Dear Netflix: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” fails to break comedic barriers

If you like Buddy the Elf, Netflix’s new show is for you, but if not, oh well.

Dear Netflix,

There’s only one question we need ask in order to determine whether any one college student will be a fan of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”: How do you feel about the movie “Elf”?

If you’re one of those die-hard Buddy fanatics, you’ll love it. If his crazed optimism and overwhelming naivety get on your nerves, you may not be very into Kimmy either.

Personally, I fall pretty staunchly on the anti-“Elf” end of the spectrum.

“Unbreakable” is Tina Fey’s latest undertaking, as well as a Netflix original.

It stars Ellie Kemper (Erin from “The Office” and of “Bridesmaids” fame) as an uber resilient young lady who’s just been freed from a doomsday cult after being kidnapped as an adolescent.

She’s stuck in her cardigan-and-capri wearing ways and when she learns to take a selfie, Kimmy gets her very first glimpse at being self-critical.

Calling Kimmy “sheltered” is a drastic understatement. While in the bunker, she and the other girls (dubbed “Mole Women”) played with imaginary tennis balls, pretended to be each other’s mirrors, all while participating in “weird sex stuff” the show likes to gloss over.

Like Buddy the Elf though, as a new resident of the Big Apple, Kimmy doesn’t feel scared or alone. Rather, she’s obnoxiously excited about it.

The similarities between the two characters are striking, really. While Kemper lacks Will Ferrell’s brash demeanor, Buddy and Kimmy would surely get along for their undeniably unrealistic sense of awe.

But Buddy has an excuse. He’s an elf (programmed to be cheery and whatnot). Kimmy, though, has suffered an unimaginable amount of pain; she literally lived underground for almost all of her life with the company of only a man who was trying to break her and the women he’d already broken.

It’s a comedy though, so that’s okay, right? “Unbreakable” just doesn’t sit right with me, half because being constantly frustrated with a lead isn’t my cup of tea, and half because the humor isn’t edgy enough for the topics it’s talking about.

Kimmy seems to often wake up doing things she shouldn’t be (i.e., attacking her roommate or cleaning a knife in the shower). So okay, she clearly has some unaddressed issues; the problem isn’t their presence but that the show doesn’t do the issues justice.

Does Kimmy have PTSD? Is she depressed? Anxious? We don’t really know, because rather than satirizing the nitty gritty of her trauma, “Unbreakable” opts for humor circling plastic surgery to rid her of her “scream lines.”

In a bad episode, it’s merely poking fun at Tituss (Kimmy’s gay, black roommate) who not only meets every one of those stereotypes, but also of the struggling middle-aged actor in NYC. Every once in a while, writers will allows Tituss some breadth to acknowledge his clichés, but it’s definitely rare.

This seems to be a pattern in “Unbreakable”: rare moments of incredible content intermixed with the undeveloped.

Take the opening sequence; it’s pure genius. You know Antoine Dodson, right? The “Hide yo kids, hide yo wife” guy? Remember how some other dudes auto-tuned into this gem?

“Unbreakable” parodies that, and it’s amazing. Seriously, you’ll have the auto-tuned neighbor of the Mole Women singing, “They alive dammit!” in your head all day. Here it is in case you’re curious.

The series also tip toes around unique insight every so often.

“Escaping is not the same as making it, Kimmy,” Tituss says to her, in a moment of exasperation. He’s talking about himself here, and how he left Mississippi to pursue his dreams, but it applies even more aptly to Kimmy.

Then again, what’s “making it” for someone who hasn’t seen the world grow with her enough to know what her dreams are?

“Unbreakable” only has one season down, and I haven’t even completed it. So far though, I’ve seen a comedy with only a semi-original premise that can’t manage to find a good middle ground between comedy and character development.

Nonetheless, I have high hopes for Kimmy. What are her dreams? Surely they don’t include being a nanny and living in a basement.

The writing, as in most Netflix originals, is amazing; the backbone is in place.

Hoping “Unbreakable” ties it all together,

Love,

Elana

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