Apple TV+ review: Apple gets musical with often-delightful 'Schmigadoon!'

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The new Apple TV+ miniseries stars Keegan-Michael Key, Cecily Strong, and a cavalcade of Broadway veterans. While entertaining, it will likely appeal to the theater crowd only.

With many of its original shows, Apple TV+ is going for mass appeal. That's part of what got it 34 Emmy nominations, 20 of which were for Ted Lasso.

Its latest new show, Schmigadoon!, is not that. It's very targeted entertainment, geared towards those who know and love Broadway and movie musicals, specifically the ones of the mid-20th century. If you're somebody who does, you're going to find a lot to love in Schmigadoon! If you're not, you may well find yourself totally lost.

To a mythical town

Ensemble cast in
Ensemble cast in "Schmigadoon!" premiering July 16, 2021 on Apple TV+.

Schmigadoon! is a six-part limited series, in which each episode is about 30 minutes; the first two episodes debut July 16, with one a week to follow. I've seen all six episodes. I enjoyed it, but it's one of those shows where you're either going to be on its specific wavelength, or you're not.

The series, created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, is an elaborate homage to the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and Meredith Wilson. Essentially, it's the type of musical fare that dominated Broadway before Stephen Sondheim came along. Individual songs ape specific numbers from Oklahoma, The Music Man, and other musicals. The numbers thread the tricky needle of paying homage to decades-old entertainment, while occasionally mocking it for retrograde sentiments of the past.

Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong star as Josh and Melissa, a couple from modern-day New York City. Stuck in a relationship rut, the two one day stumble into a town called Schmigadoon, in which everyone is costumed as if they're living in a midcentury musical. The name refers to Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon, a musical about a special town that emerges from nowhere. If you knew that, this show is most certainly for you.

The conceit is that neither of them can leave the town until they have found true love, whether it's with one another or with someone else. Their relationship soon collapses under the weight of their predicament — and because she loves musicals, while he hates them — with each getting multiple possible alternate love interests.

A clash in styles

Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key in
Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key in "Schmigadoon!" premiering July 16, 2021 on Apple TV+.

The two lead actors are both comedy performers primarily, with Key having co-starred on Key and Peele, the Netflix show Friends From College and a few movies, while Strong has spent the last decade-plus as a Saturday Night Live cast member. Both can sing passably, although not quite at the level of the Broadway stalwarts opposite them.

Indeed, the bulk of the supporting cast consists of accomplished stage veterans, like Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Anna Harada, and Ariana DeBose. Also on board in small parts are Martin Short (previously seen on the Apple TV+ show The Morning Show) and Jane Krakowski (also of Dickinson.) Fred Armisen, a fellow SNL veteran, also appears as the town priest.

While Key is a likable performer, his character is somewhat underwritten; we don't learn much about him except that he fears commitment and hates musicals. One big weakness of the show is that we're asked to root for the success of this couple, and their chemistry doesn't do quite enough to sell that.

As for Strong, she's much more of a presence and is clearly having a great time. She's one of those performers who's stayed on SNL for nearly a decade, rather than depart for a movie or TV career, and this performance shows her potential beyond the confines of 30 Rock. There is one scene in the second episode where she plays drunk, and it recalls her old "The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation With at a Party" character and her more recent Jeanine Pirro impression.

Ariana DeBose, who played a small part in Hamilton is a highlight of the supporting cast, as a "schoolmarm" who seems mostly inspired by Marian the Librarian from The Music Man, as is Cumming, playing a town mayor who's finding it very difficult to hind that he's gay.

The show's songs, which were written by co-creator Cinco Paul, are mostly very good, if not the most sophisticated compositions. "Suddenly," which can be called the show's love theme, is the strongest of them, appearing near the end of the fourth episode.

While they successfully juggle paying tribute to the source material and being their own thing, the songs aren't quite as wickedly subversive as those of Rachel Bloom's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which also frequently played with age-old Broadway tropes.

Short and sweet

Aaron Tveit and Cecily Strong in
Aaron Tveit and Cecily Strong in "Schmigadoon!" premiering July 16, 2021 on Apple TV+.

The success of Hamilton last year showed that there's a large appetite for musicals on streaming services, so it was probably only a matter of time before Apple took that type of dive itself.

Considering that it's only six episodes and that they're each so short, Schmigadoon! probably could have worked as a movie and not a TV show, and it's probably best fit for continuous binge-watching of any Apple TV+ show. While its central couple isn't the most convincing, Schmigadoon! offers fine world-building, hummable songs, and a likable and talented cast.

If you're not a fan of musicals, this show almost certainly isn't going to be for you. But if you're are, it probably will be.

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