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  • Martin Cheney

Schmigadoon!


★★½



Despite some genuinely decent songs by Cinco Paul and some fleeting moments of good-hearted fun, Schmigadoon! commits one of the most heinous TV sins - an almost criminal waste of its brilliant cast. There is nothing quite so frustrating as watching something with huge potential squander almost every opportunity to be brilliant. All signs initially pointed to an interesting riff on a concept that would both satisfy music theatre aficionados and win over some newbies, but I can't imagine there's anything in Schmigadoon! that's going to placate those who would have said musicals weren't their favourite choice of entertainment. If anything, this tonally mismatched and increasingly underwhelming snooze-ical is only going to cause them to dig the heels of their character shoes in further. It's not terrible. It's not even bad. It's just...eh.


The six-episode series starts well enough. Melissa (SNL's Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) attempt to save their failing relationship by going on a kind of couples' retreat in the woods. Crossing over a mysterious bridge, they find themselves in Schmigadoon, a magical town where everything is stuck in a Golden Age musical. They learn that they will both need to find true love before they can cross the bridge back to reality, even if it's not with each other. Each episode opens with a flashback, but these really seem to serve more to explain a reference in the upcoming episode than to give any meaningful context. The opening to the final episode is particularly egregious, as perceptive viewers will note it largely steps on its impact altogether.


A lampooning of its source material (Lerner and Loewe's classic Brigadoon), Schmigadoon! is at its best when it leans into its good-natured mocking of the Golden Age musical. Very few are safe, with Oklahoma, Carousel, Annie Get Your Gun, The Music Man, South Pacific, The Sound of Music and many others receiving a decent ribbing. The majority of composer Cinco Paul's songs strike a fair balance between knowingly nodding to their inspiration, while being compositionally sound enough to exist on their own. One of the most effective ensemble numbers, 'Corn Puddin',' occurs soon after Melissa and Josh's arrival. A loving wink to songs like Carousel's 'A Real Nice Clambake,' and its ilk, it showcases a great example of how the cast in a well-written musical can suddenly burst into song and dance about something that has absolutely no relevance to the plot whatsoever, but still somehow feels wholly necessary. It's a shame the remainder of the series seemed more concerned with poking fun at the genre than it did telling an engaging story. After the confident and sure-footed first couple of episodes, Schmigadoon! takes a sharp turn into a forced cautionary tale with eye-rolling moral proselytising and a bafflingly fumbled finale. Even some of the jokes outstay their welcome; Josh being surprised at music spontaneously erupting around him is only funny the first 3-4 times.


To their credit, Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key carry most of the show on their shoulders and do a fine job. Strong is by far the strongest (LOL) performer amidst the all-star line-up; I very much look forward to seeing more from her in the future, because she does the lion's share of the comedic and dramatic heavy-lifting here. If you're expecting to see much from the other Broadway veterans that likely drew you to the show in the first place, though, prepare to be disappointed. Kristin Chenoweth plays the woefully intermittent villain and mayoral candidate who will not sing at you until the fifth episode, and the song she sings at you will be a jumbled pseudo-patter gospel-esque misfired homage to 'Ya Got Trouble' from The Music Man. The fact that the brilliant Chenoweth was not given more to do in this show is completely inexplicable. Alan Cumming, Fred Armisen and Aaron Tveit? Yes, they appear sometimes too, but infrequently enough for you to forget they were in it until they show up again, reminding you each time that they could have been in it more. And heaven forbid you expect to ever see the great Jane Krakowski, whose name appears in lights during the opening credits of every episode. Blink and you'll miss her. Shameful.


Perhaps Schmigadoon! promised more than it could deliver in its six-episode format. If its intent was to more fully explore the changing dynamic of Melissa and Josh's relationship within the nauseating and cloying backdrop of a Golden Age show on crack, I would have been quite willing to go the distance of a longer season. You can literally hear the wasted potential in the final song, which all of a sudden sounds like a rewrite of Stephen Sondheim's 'Sunday.' What could have been a beautiful, natural evolution after a season of growth is so jarring because it feels deeply unearned. Schmigadoon! simply doesn't seem to know when to make fun of itself and when to use the dramatic advantage provided by the heightened sense of reality and ability to suspend disbelief. The result is a sporadically entertaining but ultimately shallow and pointless exercise that will have you checking your phone before interval. Schmigadoon! wants to have its puddin' and eat it, too. The final moment hints at a possible second season, but I really don't see enough here to warrant a reprise.


PS: The flashback title cards are written with the Law & Order font. Why this is never referenced with a *dun dun* is totally beyond me.

Schmigadoon! is streaming now on Apple TV+.




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