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Review: 'Schmigadoon' Is Good, but Ariana DeBose Is Great

By Dustin Rowles | TV | July 27, 2021 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | July 27, 2021 |


When trying to sell Schmigadoon! to my family, I told them it was about a couple that gets trapped in a movie musical. Ever wise, my daughters asked, “So, it’s like Jumanji?” It sort of is in that half the fun is the tropes that are being parodied and the other half of the fun is in the annoyed reactions — especially that of Keegan-Michael Key’s character — to being stuck in this universe. When one of my daughters asked, “Is he like the Jack Black character who is always saying, ‘Oh hell no!’?” I said, “Sort of,” and then admonished her for watching too much TV.

Key plays Josh opposite Cecily Strong’s Melissa, both doctors, who are also a couple going through a rough patch in their relationship. They decide to go on a hike designed to be a form of couples therapy. En route, Josh and Melissa find themselves inexplicably stuck inside of a movie-musical called Schmigadoon where a leprechaun, played by Martin Short (who, alas, has only one appearance), informs them that they cannot leave until they find “true love.” Realizing that their love is not “true” by virtue of the fact that they cannot leave, the two set about finding their true companions within the world of Schmigadoon while improving their own relationship.

The series is a knowing, sometimes ironic parody of 1940s and ’50s movie musicals like Brigadoon, Oklahoma, and Carousel, although no one who doesn’t also love those movies would be able to write so lovingly a parody (and included among the writers are Julie Klausner and SNL’s Bowen Yang in addition to the creators, Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, the latter of whom are responsible for writing the Despicable Me franchise and The Secret Life of Pets). It’s also worth noting that, though you may not get all the references, a passing familiarity is all that is necessary to enjoy the series. You don’t need to know The Music Man to appreciate Cecily Strong singing about the magic of reproduction, Alan Cumming singing about being closeted, or Kristin Chenoweth singing about anything.

It’s an enjoyable watch, but I’ll admit that Schmigadoon! didn’t gain my full attention until Ariana DeBose — who plays a schoolmarm introduced in episode three (and more fully in the fourth episode) — shows up and steals the show. DeBose is relatively unknown outside of Broadway circles, but here she is a goddamn force. She elevates the whole production from a B in the first three episodes to a solid A- in the latter three. She plays a potential love interest to Josh, and outside of Chenoweth, there’s nary a soul I’ve seen who can act while singing as well as DeBose does in Schmigadoon. She blows the roof off the joint, and should the series gain a second season, they’d be wise to center it on her.

That’s not a knock against the rest of the stellar cast, which includes Aaron Tveit, who plays a Carousel-inspired rapscallion; Fred Armisen (a local preacher); Jaime Camil (a very handsome but old-fashioned sexist doctor); and Dove Cameron, who plays Betsy, a character who looks 28 but may or may not be a teenager. Jane Krakowski also makes an appearance as the leggy Countess, who is also definitely a Nazi.

On a technical level, the series is impressive as hell, although I’ll admit it takes an episode or two to warm up to the concept, especially if you don’t care for old-timey movie musicals. However, once it finds its stride, Schmigadoon! is an irresistibly fun and ultimately heartwarming musical rom-com.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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