Welcome to Schmigadoon, “where the men are men, and the cows are cows,” a magical musical land where Melissa and Josh (Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key) find themselves stranded during a trip meant to rehabilitate their romance. At first they think it’s like Colonial Williamsburg, or a warped Disney experience, but they quickly buy into their new reality: They’re trapped in this wholesome, old-timey parallel universe until they learn the lessons about true love it is meant to impart.
Melissa is into it. She likes musicals, and she’s thrilled to discover that when she joins in on one of the townsfolk’s numbers, she instinctively knows what to sing. Josh is not into it. He dislikes musicals, and he refuses to sing along. She wants to be in love, get married and win every argument. He wants her to accept that love is flawed and marriage is whatever, and he also wants to win every argument.
I won’t say that there are only two types of people when it comes to musicals, but for our purposes: The Joshes of the world are unlikely ever to warm to “Schmigadoon!” To my fellow Melissas: Dust off your character shoes. Our time is now.
“Schmigadoon!,” which debuts on Apple TV+ Friday, was created by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, the team behind the “Despicable Me” franchise; Paul also wrote all the songs. The show’s most obvious references are “Brigadoon,” “Carousel” and “Oklahoma!” But there is also plenty of “Annie Get Your Gun” in there, as well as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “The Music Man,” “The Sound of Music,” “South Pacific” and “The King and I.” Individual numbers have nods to dozens of other musicals. Some are direct parodies of specific songs — Melissa explains human reproduction in medical detail in a spoof of “Do-Re-Mi” — and others send up the genre in general.
The residents of Schmigadoon are also walking parodies. Kristin Chenoweth is the town grouch and main villain, a dark lipstick nightmare who turns to her fellow tut-tutters and asks, “Ladies, can I get a cackle?” Alan Cumming is her husband and the closeted mayor. Jaime Camil is the sultry, judgmental doctor, Aaron Tveit is the hunky bad boy in “Carousel” cable knit, and Ariana DeBose is the enchanting school marm. Tveit and DeBose are particularly electric, and when they are singing — or even better, singing and dancing — it’s impossible not to root for them. Everyone, go forth and win the hearts of our miserable normies.
“Schmigadoon!” has its moments of good honest fun, but it is more inclined toward ironic and satirical fun — it’s in on its own joke and routinely mocks its own corniness. (There’s even a song called “Corn Puddin’,” which, like all the other songs on the show, is pretty darn good.) The vibe works, particularly the jabs at classic musicals’ rigid sexism. The show’s credited writers, Bowen Yang, Julie Klausner, Allison Silverman and Kate Gersten, are best known for their work in sketch comedy and sitcoms, so unsurprisingly the punch lines are clever and often acidic. But it does sometimes feel as if “Schmigadoon!” had only one real joke: Musicals, especially those of the ’40s and ’50s, are similar to one another, and cheesy.
We love these musicals not in spite of those qualities but because of them, and “Schmigadoon!” embodies why whimsy can be so appealing. The more the series focuses on Melissa and Josh’s conflicts, particularly on Josh’s sour avoidance, the more one longs for goofy elation and purposeless giggling. Sure, the town is prim and smothering, but wouldn’t you rather dance your troubles away than return to that pile of tedious self-help books about how to save a lukewarm relationship?
Naïveté can be a vice, but so can obstinance. Is falling in love over a trumpet really dumber than any other way people fall in love? Isn’t it good to sing what you can’t say, especially when you can’t seem to say much at all?
“Nobody likes a dream ballet,” Melissa declares near the end of the season, a line that thrilled me because I indeed was softly dreading what seemed to be the onset of exactly such a moment. Dream ballets are not my favorite anyway, but “Schmigadoon!” would have collapsed under the weight of one because for all its abundant joys and glories, it isn’t built like a two-act musical. It’s built as a six-episode TV show. So it can’t generate momentum in the same ways, can’t breathe in and out, can’t orient itself toward an 11 o’clock number. Hooray for an overture, but if you binge the show, you hear that overture six times, at which point it’s just a theme song. (Apple TV+ is releasing the first two episodes together, and the following four episodes weekly after that.)
This adds up to a slight but persistent sense of not-quite-rightness, echoing Melissa’s and Josh’s feelings of being in the wrong story. It’s a show whose own protagonist complains, “It’s like if ‘The Walking Dead’ was also ‘Glee.’” (I think it’s more like “Smash” or “Gallivant,” because its songs are all original, but I doubt Josh would know what “Smash” or “Gallivant” are.)
At times, “Schmigadoon!” can feel like a “Simpsons” parody that outgrew its segment, or a classic movie butchered in order to insert commercial breaks. Luckily, it’s also too fun for most of that to matter.