Netflix’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is one of the very few sitcoms to debut this year that was an immediate critical and fan favorite. Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock and co-starring their 30 Rock alum Jane Krakowski, along with Ellie Kemper in the title role of a cult survivor who moves to New York and Tituss Burgess as her struggling actor roommate, Kimmy is as defiantly upbeat as its heroine, while maintaining an observant comical eye on twenty-first century city life. All three stars, as well as Fey and Carlock, appeared at last week’s annual Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles for a look back at the show’s debut season and to get us eager for the upcoming Season 2, due out next spring.
On the increased freedom that Netflix will offer the show’s second season (since Season 1 was designed for NBC)…
Tina Fey: Yeah. I think the tone of the show does feel set. We’ve had so many people say to us, “Oh, I watch it with my 12-year-old” or “My 13-year-old and I love the show.” And I would hate to ruin that in Season 2. So I think, tonally, yeah, I don’t think you’ll hear profanity or see nudity, but I think that gives us a license to play with time and structure and also not to worry about potentially offending an advertiser or the NFL or some of the other restrictions of broadcast.
Robert Carlock: So, Jane, no nudity for the last time.
TF: For the last time. Today, yes.
On when production starts on Season 2…
TF: We are writing, and we have our first table read August 6th. And, then, we start shooting August 17th.
On whether the show was designed for Ellie’s personality…
TF: Robert and I developed with Ellie in mind. So Ellie did come first before the idea.
Ellie Kemper: And I hope that this show plays on my strengths. I think I am upbeat and tend to have an optimistic outlook, but I think that this character is very inspiring to play. She has a resilience and a fierceness to her that I hope, personally, I might aspire to have. But, yeah, I think it’s not too far a jump for me to play her.
TF: We had been working with NBC Studios to develop a new show after 30 Rock ended, and they, sort of, said, “Is Ellie Kemper a person you would be interested in developing for?” And she was the first person that we said, “Oh, yes.”
On how the song “Peeno Noir” came about…
RC: Obviously, we knew we wanted Tituss to sing. At one point, I looked at Tituss about seven episodes in and said, “Have you sung in every single episode?” So it’s hard to keep ourselves from having him sing. It’s so fun. We had that idea [that] he should try to promote himself online, make a video on the cheap. And there was a writer named Sam Means who came up with the deft turn of phrase that is “Peeno Noir.” It works on two levels.
TF: Two levels at most.
RC: And, then, you need Tituss to pull that off.
Tituss Burgess: And do you know what’s funny? I don’t actually get asked to sing it as much as people ask to sing it for me. So I just, sort of, get randomly sung at on the streets. So it’s pretty lovely.
TF: Have you gotten free bottles of Pinot noir?
TB: I have, so I have been drunk since the show aired. [Laughs.]
On Season 2’s arc…
RC: One of the fun challenges of doing the show is not letting Kimmy stop being Kimmy, that she has to keep that strength and optimism and also the fun of that naivety, and I think those things communicate with each other. So Season 2 is about her continuing to open up to the world and recognize moral relativism.
TF: Yeah, relativism. Yeah, that the world is not black and white.
RC: It’s a new idea for her.
TF: And realizing that, just because we ended Season 1 with a trial, she would love to believe that that’s entirely put behind her now. But, you know, new obstacles may present themselves before she can go on and live a fully realized life. She had lost her boyfriend, and she is, kind of, grappling with that. And, hopefully, Ki Hong will be back. Dong is not entirely out of her life.
TF: Right. She’s, sort of, in a big hurry to get everything she wanted out of the missing years of her life and hitting some speed bumps along the way.
On whether the show’s running time could be extended or if it will remain a twenty-one-minute sitcom…
TF: Well, I don’t know if we will go past thirty, but [Netflix] would definitely encourage us to go past 21.15, which was the current network running time. I think that it will be very enjoyable for us. We’ll have to be our own guides here and not just let things get fast or slow. But we used to spend the last two days of every edit of every episode carving and carving to get down to that random number, which will be a wonderful burden to be relieved of.
RC: Yeah. And I think at the end of that first season, when we went back and put things back in we averaged a little over twenty-three.
TB: Sure. I’m kind of the new kid on the block here. I actually had started accepting offers to teach at universities. I was on staff at Marymount Manhattan College, about to teach voice, and my manager called and said, “I think you should quit, let’s give this another go-round.” Things were very slow, just to speak very candidly. I can do lots of different things, but you have to put me in and then let me do it versus the inverse. So to have the great pleasure of waiting it out, I think my unbreakableness is about resilience and patience.
EK: Yeah. If you choose this kind of career, you have to be able to stand up to rejection and keep on going. I mean, I’m acting like it’s the hardest job in the world. It’s not the hardest job in the world, but you have to keep on going. I didn’t accept any jobs to teach because no one would want me to. But I think it’s a matter of continuing to keep on going like any human has to do.
TF: I have problems with my hip. I came out here today. I wore two different shoes by accident. I didn’t let that stop me from coming out here.
[Laughs.] The closest thing I can think of [is] that we didn’t give up on this idea. We believed in this idea, and we did have to shepherd it through a few groups of people who were very reasonably nervous about it. So, yeah, let’s count that.
Jane Krakowski: Wow. I do think what everyone has already stated. My hip hurts as well. [Laughs.] But, also, there were two years between 30 Rock and Kimmy that I had to endure working with other people. I thank you so much for having me back, and I am thrilled to say that this is our ninth season of television together.
On any people who might continue to say, “Women still can’t be funny and attractive at the same time”…
TF: I don’t know. I really feel like we are done. Like, look at these two. Look at these two Barbie dolls.
TB: Thank you, Tina. [Laughs.]
On what was learned about the show over the course of the first season that will be applied to season 2…
TF: From the original draft of the pilot to the final version of the pilot, we realized that the show was sunnier and was meant to be much brighter in tone than we thought. We were trying to figure out the line of like, “Okay, well, we want to be respectful to the weight of this premise.” But then it became clear that it was okay, we could tell the story and still not have to flashback to too many super-depressing things.
On taking down The Big Bang Theory in Emmy nominations…
TF: That was specifically us without any of the other nominees. If you are going for a nerd vote, we are the nerd vote.