In the first season finale of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," the resilient title character utters what amounts to her philosophy of life: "I still believe the world is good, that bunnies are nice and snakes are mean."
Kimmy's deceivingly childlike declaration came with two women standing on her shoulders as they tried to climb out of the underground bunker that was once their prison for 15 years. They got locked back in while trying to gather evidence against their captor, an apocalypse-crazed preacher and "Apprentice" wannabe.
It sounds like the makings of a ripped-from-the-headlines Lifetime TV movie. But in the hands of "30 Rock" creative team Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, "Kimmy Schmidt" emerged as one of last year's strongest, if oddest comedies, largely powered by the evanescent glow of star Ellie Kemper.
Netflix cracks open the hatch Friday on a second season of "Kimmy Schmidt" with a promise of plucking more humor from the juxtaposition of light and dark.
The first season, bookended by bunker rescues, saw Kimmy move to New York, trying to shed her identity as one of the "Indiana Mole Women." She gets a new roommate – flamboyant actor Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) – in a building owned by crusty Lillian (Carol Kane), the kind of eccentric old-school New Yorker that now primarily exists only on TV.
Kimmy lands a job as a nanny working for Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), a spoiled one-percenter socialite mom who tells her: "You’ll need to get here by six every morning to get Buckley up for school, then get me up at 10 – but don’t wake me up." Krakowski, a standout as ego-driven actress Jenna Maroney on "30 Rock," somehow deepens Jacqueline's shallowness with an absurd backstory about Native American roots that don't peek through her blonde mane.
Like "30 Rock," the Netflix comedy moves fast – so quickly that the dark undercurrent can become a shadowy blur. The writing is as much a co-star as top-notch performances by Krakowski, Kane and Burgess, whose “Peeno Noir” music video went viral on “Kimmy Schmidt” and in real life.
But this is Kemper's show. She builds upon her character from "The Office," receptionist Erin, who shared a sunniness and hints of a less-than-idyllic childhood with Kimmy. Kemper exudes a youthful spirit of optimism that, given Kimmy’s adolescence in captivity, comes across as anything but hokey.
This season, Kimmy lands her dream job: working in a year-round Christmas store, which is appropriate given her status as the TV equivalent of Buddy from "Elf.” "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" offers the year-round gift of more bunnies than snakes, bending laughs out of both, but never cracking.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.