One of the constant delights of 30 Rock was the show’s ability to sneak in some sly commentary on modern life in moments usually unrelated to the regular plot. It’s a practice the show’s producers, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, carry forth with Kimmy Schmidt. As ever, it pays off beautifully.
Need to take a construction worker cat caller down a peg? Throw Kimmy’s naiveté at him and watch him not know how to react to a woman who isn’t angry or dismissive. Frustrated at how people communicate with each other these days? Set a small scene with Xanthippe texting a friend who is walking right beside her, with each communicating almost entirely in a nonsensical string of emojis.
It’s little things like this that make Netflix’s decision to rescue the sitcom from NBC’s dustbin such a savvy one, and one that will pay off in the long run for Fey and Carlock and the whole crew behind the show. Kimmy Schmidt, like 30 Rock, is a show that warrants multiple viewings so as to catch all those little moments and the jokes that buzz past (my favorites right now are Carol Kane’s asides that are slowly revealing a very sordid past for her character, Lillian).
The big picture satire here is just as satisfying as its subtle counterpart in these two episodes. The visit by one of Kimmy’s bunkermates, Cyndee, has an especial sting to it. Unlike her friend, Cyndee uses their 15-year plight to her advantage. It got her a job, a car, a fiancée (albeit a closeted gay one), and she’s ready to come to the big city and get a fancy dinner reservation just by dropping the fact that she was a “Mole Woman.” It’s a small town version of those tell-all books and movie deals that capitalize on tragedy.
Alison Silverman, who wrote “Kimmy Kisses A Boy!,” acknowledges the grey area that Cyndee is living in through her betrothed: if all of this is making her happy and helping make up for the years she was locked away from the world, isn’t that a good thing?
Things are a little less easy to justify in the next episode, which finds Kimmy taking classes to finally get her GED. The writers make no bones about the failings of our educational system, and the lack of institutional support that is making it harder to improve things. In the world of Kimmy Schmidt that means a school renting out lockers as hotel rooms for Japanese businessmen and letting a lazy GED instructor (played by the incomparable Richard Kind) fall asleep at his desk while showing his students a VHS copy of Major League.
Naturally, Kimmy finds the silver lining in each situation. Not wanting to rely on the largesse of others like Cyndee, she decides to go get her diploma, and getting strangely inspired by the movie version of the Cleveland Indians, she decides to help her fellow classmates get the education they are looking for. Is it any wonder that her surrogate family—Titus and Lillian—lean on Xanthippe to stop trying to get their friend fired? They have quickly realized what I think we all have: when you’re around someone like Kimmy, it’s like leaving a darkened room at noon. The sunniness is blinding and a little painful to deal with at first, but you’ll quickly start to appreciate the warmth and brightness it brings to your day.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.