Saturday, December 24, 2016


In years past, I collaborated on a year-end Best Of list with various other luminaries from  Now that I'm on my own, the list will be more unfiltered and nonsensical, and also separated into individual entries. Oh, and it's scripted TV only (it's simpler that way).  The ordering of said list is largely arbitrary, but if strict quantification of artistic merit makes you feel safe and aroused, consider this #5


Ellie Kemper joined The Office in 2009, and while her thick-headed but stubbornly cheerful Erin quickly distinguished herself as one of the bright spots in that show’s disappointing decline, it was actually a fairly egregious misuse of her talents.  Because while The Office was once one of the best comedies of the 2000’s, it also aired directly next to the best, most consistent comedy of this millennium, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s 30 Rock,.  And Kemper’s rubber-faced effervescence was clearly meant for that live-action cartoon rather than the wry, observational sensibility of its lead-in.

But the universe has worked to correct this, as Kemper got to basically play the same character again in Fey and Carlock’s follow up, only with that stubborn cheerfulness cranked up to 11, and the cluelessness given a more involved (if absurd) justification – she spent 15 years locked in a doomsday bunker by an insane would-be cult leader.  That’s a completely ridiculous level of darkness to build into the premise of a goofy sitcom. But because Kimmy Schmidt seems to inhabit the same comic universe the creators honed so well on 30 Rock, it and she fit right in to their New York, a lively cesspool defined by ceaseless but chipper depravity.  It’s a colorful if filthy world, one where the corpses of unloved improv actors are summarily dumped in the East River, the most popular musical in the world is a not-even-thinly-veiled ode to father/son incest, and an Italian man’s struggle to come out to his family is complicated by the fact that his grandmother is not just a wizened caricature of an uncomprehending matriarch, but a literal muppet.

Image result for kimmy schmidt grandma

Matching Kemper in delivering Fey’s trademark lighting-fast, discursive dialogue is a small core of supporting players: Rock alum Jane Krakowski as Kimmy’s desperate social-climber of a boss, Titus Burgess as her gay black roommate whose flamboyance is somehow saved from offensive stereotype by way of also being cartoonishly lazy and venal (no, I don’t understand how that works either), and secret weapon Carol Kane as her proudly skeezy ”stoop crone”/landlord.  And then there’s the guest players:  Jon Hamm as the delusional yet charming (he is Jon Hamm, after all) reverend, Amy Sedaris as Krakowski’s even more desperate clinger of a friend, Jeff Goldblum as a Dr. Phil-type who makes Leo Spaceman look like a model of professional diligence, and in the season’s best arc, Fey herself as a hard-drinking psychiatrist whose demons may be more than even Kimmy’s indomitable positivity can conquer. 

In its second season especially, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt feels like a proper spin-off to 30 Rock.  I don’t know much higher praise I could give a comedy than that.

Watch It For:  The year's most sustained sequence of comic insanity, in which Ice-T gives a surprise eulogy for a very special victim, indeed, and closes by playing “Amazing Grace” on a saxophone.  

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