It’s hard to convince skeptics that a musical comedy like ‘Schmigadoon!’ is magnificent entertainment, and not only for fans of the genre. But we’re going to try. On Friday, 16th July, Apple TV+ premiered this fantasy about a New York couple who, after several years together, embark on a backpacking trip to try to regain the spark in their relationship. After deciding to take the road less travelled, they come across the town of the title, a magical place where the inhabitants literally all live in a 1940’s Hollywood musical, the industry’s golden age. Well, for no apparent reason they break into a song and dance leaving our protagonists to believe it must be some sort of tourist attraction for the folks.
After the initial surprise, Josh (Keegan-Michael Key, ‘Key & Peele’) and Melissa (Cecily Strong, ‘Saturday Night Live’) decide to make the return journey home, only to discover that they’re trapped and that they will not be able to leave until they find true love. But if each one is not the other’s better half, then how in the name of God can they escape from this place?
Between the homage and satire of classic musicals, ‘Schmigadoon!’ strikes a complicated balance between the ridiculous and the sublime. As such, it addresses all the topics of the genre, such as the ode to courtship, with our partner falling in love in the first minutes of footage. But it also caricatures and deconstructs the genre by displaying a less well-known side: the wear and tear on the relationship, each one’s different expectations and their own contradictions.
Trying to flee, both Josh and Melissa will set their sights on the townsfolk of ‘Schmigadoon!’, creating a tangled web of tangles. And of course, he’s the first to allow himself to be loved by the town’s stunning blonde. In fact, he’s eerily comfortable with classic gender roles and they have no problem bidding to share a snack with her. Exactly, women are auctioned as if they were cattle, as Melissa claims. But if her boyfriend thinks he can do what he likes, then she can also flirt with the rogue of Schmigadoon, who already in episode one dedicates a hilarious theme to her about the impossibility of catching a man like him while, chorus by chorus, he begins to fix her in his sights.
When it comes to the musical aspect of the movie, the comedy features something for everybody, from the welcome theme, where the entire town, complete with the mayor, the parish priest, his uptight wife and their mischievous children, all perform to an absurd, self-conscious tune dedicated to the local corn pudding, which apparently, is fantastic. The impressive roster of supporting actors includes names like Alan Cumming (‘The Good Wife’), Kristin Chenoweth (‘Raising Mallow’), Aaron Tveit (‘Gossip Girl’), Dove Cameron (‘The Descendants’), Ariana DeBose (‘The Prom’), Fred Armisen (‘Portlandia’), Jaime Camil (Jane the Virgin), Jane Krakowski (‘Ally McBeal’) and Ann Harada (‘Smash’), with a very special appearance by Martin Short (‘Damages’).
Without getting into spoilers, the crack begin to appear in the apparent perfection of ‘Schmigadoon!’ episode by episode as the townsfolk sing to their hearts desire. And above all, they confess how they feel constrained by the impossibility of living as would truly like to. Josh and Melissa also chip in when it comes to the songs, although in their case, it’s ironic, a way to point out how strange, old-fashioned and incredible the situations they witness are, with misogyny and racism included.
After the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus in the last year and a half, ‘Schmigadoon!’ is an excellent opportunity to enjoy a musical in all its splendor from the comfort of the sofa, rethink the many stereotypes associated with them, and laugh out loud at its conventions.
Produced by Lorne Michaels, television demigod responsible for ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘30 Rock’, through his Broadway Video company, along with Universal Television, ‘Schmigadoon!’ is the brainchild of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (‘Despicable Me, Gru’, ‘Lorax: Raiders of the Lost Trupula’). Paul is also the showrunner and the author of all the original songs. The protagonist, Cecily Strong, is also a producer and the scenery and sets in this idyllic town are the work of Bo Welch, Tim Burton’s collaborator on titles like ‘Edward Scissorhands’. The six-episode series premiered with the first two chapters and every Friday Apple TV+ broadcasts a new one.