English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Tag: ukr

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).

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