'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' is refuge from broken politics

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — What a joy it is to be revisited by Ellie Kemper's smile!

The first season of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," with Kemper igniting the title role, dazzled viewers with its loopy, big-hearted humor when its 13 episodes were unleashed by Netflix last March.

But that was a distant, different time almost impossible to remember. That was a time before the 2016 presidential race had fully rousted itself to carpet-bomb the culture with bad vibes and nastiness.

Now, with the second season of "Kimmy Schmidt" available Friday, this show, without changing a lick, has truly come into its own. This season is every bit as funny as before. But the current political season has enhanced the show's gleam thanks to its heroic contrast with an electoral process many people see as broken: However goofy, this show is a testament to hope and inclusion.

A weighty notion for any half-hour comedy to bear? Hey, "Kimmy Schmidt" is unbreakable!

The 13 new episodes continue the tale of Kimmy, a plucky, wide-eyed believer who has taken up residence in New York City after her rescue, back at the series' start, from 15 years of imprisonment by an Indiana doomsday prophet.

Kimmy continues her adventures with her flat-mate, a flamboyant musical-star wannabe (played by Tituss Burgess), a dotty landlady (Carol Kane) and a fallen socialite (Jane Krakowski), who, having been discarded by her wealthy husband, is comically struggling to keep up plush appearances.

In the hands of "30 Rock" creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, "Kimmy Schmidt" carries on the daffy ethos of their smashing first success, but with a welcome added element: its cockeyed optimism. While the mood of "30 Rock" was hilariously forlorn, a cheerful resilience rules here. "Unbreakable" really is the key word: Kimmy and her chums share a never-say-die attitude.

Kemper remains delectably right for the role. Over coffee near the Greenwich Village apartment she shares with her husband, writer Michael Koman, she is a vision of red hair, caramel eyes and that radiant smile displayed with generosity.

Kemper, 35, explains that she found her way into comedy through an improv company she joined while attending Princeton University

"It was my defining experience in college," she says. "Then, when I graduated, I felt like, 'I don't particularly know what it is I'm after, but I want to keep improvising because I love it so much.'"

After a few years performing with New York improv groups, she landed a role in Los Angeles as Erin Hannon, the new Dunder Mifflin secretary on "The Office."

It was a great way to break into acting, she explains: "I had two lines per episode. That, I could handle. And I sat at a desk. No blocking."

Then came her big chance, starring in the series the world had surely clamored for: a comedy about hostages. Kemper says she nodded dutifully when Fey and Carlock explained the premise to her, then trusted them to know what they were doing.

"In the wrong hands," she says with no small understatement, "it could have gone a different way."

With her SWAT-team release from the underground bunker, Kimmy experiences a rebirth, which is what the series is really about.

She discovers the world hasn't ended as she and her three fellow hostages were told and, in fact, is rife with possibilities. She resolves to take back her life — notwithstanding how out of touch she is, at 30 years old — and to do everything she can to make up for lost time.

"She has a childlike side, but she's a very strong and resourceful individual," says Kemper. "She never comes across as a dummy. She has missed a lot, but she has native wisdom."

She's also game to engage in self-reflection.

"I feel like I'm a lollipop with a question mark on the wrapper," she muses while applying for what she considers her dream job as an elf-costumed clerk in a Christmas shop.

Sure, the buoyant Kimmy sometimes exhibits a burst of anger.

"In the second season she hasn't totally worked through what happened in her past," Kemper says. "So it bubbles up at weird times."

But her occasional ire serves as a potent reminder that anger doesn't have to be life's prime motivator — a message that flies in the face of a political season when anger is the native currency and fear is fetishized by candidates.

"I think Kimmy is a very inspiring character," says Kemper. "When there have been challenges in my own personal life — it sounds really sappy — I do think, 'How would Kimmy approach this?' I think she has a resilience and a tenacity that is beyond admirable."

Someone that unbreakable could take back America.


EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore