Sunday, June 4, 2017

I am Kimmy Schmidt

Last month Netflix released the third season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the alarmingly funny new show from the creators of 30 Rock.  It’s your typical fish-out-of-water-in-the-big-city story, except in this case our eponymous heroine spent the last fifteen years before moving to New York trapped in an underground bunker with an apocalyptic preacher.  Last year co-star Tituss Burgess sang a couple of concerts with Seattle Men’s Chorus, and proved to be a talented and humble guest.  The entire cast is marvelous, but the writing is the real star.  As Slate’s reviewer observed, the show’s dark, smart, and zany humor is too indigestibly dense for extended binge-watching.

Before diving into the new season, I realized I hadn’t watched the last few episodes of Season 2, including a standout guest arc from co-creator Tina Fey.  She plays Dr. Andrea Bayden, a distinguished Manhattan shrink.  Except Kimmy first encounters her in the episode “Kimmy Meets A Drunk Lady!,” when Andrea pours herself into Kimmy’s late night Uber after yet another wild night on the town.   It turns out uptight “Day Andrea” is used to waking up in strange locations with no memory of “Night Andrea” or her antics.  (As Day Andrea says, “It’s called compartmentalizing, and it’s not a problem, because I know the words to describe it.”)  Eventually “Night Andrea” manages to take over the body full time, so by the end of the season Kimmy loses her therapist to one last bender and then rehab.

As a person living with PTSD, I recognized some of the vestiges of Kimmy’s trauma even before meeting Dr. Andrea.  In an earlier episode, she runs into a survivor of the war in Afghanistan who mistakes her for a fellow veteran.  Kimmy survived fifteen years in the bunker with the Reverend and her sister wives by cultivating spectacular coping mechanisms.  Those same habits turn out to be only mildly maladaptive in the show’s surreal version of Manhattan.  But as one of the Andreas points out, “When you shove your problems down, they’re gonna bust out in weird ways.”  Like Kimmy’s pattern of responding to attempts at intimacy with a knockout punch.

What I found most interesting from Dr. Andrea’s intervention is that Kimmy also suffers from codependency.  Andrea quickly zeroes in on unresolved issues from childhood that are interfering with Kimmy’s ability to enjoy healthy relationships.  So Kimmy tracks down her long-lost mother, played by Lisa Kudrow.  Mom is off attempting to set roller coaster riding records at Disneyworld.   (Mom’s explanation for her odd hobby:  “Sometimes you just want to scream your head off, and a roller coaster is the only place no one looks at you weird.”)

Kimmy’s PTSD and her codependency are connected.  If Kimmy had a different kind of mother, she would never have fallen into the Reverend’s clutches.   Quite literally – Kimmy finally remembers the Reverend encountered her alone after her classmates left her in the dust walking to high school, because her harried under-aged single mom never taught Kimmy to tie her shoelaces.

After sharing several exhilarating rides, frank talk, and old-fashioned high fives, Kimmy realizes she didn’t come to Florida to confront her mother after all.  Instead, she says, “There’s nothing I can do that will unkidnap me, or fix my childhood.  And I just have to accept that.”  Me too.

I’ve never been to Disneyworld myself, even though I love roller coasters.  (It’s a family joke that when my parents finally went to Florida years ago, only my spoiled youngest brother got to go with them.)  I’ve been waiting for my one of my scaredy-cat children to go on rides with me.  Unfortunately, Oliver is the shortest kid in third grade.  Maybe I should take my mom for her 75th birthday instead. 

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