Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: A Modern Cinderella?

Okay, I still haven't seen the big Cinderella movie (but I've read multiple reviews). But one thing I HAVE seen recently is season 1 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. Bearing the mark of one of its creators, Tina Fey, people are comparing it to a "better version of 30 Rock."

It's a comedy that loves to stretch the lines of appropriateness, but underneath all the ridiculousness and the characters' antics is a show that's getting a lot of positive buzz. Multiple times the characters make references to Kimmy being Cinderella. She works for a rich spoiled woman, and it's clearly referenced in episode 7, "Kimmy goes to a party!", in which Titus is the unconventional godmother who gives her a makeover, she is mistaken as being one of the guests at the party by an attractive rich male, and ends up leaving a shoe behind when he finds out she isn't what he thought.

Although I'm sure the creators didn't intend to reinvent the story of Cinderella, the clear allusions and the twists and turns make it a refreshingly modern twist on the fairy tale. More detailed discussion in the spoiler version below:


In Kimmy's job as a "nanny" (does she...ever actually take care of Buckley?) for Mrs. Voorhees (Jane Krakowski), she is clearly taken advantage of and often treated rudely, and other characters observe the connection between her and Cinderella. And while she does stay at the job, it's not because she's helpless and won't look for another job. She realizes early on that, despite their flaws, Jacqueline, Xan, and Buckley actually need her help. Rather than seeing herself as a victim, she recognizes the power she has to help other people, and her relationship with Jacqueline ends up being mutually beneficial (although it will take Jacqueline a while to get out of her classist mindset and truly respect Kimmy). Jacqueline helps Kimmy figure out modern life while Kimmy is her emotional support.

Then the classic Cinderella episode (episode 7), where we find that Logan is Prince Charming. We're so happy he sees past Xan's immaturity and wants to date Kimmy instead. Only...after a few episodes, Logan's true colors are revealed. Kimmy dumps him for someone else. I like how the show bypassed the two initial "obvious" choices for a love interest, Charles and Logan, and subverts stereotypes to find someone who is better for Kimmy.

Another issue people have with Cinderella is the emphasis on physical beauty. While no doubt Ellie Kemper is pretty, the way she dresses reflects her innocence and the fact that she was last in the real world 15 years ago-bright colors and things that young teenagers would have been wearing around Y2K. She doesn't conform to the fashionable world  of the Vorheeses, but has her own unique way of expressing herself.

And especially with all the buzz about the new Disney movie, people are revisiting the subject of Cinderella being a victim, debating how passive she is and what kind of a role model she is. The show addresses the issue of Kimmy's being abducted and trapped in a bunker:

"It’s a relentlessly upbeat sitcom that also has a lot of smart stuff to say about the way we treat people we perceive to be victims, surviving, and reclaiming your identity. The trauma experienced by these women is never mocked. Instead, it informs the characters in believable and powerful ways. The pilot immediately, directly, and repeatedly challenges the notion that Kimmy is a victim. As the mole women leave their interview with Matt Lauer, a production assistant hands them gift bags and says, repeatedly “thank you, victims!” It’s a perfect example of how the pilot script uses jokes to uncover smart truths: People only see these women as monolithic “victims,” which reduces their identities and obscures the complexity of the trauma they endured. “Everyone in Indiana is just going to look at me like I’m a victim, and that’s not what I am,” Kimmy tells her fellow mole women directly...the writers already have found ways to make Kimmy look innocent but never dumbAnd don’t mistake her childlike wonderment for weakness. Kimmy is, after all, unbreakable. "

-Review by Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya (emphasis mine)

Anyone else seen the show? Did you find any other Cinderella or fairy tale connections?


  1. I have yet to see this, though I can't wait. (I'm still catching up on the 'regular fairy tale offerings'.) I've been thinking, in all the promotional material I've read and seen that there's definitely a correlation with Kimmy and Cinderella. I like the "don't mistake her childlike wonderment for weakness.." part. That's one of the things I've heard is stand-out great about this - they've managed to get that right, and inn that sense, this is the Cinderella we need for now. I do think the tide is turning on that "c'mon give that girl a sword already!" mentality to make for a 'strong female protagonist - and once again attempting to reclaim feminine strengths that really ARE as powerful, rather than just trying to turn the girls into a version of the guys. I'm very curious to see if this impression holds up on a proper viewing.

    1. In my opinion, they DO get her character right. They avoid the "I'm awkward and therefore relatable" stereotype who spends her whole time falling over and saying embarrassing things; although she's naive in the sense that she's missed out on the last 15 years of human culture, she also underwent a traumatic kidnapping and imprisonment, so she knows there's evil in the world, yet chooses to be fiercely optimistic. She reminds me a lot of Parks and Recs' Leslie Knope, and Jennifer Garner's character from 13 going on 30. Their optimism leads not to being ignorant, but in being persistent and being able to get things done when other people might give up.