Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong in “Schmigadoon!,” premiering April 5, 2023 on Apple TV+.
Season one of Schmigadoon! felt like the perfect example of a one-and-done show. After all, didn’t Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) get their happily ever after? Well, as it turns out, there’s a lot more to the story than happily ever after. What happens after you get everything that you thought you wanted, and it turns out that it wasn’t what you wanted after all? That’s the premise at the heart of season two of Schmigadoon!. An exploration of the seedier, more complex musicals of the 1960s and 1970s, season two of Schimgadoon offers something old and something new all at the same time. It delivers a story that’s both a loving satire and a glorious homage, packed with catchy songs and memorable characters. However, this return trip to Schmigadoon! feels like it’s missing just a bit of the magic that made season one so special.
A Welcome Return, With a Delightful Twist
Two years after leaving Schmigadoon, things aren’t going the way Melissa and Josh dreamed. While happily married, their lives feel like one disappointment after another. And so, they decide to pay a return visit to Schmigadoon, hoping to experience a taste of that joy once again. The only problem is that Schmigadoon isn’t a place you can visit twice. Instead of arriving in a Technicolor homage to the Golden Age of musical theatre, Melissa and Josh end up in Schmicago – a seedy send-up of the darker, more abstract musicals of the 1960s and 70s. Here, crime waits around every corner. Everyone is sexier, more risqué, and definitely up to something untoward. The couple once again finds themselves trapped in this musical world, unable to escape until they find a happy ending. A feat that might prove problematic in such a tragic world.
Put simply, if you liked season one of Schmigadoon!, then you’re gonna like season two. It follows a very similar trajectory, with Melissa and Josh once again being forced to learn some kind of lesson before escaping this strange, musical town. But this time, that lesson is far less obvious. So, instead of feeling like a complete rehash of the first season, season two feels like a reflection of the musicals it’s paying homage to. Take a bit of Hair, a healthy helping of Cabaret, a smattering of Chicago, and just a pinch of Sweeney Todd, and you’ve got the basis of Schmicago. Exactly how all of those influences slide together is a surprise best left unspoiled. But needless to say, season two of Schmigadoon! is every bit as wild and campy as the first season was – in the best way possible.
A Love Letter to the Musicals of the 1960s and 1970s
If you’re a fan of Kander and Ebb, Stephen Schwartz, or early Sondheim musicals, you’re gonna have an absolute blast with this season of Schmigadoon!. Reflecting the source material’s darker subject matter, this season feels a lot more dangerous than the previous one. Gone are the happy-go-lucky townsfolk with their trivial problems. In their places are greedy businessmen, morally gray lawyers, butchers with a dark past, traumatized club singers, hippy communes, and more. A colorful cast, all miserable in one way or another. But is their misery of their own making, or of society at-large’s? And is there even a happy ending to find in a world like this? It’s an era of musical theatre that’s defined by its complexity, and Cinco Paul and the rest of the writers do an excellent job playing around with that complexity.
While season one of Schmigadoon! couldn’t decide whether it wanted to satirize or pay homage to its source material, this season feels far more like an outright satire. By nature of still wanting to be a family-friendly show, Schmigadoon! simply can’t get as dark as Cabaret or Sweeney Todd can. So, instead, the show lampoons that darkness. It finds the humor within the tragedy and cranks it up to eleven. For fans of these musicals, that loving mockery only makes the show more enjoyable. The narrative borrows heavily from the musicals in question, twisting their plots into something new. And the music borrows even heavier, outright parodying songs far more frequently than season one did. It’s that sense of fun that’s most infectious about this season. The story doesn’t necessarily offer anything particularly original, but the execution is just so fun that you won’t really care.
A Joyous Ride…
Much of that enjoyment comes from how good the music is and from seeing just how much fun the cast’s having. Musically, Paul once again captures the essence of the musicals he’s lampooning. While I’m not sure this season has another “Corn Puddin’,” or its equivalent, all of the songs are uniformly excellent – especially if you’re familiar with these musicals. For me, particular standouts are the Jesus Christ Superstar, Sweeney Todd, and Pippin references. But honestly, there’s not a bad song in the bunch. The entire score is filled with one earworm after another, and you’ll be humming these songs long after each episode ends.
As for the cast, season two sees the debut of Titus Burgess and Patrick Page as well as the return of almost everyone from season one. The entire cast does an excellent job, as you might expect. And many of them even get to play parts you might not expect them to. Universally, everyone is good. Page and Burgess make excellent additions to the cast, with Burgess shining particularly brightly as a narrator of sorts. As for the returning cast, Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong get a lot more scenes together, and their chemistry is on full display. But it’s Alan Cumming and Dove Cameron who easily steal the bulk of their scenes. That being said, this is an undeniably strong cast, all delivering stellar performances, and the show’s worth watching just to see them all having such a great time.
…That’s Missing a Bit of the Magic
That being said, a feeling of “been there, done that” certainly pervades the season. To be fair, the show does its best to avoid feeling like a rehash of the first season. And it does largely succeed. But it still can’t quite shake that feeling of repetitiveness, that lack of originality. Part of the fun of season one was that you were never sure how the show was going to approach the musicals it was lampooning. But with season two, you know the formula now. And, unfortunately, the writers don’t really deviate from that formula. Arguably, they don’t need to deviate from it either. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? But it’s hard to argue that the show’s lost a little bit of its spark. It just doesn’t feel quite as fresh this time around, largely because the overarching narrative follows the same path as season one’s.
It’s not enough to change the setting and recast the residents of Schmigadoon/Schmicago. If the overarching storyline is basically the same, then the show’s gonna feel repetitive no matter how hard you try to differentiate it. Much of this is by nature, to be fair. After all, Melissa and Josh are quite literally trying to relive the glories of the show’s first season. That being said, I’m not sure the writers do enough to differentiate this season for the first. It’s one thing for the characters to be trying to repeat the past, but it’s another thing for the show to do so too. I think if there’s a third season of Schmigadoon!, the writers need to find a different way of telling the story. Whether it’s with new lead characters or a new way of merging the “musical world” with the “real world”.
Overall, season two of Schmigadoon! is every bit as enjoyable as the first. Sure, some of that initial spark’s definitely worn off. But if you’re a fan of the musicals being lampooned this season, it’s very easy to look past that. Underneath the familiarity lies a show that’s a delight from start to finish. The pacing isn’t amazing, with some of the middle episodes sagging underneath a plot that’s been stretched a bit too thin. But the jokes come quickly, the music’s catchy, and the characters are just so lovable. If you’re a fan of musicals, or if you loved the first season, then season two of Schmigadoon! is an absolute must-watch.
Season two of Schmigadoon! premieres April 5th on Apple TV+, with new episodes debuting weekly.
Season two of "Schmigadoon" offers a loving, hilarious homage to the musicals of the 1960s and 1970s. While the plot drags a bit in the middle episodes, the season as a whole is a joy to watch, filled with catchy music and excellent performances. A must-watch for any and all Broadway lovers.
Part-time writer, part-time theatre nerd, full-time dork.