First look Apple TV+ review: Schmigadoon!
Sophie Davies | On 25, Jul 2021
“You know how much I hate musicals. People don’t just burst into song in real life.” If you’re in agreement with Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) in Schmigadoon!, you might be tempted to turn back now.
The Apple TV+ series stars Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key as a bickering couple who stumble upon a magical, musical town and can’t leave until they’ve found “true love”. A few years since they had a meet-cute by a hospital vending machine, doctors Melissa and Josh aren’t seeing eye to eye. He thinks everything is “fine”, but Melissa wants more than that, so she signs them up for a retreat in an attempt to salvage their relationship. She’s hoping the Sacred Heart Love Trail will fulfil its promise of helping couples “disconnect from the world and reconnect with each other”, but it isn’t long before it’s raining, they’re lost, and Josh has misplaced the heart-shaped rock he’s supposed to be keeping safe throughout the trip.
It’s at this point, mid-argument, that they become more disconnected from the world than they’d bargained for, suddenly finding themselves in Schmigadoon – a quaint, old-fashioned, pastel-coloured town where “life is a musical every day”. Specifically, a golden-age musical like Oklahoma, Carousel or (as the name suggests) Brigadoon, and the town is populated with characters who wouldn’t be out of place in such stories.
To begin with, Melissa and Josh assume it’s all a staged tourist attraction, like “Colonial Williamsburg”, and she is a lot more on board with the musical numbers and the people interacting with them than he is. According to him, “it’s like if The Walking Dead was also Glee”. However, when it emerges that they’re unable to leave and a leprechaun (Martin Short) has told them the rules of Schmigadoon, the reality of the situation hits them. And if only true love will let them return to the real world, does this mean they aren’t meant to be together?
Although the opening episode does a good job of setting up the world, Schmigadoon! becomes significantly more enjoyable in Episode 2, when Melissa and Josh decide to break up and try finding love elsewhere. This is largely because it proves more entertaining to watch the central couple interacting with other characters than with each other – something that could be a problem if the series’ plan is for them to ultimately get back together.
Josh’s head is turned by pretty waitress and farmer’s daughter Betsy (Dove Cameron), while Melissa is seduced by local “rapscallion” Danny Bailey (Aaron Tveit). Working at the town carnival and sporting some very high-waisted trousers, Danny is clearly modelled after Carousel’s resident bad boy, Billy Bigelow. Following in the footsteps of many musical heartthrobs, he gets a song about how he’ll never settle down… but if any woman could tame him, it would perhaps be someone like “Miss Melissa”. Cue dance break.
Schmigadoon! becomes increasingly fun as our protagonists throw themselves into their new surroundings – including participating in an Oklahoma!-esque picnic basket auction. Melissa gets drunk and manages to call out the event as “horny sickos bidding on women like pieces of meat” while simultaneously pleading for someone to buy her, in desperate need of a rebound. Meanwhile, after successfully bidding on Betsy’s basket, Josh begins to worry she might be too young for him. The look on his face is priceless when he sees a tree that Betsy claims was planted the day she was born, and it obviously isn’t as big as he was hoping it would be.
The show manages to strike a healthy balance between paying tribute to golden-age musicals and making fun of the aspects of them that haven’t aged well. For example, as we’re introduced to the town with a jaunty musical number, we’re told that Schmigadoon is a place where “a man can dream dreams so big and wide, and gal can be there right by his side”, while a local schoolteacher is judgementally described as “still unmarried at 28”. Afterwards, frowning busybody Mildred (Kristen Chenoweth, consistently stealing scenes), who’s married to the town’s meek reverend (Fred Armisen), takes one look at Melissa and Josh and dubs them “exotic”. Later, Josh becomes a sought-after bachelor, with giggling girls swooning over the fact that he’s a doctor, whereas Melissa (also very much a doctor) is eyed with suspicion.
Unlike certain movie musicals in recent years, Schmigadoon! boasts a cast made up of Broadway veterans, including Tveit, Chenoweth and Alan Cumming as the town mayor, with Jane Krakowski also set to appear as a wealthy countess. Giving the show even more appeal for hardcore musical fans is the fact that co-creators Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (who have previously written animated movies such as Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets) have an obvious love for the genre, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to niche references and playful parody. With just six episodes altogether, it seems unlikely that the series will outstay its welcome, so here’s hoping its charm and commitment never let up.
Schmigadoon! is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.