Cheerful comedy of “Kimmy Schmidt” recalls glory days of NBC

Some of us are still mourning the end of NBC’s Thursday night comedy block. We watched as each beloved show faded away, one by one—first “30 Rock,” then “The Office.” We endured the drama of the “Community”’s cancellation of “Community” and its Yahoo reboot, and we recently experienced a satisfying “Parks and Recreation” finale.

Although the new Netflix original series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”—created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock—doesn’t quite hit the mark, it nonetheless evokes that same appreciation and enjoyment I once felt for my favorite comedy shows.

The allure of “UKS” comes from its familiar faces and lighthearted comedy. Ellie Kemper of “The Office” plays the titlular character Kimmy Schmidt, an optimistic, childish 29-year-old whose naivety comes from her being forced to live in an underground bunker—essentially owned by a cult—for 15 years.

Some of the funniest lines come from Schmidt, as her knowledge of the world ends somewhere in the mid-1990s and her positivity is at a Leslie Knope-level of unattainability. Her character development over the season reveals a determined, passionate woman who is capable of bouncing back from tragedy and failure with a smile and a series of outdated pop culture references.

The gem in the show’s crown is Schmidt’s roommate Titus Andromedon, portrayed by Tituss Burgess. Andromedon combines the exaggerated dramatics of a struggling actor with the harrowing responsibilities of a youngish adult—in one episode he can’t use an ATM because he only has two dollars in his bank account.

One of Andromedon’s best moments is also one of the best social commentaries offered by the show. When Andromedon walks around New York City fully dressed as a werewolf for a job at a theme restaurant, he realizes he is treated better as a werewolf than as a black man. The plot respectfully touches on race relations while still maintaining comedic value, crucially alluding to the real-life New York Police Department that is currently under scrutiny for its handling of racism.

Unfortunately, the accurate race representation ends there, as a red flag emerges with another main character—Schmidt’s boss, Jacqueline Voorhees, portrayed by “30 Rock” alumna Jane Krakowski. An episode about Voorhees’s backstory reveals that she is Native American and wears blue contact lenses and dyes her hair blonde to pass as a white woman.

This plotline and Voorhees’s dramatic, materialistic character are reminiscent of Fey-ist comedy. Voorhees is almost indistinguishable from “30 Rock”’s Jenna Maroney, not only because they are portrayed by the same actress but because of their outrageous one-liners. While Fey likes to push the boundaries of political correctness, the portrayal of a Native American woman by a white actress goes too far, as it essentially undermines the goal of achieving accurate representation of minorities on television.

It is difficult not to compare “UKS” to Fey’s previous work. The same quirky humor that made “30 Rock” a success is part of what makes this new offering so likable. Fortunately, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is still capable of standing on its own. Its original story gives it character, and its characters give it humility. It seems to fit right in with my NBC favorites and I can’t wait to binge-watch the next season.

Rating: 3.5 stars