English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Hyunjin Kim

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – A Children’s Book Formula in Disguise

             Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt follows the expected and successful sitcom formula, but behind all this lies yet another: the children’s book.

Kimmy’s Colorful World

             The show presents itself mostly from the perspective of Kimmy, the main protagonists. Her world is covered in vibrant colors and bright sets. Because the show is mostly from her perspective, the show is able to maintain the optimism and innocence, prevalent characteristics of children’s books, that comes from the perspective of Kimmy. For example, in the first episode, Kimmy is confro

Kimmy’s optimism drives her in her challenges.

nted by several challenges but approaches each innocence and naivety that creates humor reminiscent of children’s books like Amelia Bedelia. The show also tries to veil darker topics with humor. For example, Titus’s repressed sexuality living in the Deep South and Kimmy’s time in trapped in the bunker could both be used as plots to serious, dramatic movies or tv shows. Disguising these topics with humor allow the show to include them without changing the sitcom formula (the happy endings, the “happy-go-lucky” vibe). The same applies to children’s books; darker themes are veiled with euphemisms, metaphors, and humor.

Kimmy’s ten second rule

             In addition, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episodes are didactic in nature. The end of every episode leads to a certain moral or lesson. This formula corresponds with the children’s tales like The Tortoise and the Hare or Hansel and Gretel. When I’m watching the episodes, I’m quite frequently surprised by how applicable some of the lessons are. For example, in episode two, Kimmy tells Jacqueline that she can get through anything if she splits the time into ten seconds, and, in episode five, “Kimmy Kisses a Boy!” Kimmy realizes that she needs to confront her problems instead of ignoring them. The viewers are able to learn vicariously through Kimmy’s experiences like how children are able to learnt through the characters of their books.
             The creators of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt apply to children’s book model to the TV show to  provide the childlike optimism and didacticism in an accessible manner to adults. 


Color and Cinematography in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt focuses on the life of its titular character Kimmy who possesses a positive and optimistic outlook on life. The color scheme of the show tends to match and reflect her personality. Kimmy’s and Titus’s apartment is full of color; the background of every shot showing vibrant yellows, turquoises, and magentas. Kimmy and Titus both wear vibrant, accent colors. The show’s setting tends to take place in well lit areas. In addition, almost every scene takes place during the day and rarely ever at night. The lighting and the color scheme help emphasize the positive ambiance of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
The vibrant colors of Kimmy’s current world juxtaposes her past where she had to live inside a colorless bunker. Even in the bunker, Kimmy and the other girls were the only source of color, wearing drab shades. As she comes out of the bunker, the color in Kimmy’s world explodes which is eventually reflected her clothing.

Kimmy talking to Charlie

Charlie “talking” to Kimmy





The cinematography of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt matches the humorous nature of the show and is used for comedic effect. For example, in the fifth episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Kimmy Kisses a Boy!), Kimmy is told by Charles, Buckley’s tutor, that he loves her. The scene is set up with single shots of both characters talking on the phone to each other. Since the scene is from Kimmy’s point of view, the moment is portrayed as romantic and shows Charles talking in a soft tone. Later, when Kimmy goes to talk to him about the moment, she discovers that the he butt dialed her and was actually talking to one of his friends about a video game. Here, the show uses cinematography for a humorous effect when the show juxtaposes the earlier scene in a split screen to show Charles’s “conversation” with Kimmy and his friend.

Social Commentary in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

In episode four of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “Kimmy Goes to the Doctor,” Kimmy is recommended plastic surgery by Jacqueline to practice a new “outside-in” theory of self care. Before she undergoes botox, Kimmy realizes that she and everyone else is trying to “Buh-breeze” (a play on words from Febreeze and the commerical that puts people in an empty room drowned in Febreeze) her problems away by masking them. As soon as she realizes this, she encourages Jacqueline to confront her problems with her husband rather than trying other procedures to fix them and hoping they fade.

The infamous “I can’t believe this room smells like this” Febreeze commerical.

The episode is a social commentary. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, “17.5 million surgical and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures performed in the United States in 2017”  with higher percentages and rising numbers in other countries (https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/press-releases/new-statistics-reveal-the-shape-of-plastic-surgery). The episode tries to ask if plastic surgeries actually address the “problem.” Sure, some procedures for some people may “adjust” a something they have always been dissatisfied with, but for others the “problem” may stem from deeper issues such as self esteem. The episode points out that something like plastic surgery is not a blanket solution. 

The episode also criticizes attempts “self help” methods that rarely seem to do anything for the consumer other than take their money. In the episode, Jacqueline claims she bought two books on the “outside-in” method, the idea being that a good outward life can reflect onto a good inner life, prompting Jacqueline to get procedures to improve her attractiveness and outward happiness. However, as Kimmy points out, this method does nothing to address the problems that actually affect Jacqueline. The episode shows how these “self help” methods are rarely helpful and most of the time consist of regurgitated information. 

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Unbreakable Characters

The main characters of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt


In terms of gender representation, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt may be one of the most diverse that I’ve seen. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt follows mostly female characters and has feminist undertones – no doubt an effect of having Tina Fey as one of the main writers. Interestingly, the main characters are mostly women comprised of Kimmy, Jacqueline, and Lillian. The only exception is Titus. But even he defies traditional main male character representation with his character being a flamboyant, gay man with traditionally feminine interests.
The story focuses on Kimmy surviving in New York. She makes her own decisions and fuels her own success. Although she makes fumbles here and there because of her naivety, she makes responsible and positive choices that benefit the people surrounding her. Even with her background with the bunker, she never lets her past experiences rule and control her own life, representing a clean break from her captor.
In contrast, Jacqueline’s husband has yet to make an appearance on the show. Yet his decisions appear to have a heavy impact on Jacqueline’s state of being. For example, in the second episode, Jacqueline’s husband is unable to make his son’s party, leaving Jacqueline in distress. The heavy hand he has suggests a large amount of control over Jacqueline’s happiness. The show’s juxtaposition of these two characters highlights Jacqueline’s dependence on her husband. In the future episodes, it would be amazing to see Jacqueline break off from her strong dependence and realize her full potential.
One interesting aspect of the TV show is Jacqueline, a privileged, upper-class woman focused on her socioeconomic status. The show reveals that she actually holds roots in the Native American Lakota Tribe. With Native Americans being one of the most underrepresented groups on television, the show makes an interesting choice by casting Jane Krakowski, a white woman, as a Native American.  While this may be a controversial choice, the show makes humorous and purposeful use of the concept to make social statements. For example, Jacqueline thinks that being white and blonde while using her sexuality will elevate her social and economic status (and surprise – it does).

Annotated Bibliography

Barr, Johanna. “Look Who’s Still Talking the Most in Movies: White Men.” The New York Times, 4 Aug. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/arts/diversity-films-women-race.html. Accessed 20 Sept 2018.
The article shows that despite more high profile movies with women as major characters, representation for women and minorities as main characters outside traditional or stereotyped roles is limited. Studies show that even including film scripts with women as major characters male characters spoke in far larger quantities in comparison to women. In addition, dialogue for women tended to be more emotional and more centered on family values. Stereotypes for minorities were also present in film scripts. For example, there were more swear words in scripts for black characters. At the end of the article, the author urges audiences to not be fooled by higher profile cases like Wonder Woman and Girls Night and see that the larger trend has stayed stagnant for many groups. Although not directly related to television, the article highlights gender and minority representation disparities despite rising high profile representation. I thought it was a good point that she brought up about not being misled by one or two high profile productions that go against the norm and thinking that the long stagnant industry is changing.

Chira, Susan. “A New Rating for TV and Movies Tries to Combat Gender Stereotypes.” The New York Times, 20 June. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/20/arts/common-sense-media-ratings-gender.html. Accessed 19 Sept 2018.
The author describes a new rating system made by Common Sense Media to access gender representation in television and media. Common Sense Media evaluated television and movies on a spectrum evaluating whether the media defies gender stereotypes – showing women in STEM fields like Temperance Brennan in Bones or in unconventional roles like Gal Gadot’s Diana in Wonder Woman. The new system by Common Sense Media is focused more on the roles that the women play not necessarily the numbers of gender representation. For example, Bridesmaids was not labeled as “positive gender representation” despite its positive impact on the media industry for women. This article is important because it provides information about a rating system that looks to reward positive gender representations, in some ways a more developed Bechdel test. This rating system could be used our research to evaluate television shows. It also highlights a growing demand for shows combating gender stereotypes.

Collins, Rebecca L. “Content Analysis of Gender Roles in Media: Where are we Now and Where should we Go?” Sex Roles, vol. 64, no. 3-4, 2011, pp. 290-298. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/850508348?accountid=11107, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-010-9929-5.
Collins talks about quantitative research done on gender roles in media. She finds that an there is an overwhelming amount of research done that shows that women are underrepresented in all forms of media and when they are, they are hypersexualized or are portrayed as sexual objects. Women in all forms are usually underrepresented as well. For example, women who are not thin and older are even more underrepresented than the cohort as a whole. Collins also highlights how broader gender stereotypes are in effect across all media. Women are pushed into gender stereotyped roles in media, portraying the housewife or traditionally female jobs like the secretary. In addition, Collins also considers the effects of media on society’s perception; she brings up the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell rule, where media conversation focused significantly more on gay men rather than lesbian women, even though the number of both groups in the army were relatively the same. This article is important because it shows how gender representation in media can have an affect on public perception of subjects, even policy issues. It also further highlights the underrepresentation of a diverse group of women in non-stereotyped roles.

Pasztor, Sabrina K. “The Gendered World of Work in TV Programming and the Media Industry.” Media Report to Women, vol. 43, no. 1, 2015, pp. 12-20. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1661077194?accountid=11107.
In the article, Pasztor analyzes the portrayal of women in television over time. The 1960s showed mostly upper to middle class white women in the domestic sphere, and any representation of the “working woman” was usually single and looking to get married. The 70s showed a response to the second wave of feminism, but women in working roles tended to be hipersexualized. 80s television represented women in the workforce but usually in low level positions. The 90s responded to 3rd wave feminism with intersectionality and “liberated” females across all spectrums. Across all decades there was slight increase in gender representations but mostly focused on young women. Pasztor then goes on to show that representation behind the scenes influence representation on screen. This article is valuable in that it highlights how representation of women in the workforce has changed over time due to external factors in society and how television can also affect society. One important point that Pasztor bring up is the lack of representation for older women outside of their twenties in television.

Scovell, Nell. “The ‘Golden Age for Women in TV’ Is Actually a Rerun.”The New York Times, 12 Sept. 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/opinion/sunday/the-golden-age-for-women-in-tv-is-actually-a-rerun.html. Accessed 20 Sept 2018.
In this article, Scovell talks about how people perceive this era to be the “Golden Age for Women in TV.” Scovell combats this with the period in 1990 with shows like Murphy Brown and Golden Girls. Scovell proclaims that this is an era that has returned – the prominence of popular, award winning tv shows that seem to turn the tide on unbalanced gender representation.  The article is important because it highlights and supplements other articles that talk about high profile productions led by women that go against traditional gender representations. It suggests that the gender imbalance on TV is more of a circuitous route that will not be changed without a persistent fight. The article shows that modern television is not unique in its television portrayal of women and that the gender imbalance is a continuous struggle that is not being very well addressed in the past decade since the last “Golden Age” for women in media.

Smith, Brittany. Gender Representation and Occupational Portrayals in Primetime Television, University of Arkansas, Ann Arbor, 2016. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1822219320?accountid=11107.
Smith cities studies on primetime shows airing on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW, focusing on gender representation and the portrayal of both genders and how it blends in with social cognitive theory. Smith also references research that shows that portrayals of gender roles on television can influence and skew the perceptions of women and men on viewers of television. Findings show that women are likely to not play major characters, and if they do, they stay out of professional jobs and are most likely not married. There is always a tradeoff in between marriage and family and jobs in gender portrayal. In all her studies, the CW had the smallest difference in gender representation, then NBC, then Fox, then ABC, and then CBS. ABC had the highest females in professional jobs, and CBS had the highest in blue collar. Her research shows that older tv networks have more women in professional jobs. This article is very important because it discusses the impact of tv networks on gender representation and portrayal, something that could be looked at in our own respective research projects. In addition, Smith highlights blue collar vs professional jobs in representation as well as marriage as a factor that affects such roles. It also bring to light how and why representation affects society.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Writing is Strong as Hell!

Me watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

The first two episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt center on Kimmy starting her life anew in New York City after being rescued from the doomsday cult bunker of Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. Kimmy, played by Ellie Kemper, is determined to succeed in New York, approaching every situation with her optimism and childlike behavior.

The writers of the first two episodes, Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, and Sam Means, are old co-collaborators on the show 30 Rock, a show that also focuses on the struggle of a woman trying to make it in New York City. Feminist undertones are present throughout the show, probably the influence of Tina Fey. Even the theme song begins every episode with “females are strong as hell.” Kimmy’s motivation for staying in New York? To not continuously be identified as one of the “Mole Women” and give into her male oppressor by letting him continue to rule her life. Contrary to other shows, only one male character has appeared as a recurring cast, Titus, whose behavior goes against the traditional “macho” man.

The dialogue is witty and fast, playing off our expectations of the characters. For example, Kimmy misses uses old pop references like Michael Jackson because she spent time without contact to the modern world. Jacqueline’s lines usually relate to her status, citing Givenchy and her husband’s flights to London and Tokyo. This is also displayed in her actions like when she throws a full water bottle away after Kimmy rejected it. Titus’s lines are usually related to his acting career or his self-absorbance. Silences are usually reserved for times when the audience needs to learn something. In the second episode, there is silence when Xanthippe is sneaking out the house and when Jacqueline is crying. Silence is also utilized to bring attention to characters reactions to events.

Kimmy’s advice from episode two

Something I’ve noticed is that the writers seem to have written every episode like a parable, relying on familiar archetypal characters. Kimmy is the naïve girl trying to escape her past and reinvent herself in New York; Titus is a struggling actor; Jacqueline is the privileged, upper-class second wife. The writers offset Kimmy’s naivety with her experience in the Bunker with Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. Both episodes end with Kimmy resolving conflicts with a combination of her optimism and her experiences in the Bunker, leading to a believable and funny narrative. In the first episode “Kimmy Goes Outside,” Kimmy’s naivety causes her to want to return to New York, but her optimism convinces her to stay and push Titus back into his acting career. In the second episode, Kimmy tells Jacqueline and subsequently, the audience to get through troubles by taking it 10 seconds at time, a rule I’ll be keeping in mind from now on.

Woman Up! Intro to Me ENG 1102

Hi, I’m Angelina Kim, a current Public Policy major with a minor in Spanish, and I plan to graduate by 2022.
This is my first English class at Georgia Tech. My other English classes have followed a more “traditional” route, meaning reading books, writing essays, and the occasional class discussion. I think the emphasis on developing writing skills in my former English classes brought me to become more comfortable with written communication. Writing is something that I’ve been practicing for quite some time, and I definitely enjoy expressing myself through it. The mode of communication that I feel most uncomfortable with is probably oral. I’m a naturally introverted person, so any form of oral communication requires a lot of preparation and practice from me. This is probably the one form of communication that I would love to improve this semester.
As for my TV experience, my parents cut off the cable around second grade, so my childhood was mostly deprived of TV. Thankfully, Netflix came into my world and filled the void. I had hours of free time everyday this summer, so Netflix was my best friend. I binged so many TV shows and definitely dropped quite a few of them. Usually I need to watch TV shows season by season as they come out or I start to lose interest or the motivation of continue. My favorites from this summer on Netflix were Tabula Rasa, Dark, and The 100.
I also watched Big Little Lies this summer which I think really fits with the theme of Television and Feminism. Definitely became one of my favorite TV shows along with True Detective. Unfortunately, it falls short of the minimum episode requirement for the shows to review, but I highly recommend it regardless. Great direction, cinematography, characters, script, editing…Basically everything you could want from a TV show.
The TV show I’ve chosen to review is The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt about a girl who chooses to reclaim her life after being rescued from a cult by going to New York City. I don’t really venture into comedy shows, and the ones that I’ve tried like The Office and Parks and Recreation have yet to capture my interest (BUT I’m very willing to give them another try). I think The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt could be a good leeway into comedy shows, so I’m very excited!

So excited to start Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!

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