For those of you that don’t know, Kimmy is the main character of Tina Fey’s latest comedy series, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The plot centres around Kimmy, a young woman who, as a teenager, was kidnapped by a sleazy reverend and held in a bunker for fifteen years, and now that she’s escaped she must adjust to life in the outside world. Yes, it really is a comedy. The show has been hailed as a critical success while at the same time being at the centre of some pretty controversial stuff. Regardless, the series has become one of Netflix’s new hits, and Kimmy herself is at the centre of all of this.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
Much of the show is about Kimmy trying to gain control of her life after having it literally snatched away from her. Obviously, while she was being kidnapped and held against her will for fifteen years she didn’t have a lot of control over where she went and what she did, but once she’s out that’s all she wants to do. She moves to New York, gets herself a job, an apartment, a Barbie-obsessed roommate and a string of various boyfriends, determined to experience everything she missed out on as soon as possible. The show also makes a point of showing how while she was in the bunker, Kimmy went out of her way to make her life bearable and stand up to the reverend – so even when she wasn’t in control of her life, she was still trying to make the best of it. I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
Kimmy’s main goal is to try and experience as much of life as she possibly can, whether that’s by seeing the world, getting a job she loves or completing her high school diploma. It’s a pretty vague goal, but it manifests itself in lots of smaller goals she tries to fulfil every episode, such as getting boyfriends, new jobs or even just eating candy for dinner, so I’ll allow it.
As for her hobbies, we see that she’s a pretty wholesome kind of girl – she enjoys helping people and making outdated pop culture references, but tends to have a good time no matter what she’s doing. As far as her beliefs go, she’s utterly convinced that she needs to help people, that she’s responsible for much more than she actually is, and has a very strong sense of right and wrong.
SCORE SO FAR: 2
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Kimmy is a remarkably consistent character. She’s optimistic, determined, naïve, cheerful and often very immature, has difficulty letting go of things and often represses her negative emotions to avoid dealing with them. We don’t see a huge amount of her skills, but her lack of skills is much more prevalent – for instance, she never learned to tie her shoelaces and still struggles with more adult social skills. These gradually develop as the series goes on, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 3
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
A naïve, happy-go-lucky young woman decides to take control of her life after a traumatic experience by moving to New York City.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Kimmy’s love life is an important part of the series. Having spent at least fifteen years of her life trapped in a bunker, she’s keen to make up for what she missed out on, and a substantial part of that is going on dates and kissing boys. Kimmy has several relationships over the course of the series, ranging from casual to much more serious, and of course, they do affect her decisions.
However, these aren’t the only thing that drives her. Kimmy’s love life is part of a wider motivation, which is to make up for lost time and have as normal a life as possible. It isn’t always feelings that leads her into these relationships, but a desire to experience different parts of life that she feels she’s missed out on. If you add that to the fact that Kimmy’s love life is by no means the only thing that motivates her decisions – she also wants to find a job, complete her education and travel more – then I think she’s got enough to pass this round.
SCORE SO FAR: 5
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Kimmy goes through quite a bit of development over the course of the series. She initially tries to hide her past as a ‘Mole Woman’ but ends up coming to terms with it. She stands up to the reverend who kidnapped her and tried to break her spirit for fifteen years. She learns that other people don’t have to act in the same way she would, and comes to terms with the fact that she can’t always get them to do what she wants. She gets better at experiencing and showing negative emotions, such as sadness and anger, and stops trying to repress them. She accepts the fact that she has emotional baggage as a result of her experiences, after trying to deny them at first, and begins therapy to try and resolve her issues. That’s a phenomenal amount of character development, so she passes this round with flying colours.
SCORE SO FAR: 6
- Does she have a weakness?
Kimmy has plenty of weaknesses too. She’s naïve to the point where she genuinely does not understand how the world works, leading to her being taken advantage of and robbed. She feels the need to protect and control the people she cares about, and cannot recognise when they don’t want her help. She’s emotionally stunted, freaks out and attacks her boyfriends when they touch her unexpectedly, and has real trouble processing negative emotions and facing up to her past. These weaknesses all hold her back through the story and are something she constantly has to work against, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 7
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Kimmy generates the plot in pretty much every episode. She’s a very active character, determined to experience as much of life as she can, so much of the individual episodes’ drama are caused by Kimmy’s decisions to get a job, help a friend or pursue a new relationship. However, a large part of her backstory revolves around her kidnapping.
Even though she was held captive in a bunker for fifteen years, this isn’t really a part of the story, as the show starts after she is freed. Her time in the bunker is treated as a background experience, rather than the plot in its entirety, and the showrunners go to some lengths to make sure that in the glimpses we see of her time in the bunker, Kimmy is never portrayed as powerless. We see her fighting back against the Reverend, trying to make her time more bearable and helping the other girls. It’s made very clear that Kimmy’s time in the bunker isn’t the only thing that ‘makes’ her as a character.
SCORE SO FAR: 8
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Kimmy is pretty progressive when it comes to gender stereotypes. The fact that she is experiencing a normal adult life for the first time is played for laughs, but Kimmy’s outlook on it is not – she doesn’t dread the pressures and experiences of adulthood, she actively seeks them out. This is actually pretty unusual: Kimmy is actually excited about all the things that aging will bring her.
Even though she can be a very childish character, her inner strength is always made clear to the audience. This strength manifests itself in different ways, from resisting the Reverend’s attempts to brainwash her, to protecting the other Mole Women, to moving to a different city with nothing but the clothes on her back. She isn’t stoic – we see her struggling with problems, lashing out at people and making bad decisions – but she’s keen to make sure she isn’t seen as a victim, and the audience is never allowed to forget the fact that she has a core of iron.
At the same time, she can often be quite a girly character, dressing in bright colours, having multiple relationships and occasionally coming across as quite frivolous and silly. This isn’t taken as a sign of any negative characteristics on her part, and even her lack of education is not taken as the same thing as a lack of intelligence. This combination of inner strength and an outwardly girly, childish personality is a very interesting combination, and one that puts her out of the reach of most tired gender stereotypes.
SCORE SO FAR: 9
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Kimmy has plenty of relationships with other female characters. She’s friendly with her landlady, Lillian, albeit a bit wary of her at first. She’s rivals with the girl she nannies, Xanthippe, who she tries (and often fails) to discipline. She’s at the beck and call of her employer, Jacqueline, but they eventually become friends.
She befriends an alcoholic therapist, Andrea, and ends up becoming her client, and tries to help her stop drinking. She’s incredibly protective of her fellow Mole Woman, Cyndee, but eventually realises that she can’t tell her how to live her life. She butts heads with her other former bunker-mate, Gretchen, who joined the cult willingly, but eventually comes round to seeing Gretchen’s point of view and helps her to move on from her experiences. That’s a wide range of relationships which all develop in their own ways, so I’ll give her the point.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10
Congratulations, Tina Fey! Kimmy is a well-rounded character with a range of strengths and weaknesses, is in control of her own destiny and develops over the course of her own story – not to mention the huge number of relationships she has with other female characters. She’s certainly passed my test!
Next week, I’ll be going back to an iconic film series. Padme, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.