Early in the second season of Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” comes this exchange between Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), a financially embarrassed Manhattan socialite, and Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), her effervescent nanny and all-around helpmate.
Jacqueline: “The Dutch bought Manhattan for $24 worth of beads. Today it’s worth a trillion. And I plan to make up the difference.”
Kimmy: “But who even has that much beads? Maybe Michaels arts and crafts. Ask for Jan.”
It’s as good an example as any of the strain of pure Dada that the show’s creators, Robert Carlock and Tina Fey, tested out in “30 Rock” and have unleashed full scale in “Kimmy Schmidt.” (Netflix provided critics six of 13 episodes of the second season, now available.)
Not quite free association, not quite coherent comic dialogue, it allows for the proliferation of gags and amusing non sequiturs at a Marxian (as in Marx brothers) pace.
And crucially — in case you read those lines and thought, no, that’s not funny — it depends on performance for its effect.
Kemper, a veteran of improv and “The Office” who mixes precision and a remarkable fluidity, delivers each of her three short, rapid-fire lines with a different shading — consternation, hopefulness, smug self-satisfaction.
It’s possible to watch “Kimmy Schmidt” and focus on themes. The show both mocks and celebrates the notion of the fabric of New York depending on eccentric outsiders. (Kimmy is the ultimate innocent rube, a cult survivor who spent 15 years locked in an underground bunker.) And in the new season, it engages in some fairly sharp satire of Jacqueline’s privileged world. (She once took her son to a play date where the children got to run the Greek economy.)
But what sets the show apart is its tireless, formless, free-flowing pursuit of laughs — and a cast that can ride that wave while also giving some human dimension to what are essentially vaudevillian characters.
Tituss Burgess, as Kimmy’s gay roommate, Titus, is more than ever the heart of the show in Season 2. Using his Broadway musical training, he gives Titus an authority and dignity that leaven his narcissism. And the great comic actress Carol Kane is as vital and dirty-funny as ever as Kimmy and Titus’ old-school New York landlord.
The new season, at least in the early going, mostly stays away from the cult story line that dominated stretches of Season 1. One episode brings back Lauren Adams as Kimmy’s fellow former captive Gretchen, but otherwise the bunker appears only in brief flashbacks. (This also means no Jon Hamm as cult leader Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, but word is that he’ll make another appearance eventually.)
Which just allows more time for Titus to be Titus, dating a construction worker, taking to his bed in theatrical despair (“I’ve decided to live as a bed from now on”) and going on a hilarious jag of singing fake show tunes, including a number from the Helen Keller-inspired musical “Feels Like Love”: “In the game of hide and seek / I’m the first one to be found.”
That’s a line worth waiting for, but in “Kimmy Schmidt” you never have to wait more than about 15 seconds.