There’s a compulsion in comedy these days to be as referential as possible, turning back to pop culture from years past to give us viewers that warm and fuzzy feeling we get when we recognize something. I can’t help but detect a whiff of desperation to it, though. Even if it gives us weird bits of hilarity like the SNL sketch featuring Josh Masterson lip syncing to The Outfield’s “Your Love,” it also feeds the dozens of episodes of Seth McFarlane-related awfulness cluttering up the airwaves.
With Kimmy Schmidt, the occasional bit of nostalgic silliness is somewhat forgivable considering the titular character’s plight of being away from pop culture for 15 years. But these two episodes have been laying all that on a little too thick, from Kimmy’s Yo! MTV Raps aside in the prep leading up to her boss’s big dinner party to all the EMF/Ghostbusters/Friends-related palaver in our heroine’s quest to learn math and encourage Jacqueline to be a strong independent woman after learning of Julian’s affair. They were, by and large, unnecessary additions to the story and started to feel a little lazy after a while. As much as I want to be like everyone else in the show and find myself charmed and inspired by Kimmy’s strange and engaging personality, I wish they could have found better ways to bring that out than jumping to corny in-jokes for children of the ‘90s.
The show is so much funnier when it sticks to making fun of the outlandish rituals and practices of the rich, and making some commentary on the gentrification of New York. Since these two had so much to do with Jacqueline’s fate, there were many opportunities to poke at the obsessions of the 1%, be it youth (Julian: “My first wife…” Jacqueline: “Turned 50. And I would never do that to you.”) or terrifying sounding hobbies like whale dynamiting. The writers pitch all this stuff up to 11, and sometimes feel like they’re using a folder of material that was supposed to be for Jack Donaghy, but as a member of the 99%, it’s still fun to watch even the fictional wealthy get shown to be the buffoons that they are. That goes out with especial thanks to Amy Sedaris’s appearance a fellow divorcee who is losing her mind without her gobs of cash.
The best jokes, though, were reserved for how the moneyed are turning New York into their playground. There was an initial little punch with Logan Beekman’s talk of a 1950s sludge tank in Brooklyn that had been turned into a grappa lounge, but the strongest blows came from Lillian as she feared the future of their neighborhood: “The bodega started selling Greek yogurt…and non-expired meat!” The face of this ridiculousness, though, was Titus, who found that he was treated more like a person on the streets if he were dressed up in the werewolf costume he wears for work than if he just walked around as a big black man. Cabs were stopping, women were passing their babies over, and cops were friendly. Each barb stung sharper than the last and felt very necessary.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.