If you are an Emerson student or, let’s be real, anyone in America with a basic awareness of pop culture, you’ve probably heard of the hit new Netflix original Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Written and produced by Tina Fey, the show is centered around Kimmy Schmidt, an escaped cult kidnapping victim who decides to start her life over in New York. The show is undeniably entertaining; it’s got a catchy theme song, funny characters with ridiculous quirks, and a truly unique premise.
In addition, it’s got a fair share of great social commentary; there are some great pro-feminism and anti-racism one liners. In one episode, Titus, Kimmy’s roommate, wears a werewolf costume for almost the entire time because he realizes he is being treated better as a werewolf than he is as a black man. But, the show can be unrealistic; Kimmy finds a job and a place to live despite losing all of her money within the first episode, and the dialogue is exaggerated, to put it mildly. The unrealistic quality of the show is what, in my opinion, makes it so entertaining and gives it that special Tina Fey-esque quality. It’s perfect to get lost in when you’re stressed out and just need a nice thoughtless Netflix binge.
But it’s dangerous to label Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as “The Socially Aware TV Show Of The Century.” Though the portrayal of Titus, for example, is rounded past the surface of a stereotype, the same can’t be said for Dong, Kimmy’s GED class classmate. Dong is Vietnamese (though he’s played by a Korean actor) and in his first episode, he tells Kimmy that “In Vietnam, Kimmy means penis!” This is, if it wasn’t obvious, not true at all. It’s a play on his name, Dong, which is to my knowledge not a particularly common name in Vietnam, or even a name at all. There’s been some definite backlash among Asian American viewers. Dong is a relatively one-dimensional and stereotyped character, and though Fey is trying to use stereotypes to make a larger point, sometimes stereotypes should just be laid to rest.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has definite flaws, but it’s popular for a reason. It’s fun. It’s colorful. It’s likable. It makes more of an effort to be socially conscious than other shows in its genre have, and that is to be appreciated. I do believe that Tina Fey’s heart is in the right place, though it’s important for audiences to speak up about the things that come off as offensive so that those things can be fixed and improved upon. As it stands, the show has swept college students into Kimmy’s world of light-up sneakers and motivational speeches, and with the stress and sense of dullness that college often brings on, I think that’s a world we can all appreciate.