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Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Fantastic Been There Done That Feeling of Better Call Saul and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Not only is Breaking Bad my personal favorite television show of all time, but it's the greatest thing that any television network across the entire planet as ever shown. It's really freaking good, and I don't know a single person alive who doesn't love the show. Unfortunately, the show went off of the air in 2013. We'll still have its incredible legacy, but we won't get any more new episodes of the show again.

Luckily for us though, we have Better Call Saul in our lives. AMC's newest show is a Breaking Bad spin-off about Albuquerque's best criminal defense attorney (If you want a criminal lawyer, you want a *criminal* lawyer) trying to start his own practice and about Jimmy McGill becoming the sleezeball Saul Goodman you saw on Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad stepped into a higher gear once the show introduced Saul Goodman, because the much needed levity Bob Odenkirk's character brought to the show cut the tension and drama the show had created for itself.

Because Odenkirk and his character were so good, Breaking Bad's creator Vince Gilligan always joked that he'd have to create a Saul Goodman spin-off show once Breaking Bad ended. Well, 16 months after Breaking Bad went off the air, we have the Breaking Bad spin-off the writers always joked about.

Better Call Saul follows Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) as he struggles to build his criminal defense practice while also taking care of his sick, yet smarter older brother Chuck (Michael McKean) who suffers from a psychosis that essentially "makes him allergic to electricity". Soon, the show will be about how Jimmy partners up with Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), but the show has only run five episodes and has a guaranteed 18 more to go, so that story line will run its course eventually.

I really like this show, but I also realize that I enjoy it because it reminds me so much of Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan was eventually brought on to helm Better Call Saul and the show itself itself bears many resemblances to Breaking Bad. First and foremost, the pacing and style is almost exactly the same. There's a scene toward the beginning of Better Call Saul's pilot where a courtroom full of jurors, prosecutors, defendants, spectators, and the Judge is sitting in silence. After what seems like an eternity passes, the bailiff goes to the bathroom where Jimmy McGill is pacing around going over his closing arguments. Eventually, the bailiff brings McGill back into the courtroom where Jimmy uses his gift for gab to defend his clients. That's what Better Call Saul feels like. Since it already has its second season ordered and since Vince Gilligan has a very methodical writing style, Better Call Saul feels slow. That's not a negative or a knock on the show in the slightest, but that's what it is and that's what Breaking Bad was.

In its very limited run, I've seen a handful of TV critics wrestle with the notion that Better Call Saul has to distance itself from Breaking Bad. I wholeheartedly disagree, and in fact, that's what I love about the show. Better Call Saul seems like a spin off in the truest sense of the word. You would never guess that Frasier is a spin off of Cheers based upon the characters, tone, and style of humor, but you can absolutely tell that Better Call Saul is a spin off of Breaking Bad. Frankly, I prefer this just because the stakes in Better Call Saul are so low. In Breaking Bad, the stakes were literally life and death, and because the show was so rarely watched for so long, you felt Walt and/or Jesse could die at any time. That's not the case with BCS. The very last place Better Call Saul can end is when Walter White first steps into his office- a point in which Saul Goodman runs a very successful law practice. When you have stakes this low, it's nice to be reminded of the adrenaline rush you once had.

Another television program that gives me nostalgia in the best possible way is Netflix's newest sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kimmy Schmidt is not a spin off of anything, but it is the latest project from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock- the geniuses behind one of the greatest sitcoms of all time- 30 Rock. Part of the reason that I thoroughly enjoy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is that I get the same comedic point of view and style of humor that I got out of 30 Rock.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt follows the life of Kimmy Schmidt (duh) played by the eternally optimistic and infectious Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids). Kimmy was trapped for 15 years in an underground bunker in the middle of Indiana because she was seduced into joining a Doomsday cult. The show starts off with her rescue where she's whisked away to doing an interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show. After that, she decides she's going to start her life over in New York City and hilarity ensues. Hilarity does actually ensue as it made me laugh out loud numerous times, but I just enjoy writing that phrase.

The tone and the style of jokes that make Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt so wonderful are the same ones that made 30 Rock excellent. Unbreakable also uses the jam-packed, as many jokes per scene as humanly possible style that made 30 Rock laugh out loud funny. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are notorious for demanding more and more jokes per scene and it's one of the reasons 30 Rock worked. 30 Rock always had well defined characters, but unlike most successful comedies nowadays, it put the joke ahead of the character. The character would never do anything outrageous or outlandish, but almost every ancillary character (most notably Dr. Spaceman) solely existed to be a joke machine. And that formula was a rousing success. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt works almost the exact same way. The characters are very well defined, yet are very comedically broad. They attempt to punch in as many jokes as possible, but never are a disruption from the story. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, maybe even more so than 30 Rock, is a show that you can't look at your cellphone while watching. There are so many little throwaway jokes that are hysterical, but you'll miss them if you blink.

I can understand why NBC passed on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. While the jokes and style seem like a perfect home at NBC (or at least the NBC of three years ago), the actual premise of the show and the specific plot points are pretty dark and twisted. The show is about a young woman who spent most of her life living as a kidnap victim who now lives with a gay black roommate (played by the very funny Tituss Burgess who played D'Fwan on the superb Bravo parody Queen of Jordan in 30 Rock) who works as a nanny for a Manhattan socialite (played by 30 Rock alum Jane Krakowski). It doesn't exactly scream "broad, national appeal". Although in the era of television where everything is fractured and niche, it probably would have been more successful for NBC than Bad Judge and A to Z. That's because Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is flat out hilarious, and a show everybody should watch- especially if you loved 30 Rock.



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