were slapped into the script arbitrarily. The characters are going out tonight, quick, reference the club in “Moesha.”
If you’ve seen Kemper act in the past decade, you’ve seen her as Kimmy already. She’s dumb and awkward, but her bubbly charm typically wins the day. The role was clearly designed for Kemper, who does a decent job as the show’s moral compass and comedy conduit.
Tituss Burgess (“30 Rock”) stars as – well, Titus, a larger-than-life effeminate black man looking to make it in the theater world. Titus is a walking stereotype – the avenue on which the writers drive to get to all the same race, gay and actor jokes you’ve seen in the last 20 years of sitcoms.
Jane Krakowski (“30 Rock,” “Allie McBeal”) is the show’s saving grace as Jacqueline, Kimmy’s wealthy and shallow boss. There’s nothing unique about this character either, but Krakowski sells it well enough to steal virtually all of the scenes she’s in.
Here’s the bottom line. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is a passable network offering suitable for the whole family – a rarity for Netflix. With gold-plated TV star power behind it, the hype will carry it to a handful of Emmy nominations. But I’d suggest sticking to the 10,000 other options you have on Netflix.