Similar to "30 Rock," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" ruthlessly parodied the most taboo topics, even kidnapping: "I'm always amazed by what women will do because they're afraid of being rude," guest star Matt Lauer mused in the premiere when one of the women said on the "Today" show that she followed the reverend into the bunker because she didn't want to seem impolite.
Fey is known for skewering any subject; she is an outspoken critic of the current "apology culture." That's generally what makes her comedy stand out, from her TV shows to Golden Globes hosting duties. However, after two real-world events that occurred in the past year, several episodes of the first season appear markedly less funny — and actually just cruel.
First, the show was briefly caught up in the aftermath of the death of Fredric Brandt, a famous New York dermatologist known for his unusual appearance, one that the New York Times called "unnervingly ageless-looking" thanks to Botox and fillers. Brandt was found dead in an apparent suicide April 2015, a month after "Kimmy Schmidt" premiered and featured an episode with a lookalike plastic surgeon played by Martin Short who wanted to help Kimmy erase her "scream lines." His name was Dr. Grant, though because of his stretched-out skin, he couldn't speak properly and called himself "Dr. Franff."
Writer Lili Anolik, whose husband was Brandt's boss, said the doctor was saddened by the character. "That the doctor with the peroxided bob and face of a dissipated cherub, the skin as slick and shiny as a glazed doughnut … is intended to be Fred is beyond question," Anolik wrote in Vanity Fair. "Fred had heard rumors that there was a show with a character who resembled him, but didn't realize how unflattering the likeness was until Page Six ran a story on March 23, two weeks before he killed himself. That night Fred sent [my husband] a text: 'Did u see page 6 I'm so upset I'm a freak.'"
A source explained to People Magazine that the doctor suffered from depression, and while he was hurt by the "mean characterization," it didn't cause his death. The show also never confirmed that the character was specifically parodying Brandt. Either way, it certainly makes the episode harder to watch now. "The genuinely harmless nature of Fey's comedy is hard to grapple following Brandt's suicide," Tyler Coates wrote at the Decider.
It's not the only time the show crossed paths with reality. Late in the first season, Kimmy goes to court in Durnsville, Ind., to testify against her kidnapper. She and her fellow captives are represented by truly moronic prosecutors named Marcia (Fey) and Chris (Jerry Minor). As it happens, they're a parody of Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, the former Los Angeles County prosecutors best known for bungling O.J. Simpson's murder trial.
In "Kimmy Schmidt," Marcia and Chris are portrayed as the ultimate idiots, more interested in hooking up with each other than prosecuting the reverend. It's the ultimate in absurdity, as they tell the judge, "We'd like to use one of our do-overs, please," and use a dictionary with the definition of "kidnapping" as their only piece of evidence. Plus, there's this exchange, as one of the kidnapped women nervously asks whether this is their first trial:
Marcia: "I love it! See, this is why we moved here. Anonymity."
Chris: "In Durnsville, we're just Marcia and Chris, not famously incompetent California prosecutors."
Marcia: "Hey, he's in jail now. So who has four thumbs and loosened that jelly jar? The only thing that's important here … is for me and you to see where this relationship can go." (They hold hands and walk away and gaze longingly at each other.)
Spot on? Of course! It makes fun of their failure in the O.J. case as well as the fact that some people thought they were dating. But thanks to this spring's FX miniseries "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson," the past several months have served as somewhat of a redemption for Clark, if not the prosecution.
In the miniseries, Clark (Sarah Paulson) is shown facing horrific sexism during the trial, making it difficult for her to do her job, and her vilification by some as a working mother is portrayed. As the FX series aired, the real Clark gave interviews saying that the show was fairly accurate. Seeing the trial of the century 20 years later made many viewers feel renewed sympathy for Clark, especially given today's updated perspective on gender. Suddenly, the horrible way she's been treated in pop culture — including Fey's tightly permed hair, a style that caused Clark no shortage of grief in 1995 as the media focused on her appearance — didn't seem so hilarious.
In its second season, "Kimmy Schmidt" continues to take shots at real personalities: Targets in the first episodes include the Kardashians, Kanye West, Bobby Flay and Mark Wahlberg. But it will be interesting to see whether viewers who go back to catch up on Season 1 find the pastiches of real-life people quite so funny.