I just tried listening to an interview with Ellie Kemper, the star of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, on some horrible NPR interview show, but they didn’t talk about anything interesting. They skirted the issues of the show – talking vaguely about Kimmy’s tough but sweet disposition. This is all they can say about a comedy about a woman starting a new life after being abducted and living in an underground bunker for ten years! In the first episode, she gets out of the bunker, frees a horse, buys sneakers that light up, loses all her money, and finds a fun roommate.
Say what you will about the show’s imperfections; Jane Krakowski co-stars and as if that’s not enough, you’ll find it’s a demented comedy unlike anything else on “TV” at the moment. At its heart it’s a feminist fantasy about women’s resilience through horrible circumstances. Comedy ensues.
With revolting regularity, we hear about women who have been held captive for years and raped repeatedly. Like these women in the UK or this horror story in Austria or this other one or this Maoist cult in the UK or Elizabeth Smart or this psycho in Alaska or these three women recently freed in Cleveland. I could go on, but it’s just too depressing.
The opening theme song for Kimmy is based on this internet meme from the Cleveland story. The need to turn this story into a comedy is understandable. I mean, how else can we think about it? It’s hard and horrible to imagine these women’s slave lives, and yet it’s impossible not to. Their post-slave lives are also hard to imagine. How/will they survive? Can they be happy? How can they sleep or walk into a dark room or be touched or whatever?
All these issues are covered on the show. Kimmy tries to have the sunniest of attitudes, and she’s got a killer smile. It’s hard not to love her immediately – but it’s not pity love. She gets scared by normal things that have a history in her captive bunker life, she has scream lines (but also Les Zygomates, of course!), has frequent flashbacks, and is quick to defend herself and others. She’s certainly been made stronger by that which hasn’t killed her.
The media doesn’t usually cover what happens to these people after they are freed and their tormenters jailed, unless they write a book about their experience. Followup is rarely news. Elizabeth Smart got a job in the public eye, but most others have only one claim to fame: victim. Kimmy Schmidt, unlike one of her bunker mates, doesn’t want to be a victim. In fact, she wants to be a new person, so she moves to NYC on a whim, changes her name, and doesn’t talk about her past. Of course sometimes it comes out, and she has a lot of quirks that imply she’s hiding something. She has to face the past eventually, though, and we know she’s going to be able to do it.
Season one is on the ‘flx, and they’re putting up season two this week.
Here’s an unrelated picture of an otter and her pal to make you feel better in case those stories linked above upset you.