Comedy is cruelty—laughter only comes when there are victims (yourself, your friends, your characters, your culture). But what makes comedy powerhouse duo Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s new Netflix sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt starring Ellie Kemper (The Office) so light and lovable is that it turns comedy’s satiric switchblade on taxidermy. All cutesy and carefree, the show doesn’t cause any real harm—no bleeding occurs, no flesh is broken—but, as Kimmy puts it, it “makes waffles” out of society-sanctioned scapegoats like New York public school inefficiencies, the excesses of the 1%, and small-town prejudices.
Here are six hits Kimmy Schmidt nails:
The New York Rich
New York’s upper crust population is one of UKS’s regular targets of ridicule, though the show hits them with broad attacks so entertaining (and spot-on) that hardly anyone would complain. The tone is set from the very first episode in which Kimmy’s employer-to-be, Jacqueline Voorhees (played by Jane Krakowski), a Manhattan trophy wife with Native American roots, offers Kimmy a bottle of Fuji water. Kimmy turns it down, and Jacqueline does what any sensible socialite might: she tosses the unopened bottle into the trash. Later in the show you see one of Jacqueline’s acquaintances do unspeakable things to Italian Carrara marble.
The Rubber Rooms of New York City’s Public Schools
When Kimmy goes back to school to get her GED, she finds that her teacher has very little interest in teaching. He’d rather to put on films, fall asleep, and fail his way to the rubber room, a New York City institution that was disbanded in 2010. It’s pretty clear why: the rubber room is where “you get paid to sit around all day until they figure out what to do with you.”
Power Stances and Plastic Surgery
The third episode plays with the mantra “joy comes from the outside in.” The idea is explored via plastic surgery (as practiced by an unrecognizable, balloon-faced Martin Short) and Jaqueline and Kimmy’s “power stances,” a concept introduced by Amy Cuddy in a Ted Talk on body language (the conceit: standing like an Olympic medalist—wide stance, arms outstretched in a V—supposedly alters one’s brain chemistry and turns average folks into winners). Both are held up for UKS’s gentle and hilarious scorn.
“Pedal, pedal, be like a drunk girl getting out of a cab, and leave everything behind,” says Tristafé, the cultish leader of SpiritCycle, Soulcycle’s UKS refraction. Both Kimmy and Jacqueline get sucked into Tristafé’s brainwash-y pep talks only to find that their fearless, tireless leader is a fraud when some well-placed video technology reveals that Tristafé isn’t cycling at all, he’s sitting on a toilet behind a TV that plays images of him cycling. Also, his name is just Christopher (“he just pronounces it like an idiot,” Kimmy points out).
Small Town Prejudices
UKS certainly takes aim at cults, but all closed circuits end up in the crossfire, and in the name of good ol’ liberal humanist, multicultural goodness. Titus (Kimmy’s gay, Broadway-hopeful roommate) can’t help Kimmy get her GED because his own public schooling wasn’t the greatest, either. “I went to public school in Mississippi,” he says. “They told us dinosaurs went extinct because an asteroid turned them gay.”
And finally, the white people get it, too. Not only is Doña Maria—the only non-white member of Kimmy’s former cult—an able mouthpiece for cultural criticism, but Jacqueline’s Native American heritage also provides ample opportunity to thrash the dead horse that is whiteness. One particular exchange goes like this, when Jacqueline’s father retracts his birthday gift of a tractor:
“You are an Indian giver,” Jaqueline accuses.
“How is promising someone something then taking it back named after us?” asks her father.
“Yeah,” quips her mom, “White people invented that.”