Streaming Snarky: The Social Smartness Of 'Schmidt'

Snarky humor that doubles as social commentary is an art form. One of the high priestesses of the genre is Tina Fey.

“30 Rock” was an exemplar of snark, sending up the vagaries of TV, politics and relationships with unbridled glee. The comedy lived for its one-liners, with  characters merely vehicles for sassy observations. If you couldn’t verbally smack down, you didn’t survive.

Fey and “30 Rock” showrunner Robert Carlock have unleashed another wacky, but on-point sitcom. (And it's earned seven Emmy nominations for its freshman season, including a best comedy nod.) Only this time, as befits the digital age, it’s an original Netflix show: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Streaming, like binge-ing, is the new must-see TV. So much for delayed gratification.

Originally set for a 13-episode first season on NBC this spring, the show was sold to Netflix and given a two-season order. And while it’s earned its critical props, originally debuting in March, I’ve just caught up with it. In the new TV landscape, with notable exceptions like sports, regularly scheduled viewing is so 20th century. Now we discover TV shows on our own timetable.



“Kimmy Schmidt,” with Ellie Kemper from “The Office” in the title role, takes an episode or two to get into. It’s got that slick veneer of light comedy that can seem frivolous — until it riffs on everything from plastic surgery to theater, fundamentalist religion to race.

Here, Schmidt is one of the “Mole Women.” Taken captive by Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne for 15 years, she refuses to be a victim. While some of her remarks are time-warped, she is armed with a relentlessly upbeat attitude. In a world where left, right and center claim victim status, it’s oddly refreshing.

Schmidt promotes a can-do American attitude that seems quaint today. She might have emerged from the underground bunker dressed like a 19th-century Mormon, but she resets her life and moves to New York City (where else?). As befits all wacky sitcoms, she befriends a bohemian landlord (Carol Kane), a gay black roommate, Titus Andromedon, (love it!) and secures a nanny job for an off-the-wall socialite, played by “30 Rock” diva Jane Krakowski (no one does self-absorption better).

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who the real Mole Woman is: the narcissistic, clinically indifferent trophy wife or the decent 15-year shut-in.

Yes, Kimmy traverses her new terrain oblivious to danger or money worries, which is signal No. 1 that we’re in a fictional landscape. New York has outpriced all but the uber-rich. Artists and writers once took refuge here; Greenwich Village teemed with notables like Dorothy Parker, Eugene O’Neill and Bob Dylan, alongside activists of every stripe. A world populated by socialites, their hedge-fund, market-destroying husbands and Donald Trump’s recipe for political salvation isn’t a pretty one.

Just ask Kimmy.

She stares — wide-eyed — at some of the more egregious social lapses of Upper East Side existence. Yet this innocent’s outsider status, which could play as grating, charms. Grounded in a TV positivity that would be insane if it weren’t so genuine, she’s the kooky stranger who comes to town and fixes the lives of others. Her naiveté both inures her to insults and propels her forward.

“Kimmy Schimdt” is a post-modern critique, as much a celebration of innocence as the insanity of current American life. In short, it’s binge-worthy.

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