By Chris Revelle | TV | April 21, 2023 |
By Chris Revelle | TV | April 21, 2023 |
What’s the opposite of a sophomore slump? A sophomore ascension? I’m four episodes into the second season of musical comedy series Schmigadoon! on AppleTV+ and I can confidently say it’s incredible. Funny and sexy with a fantastic cast and fabulous songs, this show is giving you everything while it dances backward in heels and spins sparklers around.
Created by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, Schmigadoon premiered in 2021 and the first season was mainly a riff on Music Man with a sprinkling of Sound of Music and the general framing of Brigadoon as a way of playing with the tropes of the Golden Age musicals of the 40s and 50s. Schmicago moves boldly and bawdily forward into the 70s with musicals that, as Cecily Strong’s character Melissa points out, are darker, sexier, and more violent.
The set-up is an effective echo of the first season’s: Josh and Melissa (Keegan-Michael Key and Strong, respectively) are married after they fell back in love in season 1 and went back over Schmigadoon’s magical bridge to reality. However, as the couple settles into life in the suburbs and try to conceive a child, they’ve both settled into a monotonous ennui. Life can be repetitive and disappointing in ways that weekend picnics can’t fix. Happiness feels elusive and the sting is only greater when the couple gets some bad news. It doesn’t take long for our intrepid couple to strike back out looking for Schmigadoon for some levity, fun, and easy happy times. All it takes are a few shenanigans with a broken-down car before Melissa and Josh find themselves on that magical bridge once more, wreathed in mist. They’ve made it back to Schmigadoon! Or have they?!
It’s revealed in short order that the patriotic-bunting-and-corn-pudding existence of the town they knew has transformed into the jazz-and-liquor Babylon Schmicago and while Melissa and Josh recognize plenty of faces from their first visit, they’re all entirely different people. It’s a fun, meta way to play with this, making the citizens like a theater troupe working on a new play. Once again, Melissa and Josh cannot leave until they’ve completed some challenge. In season 1, this was to “find true love.” This time, it’s to “find a happy ending.” They’ve got the love part down, now they need to figure out what will make them happy in life. But what does happiness even look like? How do you find it? I guess we’ll have to spend a whole bunch of episodes with tons of delightful characters to figure it out!
Newcomer to the cast Titus Burgess (of Broadway and Pinot Noir) plays the Narrator, a figure in a black sequined tux with a malevolent smile and an endless supply of shade to throw at our lead pair. He’s an excellent riff on the Lead Player from Pippin and puts his smooth and powerful voice into some fantastic burns. Actual goddess and muse Jane Krakowski (Broadway, Jenna Maroney, this amazing season 1 moment) channels Billy Flynn from Chicago, giving us a barn-burning take on making the courtroom a circus. Seriously, she has a scene-stealing number with lots of stunts and high-wire work and the queen makes it look effortless. Dove Cameron (Schmigadoon, The Descendents) returns as the dynamo Jenny Banks, a night-club singer (a la Sally Bowles) who’s bubbly personality hides a sad past involving her estranged father and a terrible tragedy. Alan Cumming is back, this time as the grimy butcher Dooley Blight (Sweeney Todd with just a dash of Jean Valjean) who’s got an axe to grind with officious Kratt Club owner Octavius Kratt (Patrick Page, of Hadestown). Kratt has his eye on Jenny, for what we can only assume are nefarious purposes. Kristin Chenoweth is here as Miss Codwell who is basically 70/30 Mrs. Lovett/Miss Hannigan and yes, that goes precisely where you think it goes as a deranged but very committed mash-up of the plots of Annie and Sweeney Todd. Aaron Tveit (Broadway, the Hooper Les Mis) plays another outsider type with face-painted storyteller Topher who, along with his merry band of silly hippies, are a riff on Hair and Godspell. They tell incomprehensible “parables” that seem to lose focus on their morals part of the way through telling. Oscar winner Ariana DeBose has returned as the Emcee of the Kratt Club, the same as the one from Cabaret, complete with a fabulous corset and drawn-on mustache. The rest of our Season 1 pals are here too: Ann Harada, Jaime Camil, and Martin Short all pop by too.
Everyone knocks it out of the damn park. Everyone seems to be having a fantastic time playing these big characters and the energy is infectious! Every single song just slaps, both as comedic numbers, but also as wonderfully-written and delightfully-performed pieces. Very often, I found myself exclaiming “Wow they did not have to go this hard, they didn’t have to make it this good.” Krakowski gives an incredible song-and-dance sequence called “Bells & Whistles” that really has to be seen to be believed; I’m still in awe at how swan-like she is in her ability to do so much while remaining outwardly calm and graceful. Cameron’s “Mein Heir”-alike “Kaput” is a great stomper and Strong and Key’s “Talk to Daddy” is a damn earworm! I loved Season 1 and I have a special place in my heart for Music Man and Sound of Music, but my love belongs to the messy, crazy, wild world of Cabaret and Chicago and the like, so I felt Josh as I said “I like THESE musicals!” Josh and Melissa bounce around the bustling burg of Shmicago, trying to untangle what their happy ending could be. I feel like I could hear much more of writer Julie Klausner’s (Difficult People) acerbic wit coming through in this edgier setting. I don’t want to spoil much more of the plot because a great deal of joy is found in letting it surprise you, but as someone who’s seen this number from Sweet Charity a million times, I have to share this song from the show:
Schmigadoon! can be found on AppleTV+ with new episodes every Wednesday.
Chris Revelle is a chatterbox with a lot of thoughts about media and can be heard shrieking about them on the podcast Why Did We Watch This?