Welcome to Schmigadoon, “where men are men and cows are cows,” a magical musical land where Melissa and Josh (Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key) find themselves stranded on a journey meant to rehabilitate their romance. At first, they think it’s like Colonial Williamsburg, or a warped Disney experience, but they quickly embrace their new reality: they’re trapped in this healthy and ancient parallel universe until they learn the lessons about the true love that it is supposed to convey.
Melissa is in it. She loves musicals and is delighted to find that when she joins one of the locals’ acts, she instinctively knows what to sing. Josh is not in it. He doesn’t like musicals and he refuses to sing. She wants to be in love, get married and win every argument. He wants her to accept that love is imperfect and that marriage is rubbish, and he also wants to win every argument.
I won’t say that there are only two types of people when it comes to musicals, but for our purposes: the Joshes of the world are unlikely to ever warm to “Schmigadoon!” To my colleagues Melissas: Dust off your character shoes. Our time is now.
“Schmigadoon! ”, Which debuts on Apple TV + Friday, was created by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, the team behind the“ Despicable Me ”franchise; Paul also wrote all the songs. The show’s most obvious references are “Brigadoon”, “Carousel” and “Oklahoma!” But there are also a lot of “Annie Get Your Gun”, as well as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, “The Music Man”, “The Sound of Music”, “South Pacific” and “The King and I.” Individual numbers refer to dozens of other musicals. Some are straightforward parodies of specific songs – Melissa explains human reproduction in detail in a parody of “Do-Re-Mi” – and others refer to the genre in general.
The people of Schmigadoon are also parodies of the walk. Kristin Chenoweth is the town grumpy and main villain, a black lipstick nightmare who turns to her fellow tut-tutters and asks, “Ladies, can I have a cackle?” Alan Cumming is the closed mayor. Jaime Camil is the sensual and critical doctor, Aaron Tveit is the handsome bad boy in the cable-knit “Carousel”, and Ariana DeBose is the enchanting school kid. Tveit and DeBose are particularly electric, and when they sing – or better yet, sing and dance – it’s impossible not to sustain them. Everyone, go ahead and win the hearts of our miserable standards.
“Schmigadoon! Has his moments of honest good laugh, but he’s more inclined to have fun ironically and satirically – it’s his own joke and regularly pokes fun at his own silliness. (There’s even a song called “Corn Puddin ‘”, which like every other song on the show is pretty darn good.) The vibe works, especially the hits on the rigid sexism of classic musicals. The show’s credited writers Bowen Yang, Julie Klausner, Allison Silverman, and Kate Gersten are best known for their work in comedy skits and sitcoms, so unsurprisingly the punchlines are clever and often sour. But sometimes we have the impression that “Schmigadoon! Had only one real joke: Musicals, especially those from the 40s and 50s, are similar to each other and out of date.
We love these musicals not for these qualities but because of them, and “Schmigadoon!” embodies why fantasy can be so appealing. The more the series focuses on Melissa and Josh’s conflicts, especially Josh’s sour avoidance, the more wacky elation and aimless laughter one yearns for. Sure, the city is stilted and stuffy, but wouldn’t you rather dance your troubles away than return to that pile of tedious self-help books on how to save a lukewarm relationship?
Naivety can be a vice, but so can stubbornness. Is falling in love with a trumpet really dumber than any other way to fall in love? Isn’t it good to sing what you can’t say, especially when you don’t seem to be saying much?
“Nobody likes a dream ballet,” says Melissa towards the end of the season, a line that delighted me because I was indeed gently dreading what seemed like the start of such a moment. Dream ballets aren’t my favorite anyway, but “Schmigadoon!” would have collapsed under the weight of one because despite all its abundant joys and glories, it is not built like a two-act musical. It’s built like a six-episode TV show. So he cannot generate momentum in the same way, cannot inhale and exhale, cannot orient to an 11 hour count. Hooray for an overture, but if you binge on the show, you hear that overture six times, by then it’s just a theme song. (Apple TV + releases the first two episodes together, and the next four episodes each week thereafter.)
It adds up to a slight but lingering feeling of not quite right, echoing Melissa and Josh’s feelings of being in the wrong story. It’s a show whose own protagonist complains, “It’s like ‘The Walking Dead’ is also ‘Glee'” (I think it’s more like “Smash” or “Galavant”, because his songs are all original, but I doubt Josh would let him know what “Smash” or “Galavant” are.)
Sometimes “Schmigadoon!” may sound like a “Simpsons” parody that has gone past its segment, or a classic movie slaughtered in order to insert commercials. Fortunately, it’s also too much fun for any of this to matter.