If you’ve been living in an underground bunker for the last couple of years, you might’ve missed the Netflix original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The comedy follows Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), a woman who was kidnapped and kept in an underground bunker by a deranged preacher for the 15 most formative years of her life, as she navigates living in NY and coming to terms with adulthood. Though the subject matter seems serious, Kimmy’s infectious personality and juvenile vision of the world brings a lightness to plenty of grim situations: the deportation of your first love, the trial of her kidnapper, and the tough and unforgiving landscape of the city.
Tina Fey, writer and director of the series (as well as regular cameo appearance), manages to use Kimmy as a trope of naivety that exposes the fundamental prejudices and struggles of 20 something women attempting to make it in the world while slowly bringing more and more depth to Kimmy’s character as the series moves forward. Much like Caty from Mean Girls (also written by Fey), Kimmy is a blank slate as she enters society- she doesn’t know that people don’t give high fives anymore and that Lance Bass ended up being gay. She and Caty lean on friends to guide them into reality, in Kimmy’s case the talented and pessimistic Titus Andramedon (Titus Burgess) becomes a voice of juxtaposition for Kimmy- he has experienced disappointment in his life but has chosen to run from his problems consistently; Kimmy could not and still cannot run from her disappointments.
Yet, Kimmy remains optimistic and a voice of female empowerment. She teaches her employer, Jaqueline Voorhes (Jane Krakowski), to value her identity as a woman without masculine influence- leading Jaqueline to self discovery and rejection of materiality. She helps Titus produce and act out his most successful performance in his career. She cares for her fellow mole women despite their inadequacies in caring for themselves. She is a giver, a portrayal of the deepest and most universal personality characteristic shared by women worldwide.
Kimmy gives without regard for her own psychological well being for most of seasons 1 and 2 until she realizes she that “happy people value their needs as much as others.” Never mind that she learns this from an alcoholic psychologist, Kimmy must learn to value herself in order to grow into adulthood in a meaningful way. And this is where season 2 leaves us- at the beginning of Kimmy’s discovery of how to balance happiness for herself and happiness of those she loves: a lesson every woman everywhere has had to learn at some point.
The interesting thing about Kimmy Schmidt is that I feel like she’s me in a super weird bizarre comedic situation. She is learning how to navigate family and forgive the people she feels like abandoned her when they couldn’t find her in the bunker. She’s learning to love Titus and Jaqueline without force or ignoring her own wants. She’s learning that sometimes relationships are imperfect simply because circumstances and life gets in the way.
Sometimes, this is what I wish I had learned a few years back- that I can’t fix everything, that sometimes things just fall apart, and that having successful relationships doesn’t always mean forcing a smile even though anger builds up inside. Women are often willing to overcome great feats of human sacrifice in order to preserve relationship and family, and for good reason- we are lovers and forgivers, we look for the best in even the worst of men and will sit through an unhealthy relationship for years with the hope of someday turning things around. Kimmy is all of us. She is our naivety and our deepest willingness to be kind at all costs- even if we’ve learned to bury those parts of ourselves for fear of disappointment and rejection. She is also the person inside of every woman who just wants to be accepted as herself, not having to play the role of business woman, stay at home mom, super model; but having a real and authentic identity (as bizarre as it might be). She doesn’t reject these aspects of herself and bury them inside, she learns how to make them work in light of diminished hopes and romantic interests long gone. In the immortal words of Kimmy Schmidt, “fudge that sugar”- we can’t be afraid to be women and love like women and sacrifice like women, we may just need to learn how to make it work even with a bunch of creeps running around in the world. Sometimes, the worst part of not being in an underground bunker is not being in an underground bunker and having to learn how to navigate feminine sacrifice with self preservation. Cause “Females are Strong as Hell!”