‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Review: Ellie Kemper Can Turn the World on With Her Smile

“The Office” alumna’s charm is infectious as the titular lead on Netflix’s new comedy from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock

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Leave it to Tina Fey and Robert Carlock to reinvent and reimagine “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” There was a strong “MTM” vibe in “30 Rock”s” Liz Lemon and this time it’s even stronger with “Mole Woman” Kimmy Schmidt (“The Office’s” Ellie Kemper) on Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as Kimmy decides to make her new life in New York City after escaping from a cult.

With the help of new friend and roommate Titus (Tituss Burgess), Kimmy gets a crash course in the realities of living in the big city. Her nest egg lost during one of her first forays into New York’s nightclub scene, Kimmy realizes making rent money is priority one. Fortunately, she meets young Buckley and, thinking he’s lost, escorts him to his home, where she stumbles into a nanny job working for Buckley’s high-strung, snobby mother, Jacqueline Voorhees, brought to life hilariously by Jane Krakowski (you remember her as “30 Rock’s” Jenna Moroney). Happy to have a job and familiar with being a caretaker from her cult captivity days, Kimmy’s perky, upbeat attitude provides a sweet and funny contrast to Jacqueline’s mildly spaced out socialite. The situation becomes even more complicated, and even funnier, when Kimmy discovers Jacqueline has a teenage stepdaughter who also becomes one of her responsibilities.

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From left, Jane Krakowski and Ellie Kemper on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” (Netflix)

There’s so much to love about “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”: Kemper’s unrelenting smile of a performance, Burgess’ chemistry with Kemper as her first gay (and possibly first African-American) friend, Carol Kane’s turn as Kimmy and Tituss’ eccentric landlord, and Krakowski’s letter perfect performance as a newer version of what Tom Wolfe nicknamed “a social x-ray.” Additionally, Fey’s husband Jeff Richmond, who created the wonderful musical score for “30 Rock,” also scores “Kimmy Schmidt” with tonally precise cues that add just the right touches to the scenes.

Guilty confession: even after “The Office” and “Bridesmaids,” I was a little skeptical of Kemper’s ability to lead a show, but that skepticism evaporated after watching the first episode of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Kemper shows absolute commitment to the role and the eternal sunshine of Kimmy’s mind. The result is that viewers are willing to go anywhere with Kimmy just to find out what she’ll do and how she’ll react. You cannot help but like Kimmy and that bodes very well for the longevity of the show.

Props must also be given to Krakowski as her character of Jacqueline provides a strong foil to Kimmy. Even though she’s immersed in her own needs, Jacqueline helps Kimmy acclimate and grow into her new city-fied persona. After viewing the first three episodes of the show, there are funny and oddly sweet flashbacks where we learn more about Jacqueline’s backstory and how she got to be an upper class NYC power wife.

Finally, what Fey and Carlock do incredibly well is use all of New York City’s inherent charms, dangers, weirdness and allure to maximum effect. While Kimmy Schmidt would be a fish out of water in any city, setting her down in the middle of Manhattan is especially daunting. But happily, the bigger the challenge, the greater Kimmy’s resolve is to overcome it. The result, like “30 Rock,” is another sharply written, often offbeat, endearing and funny comedy. Let’s all take a moment to thank Netflix for making a deal with Carlock and Fey after they amiably parted ways with NBC. Any opportunity to follow Fey and Carlock down a comedy path is a golden opportunity.

The full first season of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” debuts on Netflix on Friday.