“Life beats you up. You can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can stand up and say: ‘We’re different, and you can’t break us!’”
Read on to learn about the next big show you should be watching.
Kimmy Schmidt’s infectiously happy energy is a core driving element in Tina Fey’s delectable new series on Netflix. The titular character (played by The Office’s Ellie Kemper) spent the last 15 years in an underground bunker, having been told that an apocalypse had destroyed the world and she and her fellow captees were the only ones left. When she is rescued at the beginning of the series and realizes “It’s all still here!”, she moves to New York City to start her life anew and get past the suffering she endured.
For the first few episodes, Kimmy is a classic fish-out-of-water in NYC — not only because she’s perpetually an 8th grader stuck in the past, and a lot has changed in 15 years (“I can’t tell phones from cameras!”), but also because her Indiana upbringing and core values clash with those around her in humorous ways, particularly Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski)’s Upper East Side extravagances.
The character — and the series — start to achieve depth through the rest of the season, as we begin to notice that Kimmy isn’t as unbroken as she lets on. She has flashbacks of the bunker, she has terrifying dreams, and she bites not her own but her roommate Titus (Tituss Burgess)’s nails. She suffers many of the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including reliving the event, vivid memories, and increased psychological distress when exposed to reminders of the event. PTSD is a disease that affects 6.8% of Americans (with women more than twice as likely as men) and is the cause of 58 “disability-adjusted life years” (years lost due to ill health, disability, or early death) per 100,000 people.
“The worst thing of my life happened to me in my own front yard.”
These glimpses into the Kimmy’s psyche show us a trauma “survivor” who is still traumatized yet is trying to heal. Her over-the-top effusive personality is not simply a trope of a naïve Midwesterner with an 8th grade education trying to make it in New York City. It is as much a defense mechanism as it is a manner of self-healing. As Racked.com writer Lili Loofbourow put it, “Her kindness, ambition, honesty, persistence and sincerity are all warped by the fact that she’s had to learn to endure her life in ten-second increments [a defense mechanism she developed in the bunker and shares helpfully with other characters].”
Her positive energy changes the people and world around her, a theme we see played out in everyone from her roommate to a misogynistic construction worker to the teenage step-daughter she “works for.” These experiences in turn change her. She begins to see that avoiding her past and bottling up her negative emotions helps nobody, and therefore hurts everybody. The show expertly dodges being too saccharine and too corny, which only adds to the experience of watching.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tina Fey show without lots of fast-paced snark and satire reminiscent of 30 Rock and stellar performances from strong comedic actors, but the two shows’ similarities end there. I hope we get to see more TV for mainstream audiences that illustrates and humanizes issues of mental health and what it means to live through and live past a traumatic experience. In the meantime, we can show our support through viewership.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt premiered its entire first season on Netflix on March 6th. It is already planning a second season to air sometime in hopefully not-too-distant future.
Image Source: Screenrant.com