New York City: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Our darling hero Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) puts that old adage to the test in Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s latest venture, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, premiering today on Netflix.
The promising comedy series, already greenlit for season two, follows Miss Schmidt as she adjusts to life in the Big Apple after living underground for 15 years. That’s right: she’s a “mole woman.” Brainwashed as a young teen into believing the End is nigh, Kimmy joins a cult and holes herself in a bunker to survive. Upon her rescue — and the cult leader’s arrest — she sees the world with fresh eyes, eager to face it head-on. Where better to do that than the five boroughs?
Rotten Tomatoes chatted with Kemper about what to expect from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s premiere season and what it’s like having comedy heavyweights like Fey and Krakowski in her corner of the ring.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt gets its title from our protagonist’s unyielding optimism in a city rife with cynics. But New York living ain’t easy! Kimmy will surely be put to the test while dealing with Gotham’s cast of crooks and characters, but Kemper insists that she takes a note from the Beyoncés of the world, doing it all with a strong head and a smile.
“It’s called Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for a reason; she won’t be broken,” Kemper said. “There’s something uplifting about her and it’s nice to see how she grows. It’s definitely nice for a young lady who just faced adversity and stares it down and refuses to let outward circumstances control her own success. That’s very important because the point is that Kimmy Schmidt is a survivor.”
Being shut out from the above world can do its share of damage, sure, but overall, it humbles Kimmy and forces her to appreciate the limited luxuries to her disposal. Imagine her awe when she steps outside and sees all that the world actually has to offer.
“One of the defining characteristics of Kimmy is that she’s not jaded,” Kemper said. “Something that you or I might take for granted is totally spectacular in her eyes.”
In terms of what Kemper turned to for her own spoonful of daily optimism, she said she honed in on how she felt upon her initial move to New York from St. Louis. “I’m not comparing St. Louis to an apocalyptic cult, but I do think there’s bit of a culture shock,” she said. “Everything seems shiny and new and absolutely spectacular. I think trying to hold on to that novelty when things first felt very new and very fresh, it’s sort of the mentality that I’m channeling. [Kimmy] chooses to see the best in a situation without being Pollyanna about it. I think she’s realistic about it, but she [is] genuinely enthusiastic.”
In short: yes. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is not fueled by naiveté, but rather a grounded sense of strength and self-worth — for women, in particular. Kemper said that message rings loud and clear even in the series’ title sequence, which she deemed one of the best she’s ever seen.
“It shows a smattering of women who are just tough and strong. I know that that was the core of what Tina and Robert wanted to tell you about: women and men can be strong, and I think the show is focusing on specifically tough ladies,” Kemper said. “It’s inspiring and it’s entirely empowering to portray someone who won’t be brought down in the light of adversity.”
Viewers will see early on that “unbreakable” is not an adjective applicable to all the series’ characters. As Kimmy’s employer, Jane Krakowski’s Jacqueline has a holier than thou — and richer than thou — exterior that’s not easily penetrated. But Kimmy manages to see the vulnerability under her surliness. While it’s all portrayed to hilarious effect, Jacqueline’s husband is having an affair, her stepchildren despise her, and she’s getting to the age where she’s no longer the prettiest one in the room; Kimmy brings a certain warmth to the circumstances, and these two ladies learn they have more in common than initially thought.
“When you look at those women and how they’re dressed, they couldn’t be more different, but I think that’s what bonds them. I think that Jacqueline sees similarities of herself in Kimmy,” Kemper said. “That’s what so refreshing about Jacqueline: you think that this is a very shallow woman with materialistic leanings who doesn’t really have much more than that. But then when you learn about her backstory, it adds a great layer of depth to her and you see that she’s searching for herself. That’s very relatable.”
While the past few years has showcased heavyweight female talents like Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, the Broad City ladies, and, of course, Tina Fey, many believe that this is a new era of female comics — a part of which Kemper can consider herself. But she said that she’s spent her whole life being influenced by talented female comics; it just seems that they’re now getting the attention and material they deserve.
“There’s a lot more being written for women in comedy now, but they’ve always been funny,” Kemper said. “I feel lucky to be associated with any of those women. Certainly, with Tina and Amy having produced and created these shows, it means putting women in those roles, which is a boost to working actresses everywhere. It’s nice that people seem to be fans and are enjoying all of these women on these shows that are out there. I hope that women keep making them.”