Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt isn’t unfunny.
That’s more of a glowing recommendation than it sounds. It’s not unfunny or boring or unwatchable. It just tries way too hard. For a while.
Let me back up in case you’re unfamiliar with the premise. Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) is a kidnapped member of a doomsday cult rescued from an underground bunker after 15 years. She decides to stay in New York City and quickly rents a room from an aging Bohemian who might have buried her dead husband in the backyard (Carol Kane). Her new roommate (Tituss Burgess aka D’Fwan from 30 Rock) is reluctant to accept Kimmy into his home, but as he is a failed Broadway wannabe, he has no money and can’t pay his rent. Wait, I’m sorry, that line should read, “HE HAS NO MON-EY! AND CAN’T PAY HIS RE-NT!” Burgess’ character development through the first half of the season is primarily that he is gay, wants desperately to be famous, and delivers all of his lines roughly 15 decibels louder than need be. And finally Kimmy gets a job as a nanny/ assistant for an out of touch, wealthy housewife (Jane Krakowski. Which is to say Jenna Maroney as a housewife.)
It’s a really fun show to watch, and Ellie Kemper is delightful enough that the 13 episodes move by quickly. However, a big part of the show’s problem is that it sometimes moves too quickly. The first 9 episodes seem to mistake a series of weird one-liners for comedy, and wow, are they not. Fast-paced dialogue is one thing, but jokes still need set-ups. Kimmy is a great Kenneth-and-Jenna centered episode on speed. Which would be fine as one episode, but not as 13.
That kind of pace also leads to a lot of extra plot. Too much to actually follow through on. Story lines are picked up and dropped, characters are introduced and then disappear. In fact, if they had cut episodes 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7, it would have been much funnier without sacrificing continuity.
But the show’s biggest sin, other than: 1) a criminally underutilized Kiernan Shipka, and 2) Randy (ugh, Randy, that’s not what funny is), is the lack of a straight man. Notice when I was detailing the other characters in the show, all of them had wacky back stories? We need one person with mostly tame characteristics. Because even though we can and do identify with Kimmy, she’s the fish out of water. She can’t be the sweet but quirky character when everyone is sweet but quirky. All Jennas and Tracys, no Lizs or Jacks. It’s like Balki Bartokomous showed up in the big city at the door step of his cousin Steve Urkel. And that would be the show that brought about Armageddon.
There is a distinct change of pace at episode 10, however. It’s like everyone switched from meth juice to a nice herbal tea. The slower pace let’s the jokes land and allows the characters to become more than caricatures. There are still a couple of wildly inconsistent character choices and (effing) Randy, but it’s a much funnier show than when it began. If it can keep up its “Most Improved” designation through season 2, it’ll be the best comedy not on television.