latest on decider

'Transformers: The Last Knight’ Rakes in $37.5 Million in Just Three Days

'Transformers: The Last Knight’ Rakes in $37.5 Million in Just Three Days

‘Orange Is the New Black’ Hacker The Dark Overlord Banished From Twitter

‘Orange Is the New Black’ Hacker The Dark Overlord Banished From...

‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Is Just As Good As The Original Series

‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Is Just As Good As The Original Series

My First Time... Watching 'Spaceballs'

My First Time... Watching 'Spaceballs'

Stephen Colbert Toasts Russia, Announces Presidential Bid On Russian TV

Stephen Colbert Toasts Russia, Announces Presidential Bid On Russian TV

'Playing House' Premiere Displays Emma and Maggie's Defensive Side: Recap

'Playing House' Premiere Displays Emma and Maggie's Defensive Side: Recap

Top 10 Sexiest, Dirtiest & Steamiest Movies on Netflix Right Now

Top 10 Sexiest, Dirtiest & Steamiest Movies on Netflix Right Now

Top 10 Sexiest, Dirtiest & Steamiest Movies on Netflix Right Now

Top 10 Sexiest, Dirtiest & Steamiest Movies on Netflix Right Now

'GLOW' Cast: Meet The Characters Of Netflix's Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling

'GLOW' Cast: Meet The Characters Of Netflix's Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling

What's Streaming On Netflix Tonight: 'GLOW' + More

What's Streaming On Netflix Tonight: 'GLOW' + More

Spend A Weekend With 'Spaced', The Ultimate Comedy Binge

Spend A Weekend With 'Spaced', The Ultimate Comedy Binge

'GLOW': 6 Things You Need To Know Before Streaming Netflix's Newest Comedy

'GLOW': 6 Things You Need To Know Before Streaming Netflix's Newest Comedy

‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ And The Rise Of Prestige Sitcoms

Where to Stream

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

If there are dramas (crime-filled network procedural franchises) and prestige dramas (sex and/or violence-filled cable miniseries), then it stands to reason that there should be sitcoms and prestige sitcoms.

When you hear “prestige sitcom,” though, your mind probably wanders to critically-acclaimed fare like Transparent or Master of None. After all, those shows are nominated in the comedy categories at awards shows; Transparent even won the Golden Globe back in 2015. But those shows, and similar series like Love and Orange is the New Black, ride the line between drama and comedy. Would you really call Transparent a sitcom, the same thing you’d call Friends or Roseanne? When was the last time you thought to yourself, “I really need a nonstop laugh session. I know — I’ll put on Enlightened!” Some shows are seemingly classified as comedies only because of their half hour runtime.

This is why my brain, which thrives on categorization and goes mad when movies like The Martian win comedy awards, has decided there are prestige comedies and prestige sitcoms—and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the definitive prestige sitcom.

Sitcoms, short for situation comedies, focus on jokes first and foremost and usually feature a heightened situation or character. Every single prestige comedy I’ve mentioned is soberingly grounded in the real world. The characters behave like real people, albeit real people that get into slightly heightened hijinks. The major difference between a prestige comedy (like a Nurse Jackie) and a prestige sitcom (like a Veep) is joke density. Do you watch the show for the jokes, and if so, how often are you rewarded? Prestige comedies deftly add drama into the mix, prioritizing deep character development and naked earnestness over physical gags and wordplay. They could be called dramedies, but that term just sounds like the turducken of genres.

Prestige sitcoms go for broke when they go for jokes. Difficult People’s Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner keep a nonstop stream of zingers and pithy putdowns going in every episode. Lady Dynamite forcefully shoves the audience into and out of different perceptions of heightened reality as Maria Bamford’s lead character bounces between manic and depressed stages; a talking pug narrates these events. As indicated in the title, The Good Place takes place literally off Earth in an afterlife where jokes and garbage fall freely from the sky. Every chapter of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is an absurdist tour de force that runs silly circles around the comedy competition. These sitcoms are tonally different from those aforementioned prestige comedies because, just like the classic multicam shows of yesterday, they care about jokes.

Photo: Netflix

Watch the first five minutes of Kimmy Schmidt season three and Master of None season two back to back and you’ll immediately see that the shows are going for two completely different vibes. Kimmy packs in, by my count, 33 hard jokes. Those jokes range from verbal (Titus also falls asleep on eggs!) to visual (Lillian Kaushtupper’s campaign shirt that reads “The future is then!”) to bizarre (Kimmy’s trash bag Titus stand-in). There’s a joke every nine seconds! Master of None’s first five minutes include seven jokes, like Dev asking how to say “My alarm clock fucked up” in Italian. The first five minutes of Master of None doesn’t care about jokes; it cares about establishing the episode’s Italian setting in a downright cinematic style. These shows are the best at what they do and what they do couldn’t be more different. That’s why one’s a prestige comedy and the other’s a prestige sitcom.

Even though prestige sitcoms deliver rapid-fire jokes, they still tackle heavy subjects. The Good Place delivers a high stakes philosophy lesson every week. Lady Dynamite deals with bipolar II in an unflinching mannerUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has always been a smart show, but the show went to college this season both literally and figuratively. Kimmy became a philosophy student and whole episodes were built around deconstructing philosophical dilemmas. On top of that, Schmidt’s ensemble faced off against their biggest inner failings, emerging in the season finale as more fully developed people. While regular sitcoms bounce weekly problems off the surface of their never-changing characters, prestige sitcoms devote screen time to analyzing how these problems truly affect the cast. Prestige comedies dig in deep when it comes to big issues too, but the issues steal screen time from jokes. The jokes never stop flying for long in prestige sitcoms.

There’s another thing that elevates prestige sitcoms: big name stars. Getting movie stars to do small screen work is part of the hubbub around shows like American Horror Story and FargoPrestige sitcoms do the same thing. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are the titular Grace & FrankieKristen Bell leads The Good Place, Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks have ridiculous roles in Wet Hot, and Gabourey Sidibe recurs on Difficult People. Laura Dern is the prestige queen of 2017. Not only did she chew scenery in HBO‘s Big Little Lies, but she took a turn as a doofy and deluded teacher in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In prestige sitcoms, these usually dramatic actors get to cut loose and get weird.

As new shows continue to blur the line between genres and mess around with running times, we need new terms to accurately talk about the media we consume. “Comedy” just doesn’t cut it anymore. If a show packs in a new joke every ten seconds and, additionally, features A-list stars or tackles complex issues, I now call it a prestige sitcom. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fills all three of those requirements with gusto, and that’s why it’s the eager standard bearer for this new genre.

Where to stream Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Decider

Get the Newsletter.

Sign up for news, stories, offers, and more, all from Decider's Webby Award nominated newsletter.

By clicking above you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

X