English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Tag: unbreakable kimmy schmidt

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. 


Kimmy Schmidt and its Thematic Intricacies

The episode I will be thematically analyzing in this blog post is “Kimmy Goes to Court” (Season 1, Episode 12). Being the second to last episode in the season, the main issue revolving around Kimmy’s kidnapping comes to a head in this episode where Kimmy must testify in court, face to face with her kidnapper.

In this episode there are a couple of arguments trying to be conveyed to the audience, but the overarching message conveyed in this chapter of Kimmy Schmidt’s adventure is to stay true to your values even when faced with adversity.  In this episode Kimmy is faced with the extremely challenging task of having to face her kidnapper in court.  Even while everyone in the court is siding with her charismatic kidnapper in court (her own prosecution team included) and not recognizing Kimmy’s plight, she puts her head down and works herself to find evidence that will surely convict her kidnapper even when she is made the enemy of the very situation in which she was victimized.

This episode promotes the prominent theme of the entire series which is the power of the individual.  Throughout the season, Kimmy is forced to relearn about the world she departed for nearly a decade in the most fast-paced, overwhelming city in the nation, New York City and is forced to adapt and persevere with just her will power and strength.  This theme is found even before the series begins when flashbacks demonstrate to the audience how Kimmy would constantly defy her barbaric male kidnapper who greatly disrespected the women that he kidnapped through harsh words and unusual tasks.  Not to mention, Kimmy defies everyone by getting a job and having a quality life in New York City even after society pities her for being a mole woman victim.  Kimmy wants to be more than that, so she does.  She proves that the strength of individuals can really be something special when the individual is determined to accomplish a desired goal.

This theme is a great one for today and especially in the college environment we find ourselves in as students. For example, I write this blog post right now, I am in the middle of intramural season, have two midterms this week, a job interview, loads of homework and a social life to keep up; however, persisting as an individual through difficult times is possible and is what makes us all grow. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent and this idea is accurately displayed to the audience of Kimmy Schmidt.

Image result for kimmy schmidt in court house

Kimmy’s kidnapper, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (John Hamm) charming the jury during his testimony

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.

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