Best (And Gayest) Show You’re Not Watching: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

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When 30 Rock fans heard that Tina Fey and Robert Carlock were launching a new comedy series, we rejoiced. We knew that we were going to get a smart, relevant, whiplash-inducingly quick-witted comedy that allowed screwball ridiculousness and sly sentimentality to skip down the street hand-in-hand.

But we couldn’t have predicted that they would also deliver what might be the gayest mainstream show on television.

People, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is gayer than Glee.

It’s gayer than How to Get Away With Murder.

It’s even – dare I say it? Yes. It’s even gayer than The Flash.

Kimmy Schmidt is about a woman (played by Ellie Kemper) who emerges from a bunker where she has been held for 15 years against her will by a charlatan doomsday preacher. I know, classic comedy setup, right?! But Kimmy’s journey of reintegration into “normal” society is heartfelt, surprisingly subversive (thanks for passing, NBC!), and consistently hilarious. It’s also jam-packed with gay characters, gay references, and gay-friendly humor. This series was seriously made for a gay audience. What other sitcom in its right mind would base an extended joke around the classic club track “Beat That Bitch With a Bat”?

If you haven’t watched it yet, do so now. If you’ve tried it but gave up after a few episodes, give it some time – like any show, it takes a half-dozen episodes to find its footing (and it just keeps getting stranger and stranger, trust me). But allow me to introduce Exhibits A through… whatever 12 after A is… of the reasons that Kimmy is the best – and possibly gayest – show you’re not watching.

The Love for New York

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Like 30 Rock, Kimmy Schmidt is in love with NYC. But unlike 30 Rock, whose protagonist was a well-to-do woman excelling at her job (even when her job itself wasn’t excellent), Kimmy Schmidt’s relationship with New York is like the relationship most newcomers have with the city: IT F*CKING HATES YOU. Kimmy has no money, no job, and no friends. Everything about New York is terrifying, humiliating, and gross. But since we are seeing it through the eyes of a woman who has only seen the inside of an underground bunker for over a decade, it’s all as magical – and as counterfeit – as an episode of Friends.

The Hate for Everything Else

This show hates almost everything else, but it does so with a smile. Kimmy is at its heart a true underdog story, so most outsiders – gays, immigrants, cult survivors who look like the girl from Wendy’s – are spared from its sharp tongue. But everyone who has power – be it rich white people, celebrities, law enforcement, or spin class instructors – is fair game. Are cheap jokes about Tara Reid, Donald Trump, and Ed Hardy low-hanging fruit? Sure they are. But in Kimmy they’re at least well-written.

Jacqueline’s Water Fridge

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Kimmy is bursting at the seams with running gags. But one of the simplest – and funniest – is frosty society queen Jacqueline Voorhees’ fully-stocked fridge of bottled water. When Kimmy arrives at the house for a job interview, Jacqueline offers her a bottle of water. Kimmy declines, so Jacqueline takes out a bottle and throws it in the trash.

Amazing.

Also, can we officially name Jane Krakowski the funniest woman in orange juice commercials, already? Her character here may be similar to 30 Rock’s Jenna, but who cares, because she is NAILING IT.

The Numerous Gay Characters

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There are lots of gay secondary characters in Kimmy. One episode hinges on the fact that one of her fellow bunker escapees is now engaged to a gay guy, but the joke isn’t that he’s in the closet (I’ll let you watch for yourself). Masculine archetypes like cops and construction workers randomly come out to characters with little or no anguish. Clearly, this is a gay world, and Kimmy just lives in it.

Jacqueline’s Parents

Much has been written about the fact that Jacqueline’s parents are Native American, and it has been suggested that the show is making fun of them. I would suggest that these people need to actually watch the show: Jacqueline’s parents are two of the only sane people in the entire series. They are smart, modern, and are well-versed in the particulars of the movie Gremlins. Their daughter may be a mess, but it has nothing to do with the fact that she is Native American and everything to do with the fact that she’s a  narcissistic sociopath.

The Theme Song and Opening Credits

Holy hashbrowns, I double-dog-dare you to find a catchier theme song on TV today. Not only is it a total earworm, but it’s also a clever commentary on Internet culture and is part of the narrative of the tabloid-friendly premise. Genius. (Dammit!)

The Guest Stars

Holy Hulk-o-Mania, does this show pack in the comedy talent. Amy Sedaris! Martin Short! Nick Kroll! Horatio Sanz! Dean Norris (granted, not necessarily known for his comedy chops, but work with me here)! And with a lot of folks having appeared on 30 Rock, it feels a bit like coming home. To a house of crazy people.

Gretchen

Sure, she’s the most loathsome of the Mole Women. She clings to her oppressive garments and the attentions of Richard Wayne Gary Wayne like a lifeline. But she’s a crucial foil to her more sensible sisters, and winds up being not a complete moron after all. Gretchen is a cautionary tale wrapped in a survivor’s story wrapped in a ream of cheap denim.

Daddy’s Boy

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People. We need to discuss Daddy’s Boy. What starts as a throwaway joke about a parentally-obsessed rich cad who courts Kimmy (he gives her a live dolphin as an apology and rides around in a blimp) blossoms into one of the most memorable television feverdreams of the year: a long-lost musical about a rich man and his sailor boy who have a bad habit of getting caught in compromising positions in public. They show the opening number. It stars Broadway’s Jefferson Mays. Robert Osborne is involved. And it JUST. KEEPS. GOING. Okay, you know what, just watch for yourself:

“A pair of common street screwers!”

The Names

Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees. Kimberly Tiara Von Lobster. Lillian Kaushtupper. Carla Tuesday. Tina Fey has always been a sucker for a funny name, and this show is full of them. Naming the sinister preacher/kidnapper Richard Wayne Gary Wayne was genius because it could easily be true.

“Pinot Noir”

Pulling a close second to Daddy’s Boy – if not overtaking completely – is “Pinot Noir”, a musical ode “to black penis” written and videographed by Kimmy’s roommate, Titus. It. Is. Perfection. Anyone who can rhyme Teri Garr, Jamie Farr, and Roseanne Barr while twirling in a blue satin bathrobe in front of a Romanesque strip club deserves the Netflix version of an Emmy.

Which brings us to…

Titus Andromedon

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You guys, seriously. Titus Andromedon (played by Broadway’s Tituss Burgess but in no way inspired by him, nope) is a revelation. He’s here, he’s queer, he’s stealing his roommate’s money and playing a bootleg Iron Man in Times Square. Titus is a queen in the old tradition, and he is brilliant. He is utterly unapologetic. He is confident in himself (too confident, at times), he is fully actualized, and he is a force to be reckoned with. He gets all the best lines, and he is without a shadow of a doubt the breakout star of the show. Whether he is rocking a werewolf costume (he works as a Frankenwolf waiter at a tourist-trap horror-themed family restaurant), shucking corn in an attempt to seduce a closeted straight man via a Footloose montage, or transforming from a “Huxtable” to a “Baby Slut” in a single twirl, he is everything the “gay sidekick” should be and more. I mean can you just:

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Is he tortured? Yes – but he’s tortured because he’s not famous, not because he’s gay (which is made clear in a hilarious high school flashback). There is an entire episode about his enlisting a “straight coach” to help him land a better role at the horror restaurant, but the ultimate point is that he could always “pass” as straight, but he never wanted or needed to. And he has a nemesis named Coriolanus Burt, which sets up a Shakespearean rivalry so bizarre that I can’t even begin to understand it. The final episode introduces a big twist for our fame-hungry friend, and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to in Season 2.

Kimmy Schmidt

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I know, I bet you thought Titus would be #1, and straight woman Kimmy wouldn’t even make the list, because nobody liked Jerry most on Seinfeld, right?! Here’s the thing: Kimmy should be awful. She really should. But as embodied by ginger firework (“A firework”?) Ellie Kemper – who, I will admit, I only knew up until now as “the least memorable Bridesmaid” – she is aaaaawesome. She’s perky without being loathsome. She’s spunky without Ed Asner hating on it. She’s the narrative force of the show and she somehow pulls off both idiotic and gratingly optimistic amidst a sea of cynical characters without ever seeming out-of-step or unfun. She’s great. She’s a fantastic role model for Mole Women and Mole Girls and Mole Boys everywhere. And she’s the Best Show You’re Not Watching.

We could go on for hours, but we’ll stop there. Have you checked out Kimmy? Any favorite bits that we missed? Share in the comments!

Writer-filmmaker Brian Juergens launched CampBlood.org, the world's first website devoted to horror films from a gay perspective, in 2003.