Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and House of Cards Season 3 Review

Between House of Cards Season 3 and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix is having a fantastic month.  My reviews are mostly spoiler free and the spoilers are hidden.  

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a new comedy on Netflix, produced by Tina Fey.  I just binge watched the season last weekend and adored it.  Kimmy Schmidt is delightful and leaves you wanting more in a good way. If you are a 30 Rock fan, you are going to love Kimmy Schmidt.  The humor, rapid fire jokes, quick cutaways are all very reminiscent of 30 Rock.  However, Kimmy Schmidt distinguishes itself early on from 30 Rock by being more optimistic and grounded in reality.

One thing that I love about Kimmy Schmidt is the main, titular character Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) who is unapologetically optimistic.  Even though Kimmy comes from a tremendously dark place (she and 3 other women were kept underground for years by a crazy cult leader for several years), nothing can quench her inner strength and positivity.  With so many comedies grounded in cynicism, it is so refreshing to see one centered around positivity.  (Side Note 1: One fantastic comedy that was centered around optimism is the recently ended Parks and Recreation.)  On a completely unrelated side note, if they ever did a live action version of the Teen Titans, I can't imagine a more perfect actress for optimistic alien princess Starfire than Kemper who makes Kimmy such a compelling character.

The main cast of Kimmy Schmit is also fantastic.  My favorite is probably Titus Andromedon (Titus Burgess), who is Kimmy's fabulous gay roommate- a singer hoping to make it big.  Burgess, who comes from a Broadway background, gets to show off his gorgeous voice often.

There is consequently a lot of funny musical moments, including Titus' party playlist and fake musical Daddy's Boy , which I would definitely pay serious money to see a whole production of.

 One of the show's funniest moments early on is Titus's surprisingly catchy music video for his song Pinot Noir which has really impressive rhyming.

There's also Kimmy's boss, Jacqueline Voorhees (the always fantastic Jane Krakowski aka Jenna from 30 Rock).  Jacqueline feels very much like Jenna in the beginning, rich and self-absorbed,  but soon distinguishes herself as more human and contemplative of her life choices.  The only main cast member who did not quite work for me was landlord Lillian (Carol Kane).  Lillian certainly has a lot of funny, hilarious moments, but she hasn't really come together as a character for me yet except as someone who gets to say a lot of funny things.  I liked Lillian the best when she gets paired with Titus and hope to see the two of them go on more misadventures next season.

Among the supporting characters, my favorites are Xanthippe Voorhees (Dylan Gelula), Jacqueline's teenaged-daughter and Kimmy's frenemy, and Dong (Ki Hong Lee), Kimmy's immigrant study buddy.   Kimmy and Xan share some hilarious barbs that you've probably seen memes of floating around.  Dong and Kimmy have a genuinely sweet friendship in which they bond over all the strange things they've observed in NYC so far.  (Minor SPOILERS below)

Besides the supporting characters, there are also quite a few fantastic cameos that I will not spoil here.  But when you see them, you will be excited.  If you haven't already, go watch Kimmy Schmidt- you really are in for a treat.

House of Cards: Season 3 

I really wanted to write a more positive review of Season 3 of House of Cards because it starts of so strong.  There's so much energy and potential throughout the season that I was surprised to see it all fizzle away as the season limped towards the end.

People who really enjoyed Season 2 are not going to like Season 3 at all.  There are not too many brash, bold Frank Underwood moments and the Underwoods actually come across as more human and vulnerable.   I wasn't a huge fan of Season 2 so I was pleasantly surprised in how Season 3 improves upon many of the flaws from the earlier seasons.

Season 3 is much quieter than the earlier seasons in a good way.  House of Cards actually manages to pull off this wonderful slow burn throughout this season, especially in the first half.  In the second half, there is also a tremendous amount of tension but it disappointingly does not clearly lead to anything.  A lot of the conflict ends up being what is left unsaid and unshared.

Season 3 picks up soon after Frank (Kevin Spacey) takes office.  One very welcome change is that people around the Underwoods are no longer stepping aside or playing directly into their hands.  In fact, the Underwoods face many worthy adversaries this season.  A few of the most memorable ones include Russian president Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen), underused Senate Majority Leader Hector Mendoza (Benito Martinez), and US Solicitor General Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel).   Mikkelsen's Petrov is a fantastic House of Cards version of Putin- confident, ruthless, and pragmatic.  I was really excited to see Mikkelsen in the cast, especially after his creepy turn as antagonist Magnussen in Sherlock Season 3.

Another Underwood adversary that I really enjoyed was Dunbar.  One thing I really like about Dunbar is that even in the corrupt House of Cards world, she is a somewhat moral character and people like and respond tremendously well to her.  Dunbar is however human and I am glad to see that she genuinely and realistically gets tempted with some morally dubious choices.

Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) has slowly become my favorite character of the show.  The sexual assault storyline last season and how media treated her because of her potential infidelity were some of the most riveting parts of an otherwise lackluster season.  This season, Claire gets some of her most compelling story-lines.  I like that this season they do start to address directly, if you can really have a power couple in which both parties are equal.

In terms of supporting characters, the Underwoods, as always are the protagonists and their political allies and enemies flit in and out as needed.  Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali), despite having a key role, really gets little to do story-wise.  I've been neutral to him in the past but he does get a really compelling, brief story that we don't really see told in entertainment often enough, if at all.

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