Schmigadoon! Is the Show to Get You Through Lockdown

Dept. of All Singing and All Dancing


Schmigadoon!, the brand new musical comedy on Apple TV+, starring Cecily Strong and Keegan Michael Key, created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, produced by Lorne Michaels, with a pilot directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, is very much packed to the rafters with talent. The setup of the show is simple enough. One fateful day, while on a backpacking trip, Josh and Melissa, stuck in a stagnating relationship, stumble into a trapped-in-a-musical town called Schmigadoon, which they can’t escape until they find true love. What follows are a brisk, all out, all singing, all dancing six episodes that parody, and praise, and pay homage to musical theatre in equal measure. The series is cunningly crafted and cleverly composed. But who is it for? 

Alan Cummings as Schmigadoon town mayor Aloysius Menlove, with Kristin Chenoweth and Fred Armisen.

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: Let me start by saying two things. First of all, I am a huge fan of musicals. There is something about the form that I find incredibly appealing. The idea of human beings going through life while singing and dancing the whole time is, to me, the ultimate display of self-expression. There is an unfettered freedom in musical theatre that I feel is unique to the genre. It is also incredibly absurd. Which only adds to its appeal.

So it goes without saying that Schmigadoon! pushed all of my buttons, in all the right ways.

The second thing I will say is that if you aren’t a fan of musicals, if you don’t love them with all of your heart, then this is not something you will enjoy. You may, in fact, find it incredibly annoying.

Bahir Yeusuff: Oh you think so? I too, like you, really enjoy musicals. And this is A MUSICAL. Top to bottom, front to back, this is a song and dance musical. The town of Schmigadoon itself is set in a weird frontieresque America (or at least an idealized musical frontieresque America) and the absurdity of the genre is amplified by Keegan-Michael Key’s acknowledgement of the insanity of the situation that they have found themselves in.

I think that even if you aren’t a fan of musicals, if you can just ride along with the crazy, then you could still enjoy this. The Twilight Zone that Josh and Melissa have found themselves in is itself a great point of entry, especially for non musical fans. This isn’t a thing filled with musical inside jokes. This feels very approachable, and the fact that it not only accepts that this musical town is absurd, but leans in on it, hard, makes it very meta and very enjoyable to me.

I’ve seen a couple episodes and there are times when I worry that it may have not taken itself and its genre seriously enough (first time for that!) but what the writers, and creators, and Barry Sonnenfeld have done is to toe (and dance on) that line very well.

Schmigadoon!'s ensemble cast in the town's welcome song

UA: I think there are two kinds of people in this world. There are people, like Cecily Strong’s Melissa, who love musicals, and then there are those like Keegan Michael Key’s Josh who, early in the first episode, says: “You know how much I hate musicals. People don’t just burst into song in real life.” I know a few of those sorts of people (I really wish I didn’t) and it’s been impossible for me to convince them to get their foot through that door. I’ve spent far too much time extolling the genius of Lin Manuel and Hamilton. But nope. They’ll have nothing of it. Which is why I think the biggest challenge this series will have is getting that larger – incredibly stubborn – audience to even give it a shot. 

That said, if you are a Josh, and if you do sit down to watch this series, I think you’re in for a real treat.

UA: The setting and genre aside, I really got a kick of just how clever everything was. The songs. The dance routines. The sendups of old time America, their different ideas of what true love is, and the sordid secrets that we’re constantly trying to hide from prying eyes. This is a series that dives deep into genre and uses it as a way to drive home some really hard-hitting commentary.

It’s the kind of series with such attention to detail that every frame is a feast for the eyes. And everything within those frames has been planned and plotted to within an inch of its life.

Cecily Strong's Melissa Gimble and town rapscallion Danny Bailey, played by Aaron Tveit

BY: Speaking of the show’s frame, I loved the design of this show. From the costumes, to the sets, to the colours. It reminded me a lot of Pushing Daisies, that weird and wonderful show from 10 years ago that left us far too soon. Just like in Pushing Daisies, there is an undercurrent here. There is something just beneath the surface that feels sinister. Is this the devil? Is it that creepy leprechaun we saw at the end of Episode 1? 

There is a certain theatricality to the show’s production value as well. The set design is straight out of a 1950’s musical. I just love that.

And can I also just say that the music here is top notch catchy. Apple TV+ is really knocking it out of the park with the musical numbers in this and in Central Park

UA: Which is what makes or breaks a musical. Obviously. It’s hard enough having to write one catchy song, but churning out earworms for a weekly TV series is next to impossible. And both Central Park and Schmigadoon! do not disappoint on that front. Both of these shows had me tapping my toes and singing along long after the episodes had ended. And what’s more, they’ve written music that both serves the narrative and stands apart from it. These are songs that work just as well outside the context of the show.

Alan Cumming's town mayor singing his big solo.

UA: What’s more, if you grew up on The Sound of Music, or Carousel, South Pacific, or The Music Man, you will immediately recognise the various homages, pastiches, riffs, and references that Schmigadoon! makes in their general direction. Which goes some way to explain why this is as good as it is. It feels like it was made by people who don’t just love the form, but truly understand how and why it works…

BY: … but also aren’t afraid to poke holes in those musicals too. This isn’t some cynical self-referential *wink* isn’t all this singing and dancing silly *wink* thing. This is done in all earnestness, and is truly heartfelt, but is also hyper aware that it is all so ridiculous. And I love it.

I have to admit, I was a little concerned about the “cynicism” of the 21st century bleeding into this. When I first read the description of the show, I thought it was a straight up musical and was looking forward to some escapism. The realities of our world, and woke culture, show up here, but it isn’t done to demean anyone. It isn’t mocking the ideals of the traditional musical. Instead, like you mentioned earlier, it uses the tropes of the genre to reflect and deal with the issues. As much as this may feel like popcorn fodder, it really is quite thoughtful and thought out.

UA: I too had that concern at first. I wasn’t sure how preachy the series would get. Especially with regards to the conflicting values between Josh and Melissa and everyone else in Schmigadoon. Thankfully the series manages to avoid all of those pitfalls, leaning heavily into hope and love, and making the decision to be a celebration of values as opposed to a cynical takedown of values.

The film musical is a quintessentially American product so it’s incredibly fitting that it is used here as a platform to dissect American values. Now don’t get me wrong. This is still a comedy first and foremost. It’s very funny. But like all great parodies and satires, it uses humour as a way to make us confront and address our own beliefs, prejudices, and privileges. This is, after all, the story of two groups of people, each one trapped within their own bubbles, who are suddenly forced to face the realities of the other side.

Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key can't quite believe the town of Schmigadoon

BY: Can I just say it again? Apple TV+ are knocking it out of the park. Schmigadoon! is a wonderful time in front of the TV and after the year and a half we’ve had, this is the perfect way to experience a Friday. Put on some Schmigadoon!, have a little song and dance, and welcome the weekend. I don’t know yet if this show is perfect, but to me, this is the perfect time for this show. (Oh, and Ted Lasso Season 2!)

UA: I couldn’t agree more. This is precisely the kind of joyous, life-affirming content that we need while stuck in yet another lockdown. It’s happy. It’s optimistic about the world. Which, given our current condition, might go some way to making these endless days a little easier.

The first two episodes of Schmigadoon! premieres Friday 16th July, with a new episode every Friday.

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