Friday, July 16, 2021

Schmigadoon! On Apple TV+

The last few years have been an up-and-down roller coaster for the book musical genre in Hollywood. Just when it gets some momentum from successes like Greatest Showman, Hamilton, and La La Land, something like Cats happens or a potential hit like In the Heights gets perversely savaged by the woke cancellers. Maybe this series will help. If you want to fully appreciate the jokes, you should have some familiarity with the vintage 1940s and 1950s Broadway musicals and movie adaptations it satirizes. When quarreling backpackers Melissa Gimble and Josh Skinner stumble into a magical early-20th Century Middle American town, they learn they can’t leave until they find true love. Things consequently get awkward when find themselves trapped there in writer-creators Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul’s Schmigadoon!, which starts streaming today on Apple TV.

For a few years, Skinner and Gimble were really good together. They are both doctors and generally share a similar sense of humor. However, their personality differences have recently started to become more pronounced. To save their relationship, Skinner reluctantly agreed to accompany Gimble on a couples’ getaway hike—and they sure got away.

When they take refuge from a flash storm in quaint-looking Schmigadoon, they assume it is some sort of musical-themed tourist attraction (which Skinner instantly detests), but a leprechaun (briefly played once by Martin Short, who still gets prominent billing throughout all episodes) sings them the truth. Nobody can leave Schmigadoon until they find their true love. When they can’t depart together, they start considering plan B’s.

Clearly, Dauno & Paul know their musicals. The title and magical setting are obviously inspired by
Brigadoon, but the opening flag-waver kind of brilliantly channels the title song of Oklahoma. You can also hear eventually clear echoes of The Music Man, Carousel, and a clinically frank re-write of “Do-Re-Mi” from the Sound of Music.

The writing tandem does a nice job poking good-natured fun at the traditional conventions of vintage musicals. Usually, they rather deftly note the dated nature of such stock characters, without judgmental rancor. The unfortunate exception is Mildred Layton, the town’s moral crusader, intended as a critique of intolerance, who actually represents intolerance towards Christian Evangelicals. At least
Wicked’s Kristin Chenoweth certainly can sing in the role.

More importantly, Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key have amusing hot-and-cold Tracy-and-Hepburnesque chemistry as Gimble and Skinner. They get a lot of laughs without wearing out their welcome. Alan Cumming is refreshingly understated as closeted Mayor Aloysius Menlove (for some of us, his name also brings to mind
Plan 9 co-star Dudley Manlove). Aaron Tveit probably gets the best vocal showcases as carny bad boy Danny Bailey, but Hamilton alumnus Ariana DuBose also shines in at least one number as “schoolmarm” Emma Tate.

You also have to give the chorus serious credit for singing and dancing their way through some goofy songs, especially since Christopher Gattelli’s choreography is totally legit. The art and design team also did a terrific job recreating the look of old school Technicolor studio backlot shoots. Barry Sonnenfeld (of
Men in Black and Get Shorty fame) helmed all six episodes, which helped maintain a consistency of tone. Even when the jokes misfire, he keeps the energy revving.

Frankly, six episodes is probably about right for a project like this. It gave Dauno & Paul enough time and space to pay homage to numerous classic musicals, without letting the joke grow stale (it is hard to imagine tuning in for an episode 18). You do not absolutely have to be a fan of book musicals to enjoy the series, but honestly, it helps (and if you don’t know Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe, then you’re missing out). Recommended for fans of musical comedy,
Schmigadoon! starts streaming today (7/16) on Apple TV.