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Schmigadoon! Delightfully Serenades Classic Musicals Inside a Rom-Com
Josh Bell
2021-07-16T05:37:06
Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key in Schmigadoon!
Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key in Schmigadoon!
When Melissa Gimble (Cecily Strong) stumbles into a hidden town in Schmigadoon!, she immediately recognizes where she is -- a classic Hollywood musical. That gives Melissa a greater appreciation and understanding for the town of Schmigadoon than her musical-hating boyfriend Josh Skinner (Keegan-Michael Key). Viewers whose tastes skew closer to Melissa's than Josh's will probably get more out of the Schmigadoon! viewing experience.
Created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, best known for their work on the Despicable Me franchise, Schmigadoon! is an affectionate tribute to movies like Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music and The Music Man among several titles that Melissa specifically references.
The title itself is a play on the 1954 film musical Brigadoon, about a pair of Americans, lost in the Scottish wilderness and stumble upon a mystical village that appears only once every hundred years. Melissa and Josh also get lost in the wilderness; although they aren't in Scotland, just an ill-advised couples retreat meant to reignite the spark in their relationship. Both doctors, Melissa and Josh had a meet-cute at the hospital vending machine, but four years later, the couple spends most of their time in passive-aggressive arguments.
Kristin Chenoweth in Schmigadoon!
Kristin Chenoweth in Schmigadoon!
Josh isn't particularly excited to be on the couples' trip. He's even more annoyed when the duo finds themselves in Schmigadoon and its colorfully dressed residents almost immediately burst into song about their town. At that point, since Melissa and Josh have been wandering in the woods for days, they're just happy for a warm bed to sleep in and some real food to eat.
At first, they think that Schmigadoon is some sort of immersive theater production, but when they attempt to leave town the next day, they discover that the footbridge only leads them right back. A creepy leprechaun (Martin Short) explains that they've entered a mystical realm that follows the rules of old-fashioned musicals, and that they can only leave when they've found "true love." Since their relationship is already on the rocks, Melissa and Josh decide to break up and they each seek romance with the different townspeople of Schmigadoon.
Aaron Tveit and Cecily Strong in Schmigadoon!
Aaron Tveit and Cecily Strong in Schmigadoon!
The arc of the couple's romantic detours is entirely predictable, but that's part of the point: The plots in these old musicals were broad and obvious and the appeal isn't in unexpected plot twists but in the ingenious way that familiar stories of love and happiness are presented. The creators of Schmigadoon! are clearly diligent students of those classic musical films, and the show is full of glorious musical numbers with impeccable costumes, sets and choreography, performed by some of the best stage and screen musical stars working right now.
The supporting cast includes Alan Cumming as the town's blatantly closeted mayor, Aloysius Menlove; Kristin Chenoweth as a local busybody and morally uptight scold Mildred Layton; and Dove Cameron, Jaime Camil, Aaron Tveit and Ariana DeBose as the various alternate love interests for the main couple. They all get their musical moments to shine but it's Strong who captivates with a lovely singing voice and nailing most of the series' best lines.
Ariana DeBose in Schmigadoon!
Ariana DeBose in Schmigadoon!
At times, the series can feel unbalanced with its treatment of Key and Strong. Key gets some funny moments, but he's stuck playing the straight man as Josh spends most of his time scoffing at the town's ridiculousness. Although Josh gains a more substantial romantic storyline, Melissa's love interests remain cartoonish. Pretty much everyone in the town of Schmigadoon is an over-the-top caricature; however, the creators introduce some complications to their characters over time, creating some Pleasantville-style discord.
That sets them at odds with Mildred, and Chenoweth clearly relishes her villainous role. DeBose's local "schoolmarm" Emma Tate is the only resident who seems like she could be a real person, and DeBose shines in the season's later episodes. Given the deliberate artificiality of the town and the obvious trajectory of the plot, the story and character development can feel a bit insubstantial, and DeBose infuses her character with some genuine emotion.
Schmigadoon!'s songs, written by Cinco Paul, are brilliant pastiches of Hollywood's classic film-musical style. Unlike other recent TV-series musicals, including Apple TV+'s Central Park, Schmigadoon! doesn't embrace any modern genres of music. That being said, the songs still have their own individual flair and humor. Director Barry Sonnenfeld, who helms all six episodes, delivers his best work in years -- capturing the intricate choreography in each musical number and filling the screen with colorful, delightfully fake-looking sets and costumes.
Like a lot of streaming series, Schmigadoon! probably could have been more effective as a feature film. However, the half-hour episodes generally move quickly, and like any good classic musical, Schmigadoon! delivers a clear, satisfying ending. It's hard to imagine what a second season would look like. But, as a lavish celebration of a cinematic form that has been out of style for decades, even a single season of Schmigadoon! is a bit of a miracle.
Schmigadoon!'s first two episodes premiere Friday, July 16, on Apple TV+, with subsequent episodes debuting each Friday.
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