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'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' review: Ellie Kemper shines on Netflix

A scene from "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" streaming on

A scene from "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" streaming on Netflix. Credit: Eric Liebowitz / Netflix

THE SERIES "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"

WHEN | WHERE Begins streaming Friday on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper, "The Office," "Bridesmaids") has spent the last 15 years living in a bunker somewhere in Indiana. A member of a doomsday cult, she thinks the world has been incinerated when . . . surprise! -- she's finally released from her bunker to discover that everything is just fine after all. She heads to New York, finds a roomie, Titus (Titus Burgess) -- a frustrated Broadway star, reduced to costumed role-playing in Times Square -- and gets a job as nanny to flighty, difficult, pampered Jacqueline Voorhes (Jane Krakowski). Created by "30 Rock" showrunners Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, this was originally going to be an NBC midseason replacement, but NBC shopped to Netflix instead.

MY SAY There never was any doubt that Ellie Kemper could anchor her own comedy series. She's all lightness, charm, vitality and teeth -- big bright ones that have a character all their own. Here she's Pippy Longstocking meets Amelia Bedelia meets Ann Marie from "That Girl" -- or, for a reference that millennials might actually get -- Phoebe Buffay from "Friends." As a character with a sartorial preference for canary yellow, Kemper's Schmidt comes into focus intensely and immediately. She pops off the screen, and pleasingly so.

Her series, less so. "Schmidt" comes with expectations, and those are spelled out right before the opening credits: Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Carlock, in particular, is burdened with a reputation for being a comedy genius, who spun towering flights of verbal lunacy season after season at "Rock." He had help of course, but "Rock" set a standard, and in hindsight, an impossible one to match. "Schmidt" channels some of the same energy, abetted by the New York setting, but if shows had batting averages, "Schmidt" barely breaks .200 most of the time ("Rock?" .350 lifetime, and of course, first ballot Hall of Famer.)

Some of the lines are priceless, most are not. I loved an encounter between Kimmy and a hard hat in a later episode, and was surprised to realize: It was just about the only one that I actually did love.


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