Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a refreshing comedy. It is about the undying love of a woman for life. The creators of the show have managed to make a kidnapping and a captive situation as the center of a comedy series. The plot does not seem to be entirely fictional either. It seems to be very similar to the Cleveland Kidnappings that came to light in 2013, when the kidnapped girls were rescued after a torturous decade with their abusive captor. Something does not seem to come together, right? How can such a plot ever be an inspiration for a comedy? Let’s take some stock.
For those who are not familiar, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the new sitcom on Netflix. It was earlier going to be aired on NBC, but it appears that the doubtful content of the show proved to be not worth the risk for NBC. Instead, they let Netflix create one more amazing show for its viewers. The plot of the show follows the lead character, who has been held captive in an underground bunker with other women. Their kidnapper also stays with them and has kept them there under the pretext that the rest of the world has been wiped clean in an apocalyptic event. He is a strange man with a beard and is a self-proclaimed preacher. All the elements of the show do not necessarily draw similarities to the Cleveland kidnappings, but some things do.
In 2013, the three women were recovered from a house in Cleveland after they were kept captive for 10 years. Their kidnapper was Ariel Castro, who tortured and raped the girls almost on a daily basis. After the girls were rescued, Michelle Knight, one of the victims, went her separate way. She wanted to have her independent identity and did not want to get lost in the shared victimization of the trio. She wanted to make her own identity and discover the life she had lost, while she was inside the house of her captor.
Something very similar happens to the protagonist in the show as well. Kimmy Schmidt has the ‘unbreakable’ spirit, even after living underground in a bunker for 15 years. After such a long time, she finally tastes freedom and she wants to make the most out of it. She does not want to feel like a victim and she certainly does not want people to treat her like one either. She wants them to behave normally with her and that is why she hides her past from the people she meets in her new life.
The character of Kimmy Schmidt may seem fictional because of the happiness and bubbliness she exudes every single day of her life. The touchy topic may even seem like trivialization of the matter by many and this is the very reason it is not on any of the network televisions.
However, what should be kept in mind is that this behavior of Kimmy has much deeper roots than what meets the eye. She has had a dark past, much like the survivors of the Cleveland kidnappings. This kind of past messes up the personality of a person, leading to distrust, disillusionment, and what not. Though the focus of the show is on the cheerful Kim, it also touches upon the fact that this attitude is very much a coping mechanism, a survival strategy in order to lead a regular life.
This is not something that has been unheard of. Many victims who have been held captives or people who have gone through any kind of trauma use such strategies to make life easier for themselves. In their memoirs, many kidnapped children and adults have told a similar story. To survive the unthinkable, they detach themselves and see the situation from a third person perspective. This feeling that something is not happening to them per se is what keeps them alive through a gruesome experience.
Then, there is humor too. It is not easy to picture humor in a life and death situation like this. However, many victims, including Mitchell, have recounted their experiences wherein they used to look at their distressing situations with a detached eye, find them ridiculous, and then laugh at them. It is indeed remarkable how a tortured soul can find laughter in herself, even in such inhuman situations. It is not imaginary; people have done it.
These women have been to hell and back. In the show too, Kimmy talks about a lot of things that make the viewer ruminate about the horrible past she has been through. The story talks about the scream line on Kimmy’s face, a chilling reminder of her past. Kimmy also responds to kisses by beating a boy she is dating and then apologizes, saying that she had learnt it wrong. These are all the instances that are hard to laugh at. Kimmy is goofy, but considering her past, it often feels quite wrong to laugh at her naivety. However, the desire inside Kimmy to move on and not let her past define her should be reason enough to laugh with her.
The character of Kimmy Schmidt may not be as easy to understand as many would have thought. The show does not seem to make fun of her, but with her. It urges people to laugh at the liveliness of the free spirit of Kimmy. It is not necessary to be so judgmental about the moral ramifications of the show, rather it is about appreciating that little fire of life that still burns inside Kimmy, despite the evils she has faced. This may not seem appropriate at times, but people should learn to appreciate the fact that it was her sense of humor in the face of the devil that kept her alive. It is also this humor that gave her the strength to face the world, despite being an alien to it and it is this humor that is helping her return to normalcy.