Netflix is a dangerous place.
Let me clarify: For the most part, I do love the online streaming service. “Orange Is The New Black” is arguably one of the best dramas (anyone who says it is a comedy can eat Piper’s food from the first few episodes) on television. “Derek” was cancelled far too early. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for the “Wet Hot American Summer” revival.
But with the good comes the questionable. I’m not just talking about cringe-worthy season 4 of “Arrested Development,” either. Unfortunately, so is much of Netflix’s newest original series, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why “Unbreakable” was sometimes unbearable. The show does have its strengths, primarily in its character development, use of guest stars, unique plot and stellar one-liners. Jane Krakowski’s Jacqueline Voorhees, next to Jenna Maroney herself, could have an entire Fordham Ram article dedicated to her ridiculous antics. Carol Kane’s Lillian is just eccentric enough to make me equally laugh and be concerned for her well-being. And, may we never forget about the hopeful Grammy nominee “Pinot Noir.”
But, like Kimmy’s emerging from the Indiana bunker, I finally saw the light and recognized “Unbreakable’s” major fault: It’s not “30 Rock.”
I know what you’re thinking: Nothing will ever be able to top Tina Fey’s seven-season magnum opus. “Unbreakable” is only in its first season. What’s the point in comparison?
I say so because after seven seasons of a well-reviewed show, it would be more than likely that show creators and “30 Rock” alums Tina Fey and Robert Carlock would know how to effectively create depth and chemistry among the characters on their next sitcom, a task they excelled at in their first project. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
While it is an exceptionally difficult task to do in a first season made up of 13 episodes, “Unbreakable’s” characters continue to remain in stereotypical tropes: Kimmy as the odd Midwesterner, Titus as the oft-used sassy gay roommate and Jacqueline as the over-the-top Manhattan trophy wife. Though some backstory, particularly Titus’ and Jacqueline’s, has helped to add complexity to “Unbreakable,” overall, much of the humor in “Unbreakable” relies on these tropes, rather than the developed characters themselves. Not to mention the not-so-subtle racism present within these tropes, ranging from Asian-American overachiever Dong to a shamed Native American Jacqueline.
While this tropism may be more tolerable in a network setting (“Unbreakable’s” original home was at NBC, the network later decided to pass on the series to Netflix) where restrictions on creative freedom and use of tropes are abundant, Netflix is known for placing value on freedom, depth, and diversity in its programming.
Is “Unbreakable” a bad show? Not at all, especially for its successful switch between network and streaming broadcast. But, in order for “Unbreakable” to succeed beyond its first season, its writers and producers must capitalize on Netflix’s environment of creative freedom, and flesh out its stars beyond their frequently unwatchable tropes. I will be watching Season 2 with anticipation and apprehension.