We here at Paste TV love to joke about whether or not a show is rated for someone. For example, merely the photos of hybrid human/animal babies from Netflix’s Sweet Tooth screamed “No thank you! Rated ‘Not for Amy!’”
But perhaps there’s not a show rated more for me than Apple TV+’s Schmigadoon! Not only do I love Broadway musicals, but I’ve also been deprived of musical productions for almost 16 months. Just the swell of the music in the opening credits made me a little teary.
In this six episode series from executive producer Lorne Michaels, Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) are two New York doctors who embark on a camping trip designed to bring them closer together. They get lost along the way and find themselves stranded in the town of Schmigadoon! Despite their continued efforts, they are unable to leave until they find true love. Do the math and that means that Melissa and Josh aren’t as in love as they (particularly Melissa) thought they were.
The original songs of the series, written by series creator Cinco Paul, harken back to the classic musicals of the 1940s and ‘50s. Think Oklahoma!, The King and I, Show Boat and, yes, of course, Brigadoon. The musical numbers are big and bold with fantastic dancing. The fourth episode features a tap dance number that is so enthralling and delightful I immediately rewound and watched it again. The sly lyrics are just oh-so-slightly off. When Melissa and Josh first stumble upon the town they are told in verse it’s a town where “the men are men and the cows are cows.” Danny Bailey (Aaron Tveit) is, as the show loves to tell viewers with its tongue firmly in its cheek, the town “rapscallion” and sings “You Can’t Tame Me.” (Danny Bailey is particularly funny because every musical has that bad boy with a heart of gold who just needs to find the right woman to set him straight, of course.) With its pastel colored, two dimensional faux backgrounds, Schmigadoon looks like Rodgers and Hammerstein stage set. Its residents look like they just stepped out of Carousel.
The series manages to be simultaneously an adoring homage to the genre and a spot-on satire of it; every trope is lovingly upended, every plot difficulty laid bare. (Let’s be honest, women didn’t fare too well in the classic musicals. I mean there is a “what can you do but love him?” song about an abusive husband in Carousel.) Melissa explains the reproductive system in a little ditty that’s very similar to “Do-Re-Mi” from the Sound of Music. “Why are they laughing? Nothing even remotely funny just happened?” Josh wonders at the end of one number. There’s references to “color-blind casting” and at the start of a dream ballet, Melissa exclaims, “We’re not having a dream ballet. They’re annoying and stupid and slow everything down.”
Will you enjoy the show if you’ve never seen a musical and have no context for what’s being spoofed? Maybe. But this truly is a series for Broadway fans. It’s also a delight to see the sheer volume of Broadway stars who are part of the cast: In addition to Tveit, Kristin Chenoweth—who gets her big show-stopping number in the fourth episode—appears as the town gossip Mildred Layton (she heads up the group “Mothers Against the Future”); Alan Cummings plays the town Mayor Menlove (guess what secret he’s hiding?); Ariana DeBose (who will play Anita in the upcoming West Side Story) is the no-nonsense school teacher with a secret; Jane Krakowski is the glamorous countess. The show is an embarrassment of Broadway riches.
As for the love story at its center, the series is a fun juxtaposition of Josh and Melissa’s modern life with the antiquated world of Schmigadoon! “We’re smart. We found our way out of Ikea. We’ll find our way out of this,” Melissa says. Each 30 minute episode begins with a flashback to their previous life. These brief and efficient snippets give viewers terrific insight into Josh and Melissa’s relationship.
Melissa is more immediately onboard with what’s happening. She’s thrilled when she realizes the song she is about to sing is “in my range and everything.” And knows that Josh has been cast as the “morally adrift narcissist that needs to change.” Strong has been an essential member of the Saturday Night Live cast for years and it’s great to see her taking the lead here; she’s up for the challenge dramatically, comically, and musically. Her characters on Saturday Night Live, like the chain-smoking and opinionated Cathy Anne, work because she always brings humanity into her caricatures. Although what’s happening around Melissa is often ridiculous, her reactions and emotions are very real. Key is equally adept and charming as the more reluctant Josh—he wants a quick fix to his predicament, but that’s not how musicals work. Together they ground the series in such a way that the sixth and final episode packs a surprisingly emotional punch.
Along with Trying and Ted Lasso, Schmigadoon! is another entry into AppleTV+ cornering the market on uplifting, positive, smart TV. It may be a niche joy, but you can’t watch without smiling. And that’s something to sing about.
The first two episodes of Schmigadoon! premiere July 16 exclusively on Apple TV+. A new episode will premiere every Friday after that until the finale on August 13.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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