Bright, zany and crackling with energy, Schmigadoon has all the trappings of an exciting and fun musical series.And it is – most of the time.
It also has an identity crisis, unable to decide whether it’s an homage to the golden oldies of musicals or if it’s a parody, ruthlessly skewering the particular subset of a genre that is still beloved but anachronistic to 2021.
It’s that wavering between the two tones that undermines Schmigadoon’s potential as a clever, winning series. Instead, it struggles to rise above mere enjoyable – though that in itself is an achievement.
It helps that Schmigadoon has a ripper cast whose vocal talents are matched by their charisma, including leads Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, plus Alan Cumming, Ariana DeBose, Dove Cameron, Aaron Tveit, Fred Armisen and Kristin Chenoweth while Jane Krakowski and Martin Short pop in for memorable guest spots.
Melissa (Strong) and Josh (Key) are two doctors who four years ago locked eyes at a hospital vending machine. But the fire has gone out of their relationship, and they find themselves at a couple’s hiking retreat.
During a storm, they become lost and stumble upon Schmigadoon, a candy-coloured village straight out of an old movie. It’s like they’ve entered the Twilight Zone, especially when the townsfolk with their plastered smiles burst into song.
Melissa is delighted but Josh is desperate to leave, another disconnect in a couple at odds.
But when they try to go, they can’t, and a leprechaun appears and tells them that you can only depart the village once you’ve found true love.
Creators and writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, with Paul responsible for the songs, evoke the likes of The Sound of Music, Oklahoma! and, of course, Brigadoon. Schmigadoon takes its cues from classic song-and-dance spectacles by staging lively, big numbers or romantic, swoony ditties.
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It works best when it’s merely borrowing from the genre, such as using song as confession of a long-held secret desire, like that of Cumming’s closeted mayor. Or harnessing DeBose’s considerable talent and charm as teacher Emma in a classroom performance.
But much like Melissa and Josh’s failure to be on the same page, Schmigadoon also labours under that missed connection.
The more specific it gets, is when it falls flat. Krakowski’s character, the Countess, is a direct lift of the Baroness from The Sound of Music and plays out like a Saturday Night Live sketch – and Lorne Michaels is an executive producer here – as does a song about reproduction.
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The parodic elements are not mean-spirited and there’s nothing wrong with pointing out the puritanical morality that serves as the foundation of many of those classics, embodied by Chenoweth’s character, the stern busybody who ensures an unmarried couple such as Melissa and Josh are not allowed to rent only one room.
But the seesaw from homage to parody and back again can be tonal whiplash. The series can do sentiment and it can do tongue-in-cheek, but it struggles to bridge the two.
Still, Barry Sonnenfeld’s experience in helming other dreamlike and occasionally treacly TV shows including A Series Of Unfortunate Events and Pushing Daisies means the series hums along nicely, for the most part.
And it’s hard to resist the pageantry and extravagance when it has this much shine and pep.
Schmigadoon is on Apple TV+ from Friday, July 16
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