Jeff Richmond has been composing original music for TV comedies for more than a decade, usually at a frenetic pace. At Saturday Night Live, song parodies and musical monologues are cooked up, aired, and sometimes forgotten within a week; at 30 Rock, where Richmond collaborated with his wife Tina Fey, his work might include a warped spoof of children’s television or an grandiose, star-studded charity plea for a kidney donation. So when Richmond joined Fey’s new show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a dark comedy about a woman kidnapped by a religious cult, he figured the workload might be a little lighter.
“I thought, ‘This will be a nice small show that we’ll score appropriately,’” Richmond told me. He was, of course, wrong: In its two seasons, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has become a show that relies heavily on its eclectic musical landscape, from its barnstorming, Auto-Tuned opening theme to the increasingly elaborate parody numbers that litter almost every episode. This year, Richmond’s work has matched the show’s overall approach of cramming as many gags as possible into every minute: In short, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt might be TV’s first screwball musical.
On 30 Rock, a general spoof of Fey’s years working at Saturday Night Live, getting original songs into the show was almost a matter of course because of the show’s theatrical setting and overall heightened reality. “I thought that we had met our musical plateau of how many songs you could get into an actual sitcom,” Richmond said. “We had everyone singing, sometimes in dreams, or walking down hallways, or in the context of the show [within the show].” Kimmy Schmidt didn’t seem to have many natural opportunities for song : It’s mostly set in a dilapidated basement apartment, and its main character (played by Ellie Kemper) is a liberated “mole woman” who’s escaped from 15 years of captivity in an underground bunker.