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Apple TV+'s Schmigadoon! Takes on Schmicago! in Snazzy Second Season

The greatest success of Apple TV+’s “Schmigadoon!”, aside from getting a second season and winning an Emmy, was how it beat skepticism. Turns out, yes it is possible to make a cultish musical theater world welcoming and funny, especially when your audience surrogates are as baffled as anyone else would initially be and probably just as annoyed. Created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, the series paid tribute to classics like The Music Man, Brigadoon, Oklahoma!, and more with its original songs as it trapped our outsider wanderers Josh and Melissa in a smiley, theater kid Disneyland. The series’ chops overcame worries about this premise being too cute—it’s darn clever across the board, with a roster of Broadway talents who would overflow a marquee. 

Returning for another adventure, the charm of “Schmigadoon!” shows little signs of fatigue and can be just as entertaining in a unique way: its hard-labored song and dance sequences are easy to love. In an abbreviated introduction, Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) and Melissa (Cecily Strong) become unhappy in the real world again and face some challenges in starting a family. Looking for an easy escape, they pack up their bags and head into the woods, looking for the quaint comforts of Schmigadoon. But they don’t get the sunnier world inspired by Brigadoon, but a grayer one, Schmicago, which is overflowing with this sinful force of nature called “jazz.” One of the first musical numbers that Josh and Melissa witness is a season-best, a laugh-out-loud riff on stuff that is “scandalous” in this time period and absolutely shouldn’t be in modern times (gasp, bisexuality!) 

Like last season, Josh and Melissa aren’t allowed to leave this new musical theater landscape until they’ve created a happy ending, although they’re not sure what that means. (A mysterious character, played again by Martin Short, doesn’t tell them.) But the two are quickly flung into a playful course of events with the locals. In a seedy nightclub, they come across the likes of dancer Jenny (Dove Cameron), bar head Madam Frau (Ann Harada), the corrupt Sergeant Rivera (Jamie Camil), and the town villain Octavius Kratt (Patrick Page). On different streets of Schmicago, they encounter stone-faced butcher Dooley (Alan Cumming) and the orphan-hating Mildred (Kristin Chenoweth). Naturally, the plotting of “Schmigadoon!” also involves a hippie commune run by Danny (Aaron Tveit) and a hotshot lawyer played by Jane Krakowski. 

This snazzy season offers a new mish-mash of musicals as if trying to play across different audience favorites: there’s a bit of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Hair, Dreamgirls, Cabaret, and of course, Chicago. The series has a good deal of fun going back and forth between this unlikely lineup, and it makes me wonder how bracing it would be to put them all together and hit shuffle. But “Schmigadoon!” is well aware that audiences aren’t here for a cohesive world but an expansive and familiar one. And the emphasis on a throughline of sex, murder, and sultry numbers provides a bizarre dynamic for the plotting—wait until you see how episodes zip between colorful hippy peacefulness to a deathly gray subplot about cannibalism. The emotional stakes aren’t as deep as last season for Josh and Melissa or anyone, but the writing is usually quick on its feet. 

“Schmigadoon!”, or “Schmicago!” as it is then branded in the opening credits, is also a return for those who made the series so charismatic. Key and Strong are the true core of the series, and their chemistry feels even more natural this second season. And it's also about the joy of the returning supporting cast, watching performers like Cameron, Camil, Chenoweth, DeBose, and Harada take on different characters while allowing their gifts in acting, dancing, and singing to fill out the spectacle. The talent becomes a special gift with the show, and their excitement becomes infectious. And the series introduces Tituss Burgess as an omniscient narrator, a role that he seems to relish with each joke about breaking the fourth wall or moment in which he shows off how well he can sing, too.  

With the help of so many triple threats, "Schmigadoon!" flourishes with its “let’s put on a show” mentality, which can lead to some great musical numbers—Jane Krakowksi, Ariana DeBose, Kristin Chenoweth, and Cecily Strong have standout performances and also get some of the funniest lyrics. However, it becomes clear which sequences were imagined with more pizazz, as some numbers are visually flat, with only inserted wide shots of excellent choreography to break up stage-locked monotony. There are some points in which the Emmy-winning series looks like it cut back on the budget, though some of its bare stagings might be part of the point. 

But that’s not an overriding problem with this show, which solidifies its formula in this second season to the beat of more catchy songs by Cinco Paul (a striking chord change here, a burst of vocal harmony there). Here is a series that could run for many more Broadway mix tapes, because it honors tradition: watching "Schmigadoon!" feels just as good as when one discovers a more-than-noteworthy new musical, including a set of songs to get lost in. 

All of season two was screened for review. The first two episodes of "Schmigadoon!" season two are now playing on Apple TV+. 

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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