Despite the uplifting spirit and never-ending hilarity of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the show has the darkest premise a sitcom could dream up: Kimmy (along with three other women) emerges from 15 years of captivity in an underground bunker, where she's been kept since she was kidnapped as a child by pedophile pastor Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne.
It's a crazy story, but every major detail of Kimmy's kidnapping is directly taken from real-life events. Many high profile cases of strangers abducting children and holding them long-term, such as the kidnappings of Natascha Kampusch and Jaycee Dugard, come to mind. The bunker itself is reminiscent of the bunker in Amstetten, Austria, where Elisabeth Fritzl was kept and abused for 24 years, behind eight lockable doors, by her own father. And, of course, there are any number of crazy cults around the world...
However, the closest real-life parallel to Kimmy's incarceration is the highly publicized case of Ariel Castro and his victims.
Castro, a school bus driver with a history of domestic violence, kidnapped three young women over the course of two years: Michelle Knight (21), Amanda Berry (16) and Gina DeJesus (14). While #UnbreakableKimmySchmidt glosses over the grimmer details of the abuse it draws dark humor from, the women in Castro's basement were chained, starved, beaten, raped and tortured. The three women tried to offer comfort to each other while imprisoned, just as Kimmy, Cyndee Pokorny, Gretchen Chalker, and Donna Maria Nunez stick together in the bunker.
The most striking similarity between the real-life Castro case and the hit #Netflix show is not just the merciful escape of the women and the arrest of the pathetic bastard who locked them up: Netflix nabbed the case's viral sensation, too.
If you're familiar with the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt theme tune, you'll know that it's an autotuned remix of Reverend Wayne's neighbor Walter Bankston giving witness to reporters at the rescue site.
Bankston's charisma, animated manner and vocal style are a tribute to Charles Ramsay, the man who helped rescue Knight, Berry and DeJesus — and memorably told reporters:
"I'm eating my McDonald's; I come outside; I see this girl going nuts. I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway!"
Ramsay's interview went viral in the aftermath of the media sensation surrounding the women's safe return, leading to an autotuned remix of Ramsay's vocal clips going even more viral...
It takes a smart show to handle such intense themes in a funny yet right-on way, and it's impressive that the darkest premise has resulted in one of the most watchable and uplifting shows on TV. Hurry up with Season 4, Netflix!