AppleTV+’s musical comedy leaps into more complex musical pastiches with mixed results.
As Melissa (Cicely Strong) explicitly points out, the musicals that inspired the first season of Schmigadoon! were all of a relatively similar happy-go-lucky and “they all lived happily ever after” cloth. Her attempt to return to that mystical world with her now husband Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) in Schmigadoon! Season 2 takes them instead to Schmicago. It is another mythic town that mirrors musicals, but this time out, it’s the shows of the 60s and 70s. The Broadway shows of that era were darker, more complex, more violent, and far less likely to deliver a happy ending. That, paired with their motivation to flee the drudgery of day-to-day life and the heartbreak of infertility, means escaping will take something far more challenging to find than “love.”
The series loses some of season one’s sparkly-eyed wonder with the arrival of that complexity. That inaugural effort was akin to cotton candy wrapped around a denser sweet treat at its center. Yes, in the end, it had some thoughtful ideas about the nature of building a life with someone. However, most of the time, it was perfectly happy to sing a fun song, engage in some sly PG-13 ribaldry, and kick up its heels. It was a season predominantly about facing yourself and growing as a result. Season 2 eventually arrives at a similar destination, but the challenges are more often external.
For example, the closest Season 1 comes to a villain is Kristin Chenoweth’s town busybody and scold Mildred Layton. She wasn’t a good person, to be sure, but her brand of evil was the kind that a strong lesson about human decency could fix. In Schmigadoon! Season 2, Josh and Melissa instead have Octavius Kratt (Patrick Page), the electric and entertainment magnate, to contend with. He’s a man who will happily kill a showgirl, frame somebody new to town, and steal that person’s spouse while the innocent man gets the chair. He’s unlikely to respond to a lesson, no matter how on-key.
Schmigadoon! Season 2 is…not as fun or (sweetly) sexy as the inaugural season. Instead, it is messier, darker, and more cynical.
Additionally, you have the Narrator (Tituss Burgess), a Leading Player in Pippin type figure who seems to enjoy making life worse for our protagonists. He’s not as “evil” as Kratt but far more effective. Finally, there’s Dooley Flint (Alan Cummings) and Miss Coldwell (Chenoweth), who threaten to go Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett at any moment. That’s a change from one bossy antagonist to three homicidal villains and a manipulative narrating mastermind. It’s a big leap.
It also lends to Schmigadoon! Season 2 feeling overstuffed. In addition to Pippin and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the series references Chicago, Godspell, Cabaret, Annie, and Hair. (Also, while it is the wrong era, there’s quite a bit of Urinetown’s Caldwell B. Cladwell to Kratt.) The fact that it works at all is a wonder. However, with that many elements in the stew, it frequently feels too big for its six episodes. The pacing doesn’t help, either. Episodes three and four are plenty entertaining but don’t do much to move the story. By episode six, it feels like the series is in a footrace with itself to bring all its threads together and deliver Melissa and Josh back to the real world.
Where it ends, though, is an arguably thornier and more rewarding take on love. Much like (the currently oft-misunderstood) “In another life, I would’ve really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you,” from Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, Schmigadoon! Season 2 finds its “happy” ending in the acceptance that love isn’t all highs. It can’t be. Love also comes in the spaces between; the moments spent folding laundry together after you’ve given your 20th sonogram this week. Or during the most painful disappointments, the hug after another negative pregnancy test. It isn’t the fun or sexy side of romance, but it is just as, if not more, necessary.
As a result, Schmigadoon! Season 2 is similarly not as fun or (sweetly) sexy as the inaugural season. Instead, it is messier, darker, and more cynical. The idea of Melissa being seduced by fame and Josh by blind adoration is tricky. But it helps them—and the audience—get to something bigger and more honest. They both just wanted to feel heard, feel like they matter. It isn’t fans or disciples they seek. It’s just that day after day, blending into the scenery of other people’s lives takes its toll. They need to remember that, to each other, they remain the stars.
It may not prove as satisfying a landing, but there’s no denying its ambition.
Of course, without the right people behind the camera or on-screen, the whole thing could still feel like unpleasant drudgery. Thankfully, most of the returning players are even better this timeout. Dove Cameron as a dancer, Jenny Banks, and Jane Krakowski as the gender-swapped Billy Flynn, Bobbie Flanagan, especially, get juicier roles that run circles around their season 1 incarnations. Burgess is excellent, slipping in and out of scenes with a nihilistic charisma. Finally, Page is game for the joke, making Kratt a delightful parody by lending the character his signature growl with unblinking sincerity.
In the final tally, season 1 may be a lighter, more fun ride from start to finish. However, Schmigadoon! Season 2’s degree of difficulty is far higher. It may not prove as satisfying a landing, but there’s no denying its ambition.
Schmigadoon! Season 2 gets sucked into a life of crime April 5 on AppleTV+.