Originally written June 6, 2020…
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt began during a more hopeful era. It tells a story that is outrageous but ultimately optimistic. Created by Tina Fey, the series follows Kimmy Schmidt, who was recently found after being held captive in a doomsday bunker. Lacking the knowledge that comes with growing up and experiencing the outside world, Kimmy experiences a series of misadventures as she tries to figure out adulthood in New York. Although the series ended with some loose ends, in the end, Kimmy became an independent adult both capable of supporting herself and happy. The show made pointed commentary on a number of aspects of society, including the role women occupy in society– thanks in part to her friend, Jacqueline, who starts as an upper east side trophy wife. In this “choose your journey” follow up, released about a year after the series ended, Kimmy is preparing to get married when she learns that there might be another bunker. Daniel Radcliffe is delightful as her fiancé, Frederick Windsor, twelfth in line for the British throne.
I only just watched this special today, but since the original series ended I have watched 30 Rock, which was not only created by Tina Fey, but starred her. This has provided me with a better sense of Tina Fey’s style as a creator, and enabled me to catch the references to the previous series. The “choose your path” style is well done, and considerably lighter than Netflix’s previous highly publicized attempt, Bandersnatch. For one, in this episode, you don’t have to watch on a computer to make the choices. For another, because Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is considerably lighter than Black Mirror, the episode does its best to help the audience meet the correct ending. Some choices will reverberate through the episode, while others will end with a member of the cast pointing out that the ending is the wrong one. Some choices provide additional scenes or change the jokes. Overall, it’s a lot of fun. *coaxes toward a happy ending
Although I enjoyed it, it feels very out of place right now. This is a time of fear not only in the United States, but globally. Kimmy’s adventures take her not only out of New York, but into an Indiana State Penitentiary and the middle-of-nowhere West Virginia. Some of the jokes– the worst-case scenarios– feel all too real (so far I’ve encountered an anti-metoo movement and a robot apocalypse) in 2020. So, on the one hand, I appreciate Kimmy’s hopeful nature and how she ties up the remaining loose ends with a happy ending, but on the other it feels like content from another time (which makes sense, since I’m sure it was made last year). After watching shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race, Saturday Night Live, and The Masked Singer include socially distant quarantined episodes, it feels very strange to watch something that was released less than a month ago depict a world that is not only kinder and more hopeful, but alive and active.
Last fall I began my Master’s Program, in which I study television. I’ve learned a lot of things about the industry and content– the increasing number of streaming platforms (Disney+, Peacock, HBOMax) has been particularly interesting and provided fascinating discussion. In our last few weeks of the spring semester, however, our speculation turned towards what COVID means for TV/film production. So, I couldn’t help but imagine how dark and sad Kimmy’s world would be if it were anything like this one. We already knew that Kimmy’s world was a brighter one, but never has it been clearer. Content production is starting up again; what will storylines look like? What do I/we/audiences WANT them to look like? While it has long been in my nature to try to avoid terrible news and do my best to forget about it, the remote episodes have been strangely comforting. It is a reminder of the fact that COVID, at least, is a global pandemic, something connecting all of humanity right now. More and more often when I look outside I see beautiful summer weather and it feels weird to be inside (even though that is generally most of my summers because heat and sun), but the reminders of our shared experience make staying inside feel less like a personal fault. Are these reminders important/needed/wanted?
It leads me to my larger question: what responsibility do content creators have, if any? Should content be in production right now? This fall what will we want to see? Last semester I began researching binge-watching and re-watching (and binge re-watching). There are probably millions of hours of content that already exist. Netflix and Friends are a perfect example. Would legacy TV (not streaming/On Demand) benefit from re-airing old content, or would that be a step closer towards the end of legacy? I have many questions about the implications of industry choices. This is my way of coping (also crochet dolls, which I WILL be posting pictures of eventually), I suppose. It is not the biggest issue right now by any means, but it is relevant. Things will never be the way they were before this year. Currently, first amendment rights are being threatened, which may have a large impact on what content gets made and what messages are spread about this year. COVID and the production issues surrounding it have almost taken a backseat to the many protests, riots, and calls for action/change. Many episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit have been advertised as ripped from the headlines; before this year, I would have expected our current situation to be covered, but now I’m not sure even how you would do that, let alone if it will be possible.
This turned very depressing very quickly. My general point is that with all the post apocalyptic media produced (original Twilight Zone and Hunger Games come to mind), you would think that efforts would be made to fight back and try to create a world that doesn’t look like a terrifying dictatorship created thanks to a zombie virus (so many post-apocalyptic zombies viruses…). So, do programs like this Kimmy Schmidt special help or hurt? The special is satirical but is ultimately optimistic. These fictional worlds were something to strive for (Friends depicts a waitress living with only two roommates in Manhattan), but these protests are a huge reminder that these worlds were not so optimistic for everyone. Going back to how things were isn’t a good thing and growth only comes through pain. So, while I appreciate this light hearted special and the choices it makes, I am still left feeling uncomfortable. I can imagine, however, that I would’ve enjoyed it more had I watched it right when it was released.