‘Schmigadoon’ should warm the hearts of Emmy voters

Apple TV +’s “Schmigadoon” is the musical equivalent to a warm, happy smile. The six-part limited series that premiered on the streaming service last July is a smart, clever and fun parody of the classic musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. It was a golden era of the Broadway musical dominated by such influential, eminent composers as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Alan Jay Lerner Lerner & Frederick Loewe, Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II, Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim, Meredith Willson, and Richard Adler & Jerry Ross.

Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key star as two doctors who have grown tired in their relationship and decide to get on a camping retreat. Before you can say “Brigadoon” they get lost in the woods only to cross a bridge into a Hallmark Card of a town where every day is a musical.  But checking out of Schmigadoon is no easy task. They can’t leave until they find their true love.

Besides Strong from “Saturday Night Live” and Key, the series is populated with some of the best and brightest of Broadway including Tony winners Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Jane Krakowski and Aaron Tveit plus Tony nominee and recent Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose. And let’s not forgot Tony Award-winning Martin Short, who sets the playful tone as a leprechaun explaining the rules of Schmigadoon.

Created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, the musical references countless classic musicals including “Oklahoma!,” “Brigadoon,” “The Music Man,” The Sound of Music” and “Carousel.” Barry Sonnenfeld strikes the right note with the actors as well as the visual impact. It definitely has that otherworldly, fanciful feel of his 2007-2007 ABC series “Pushing Daisies.” And Tony-winning Christopher Gattelli’s energetic choreography is in step with Sonnenfeld’s vision.

Original musicals are nothing new for television. Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn wrote a musical version Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” in 1955 starring Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint and Frank Sinatra which introduced the standard “Love and Marriage.” Two years later, Rodgers & Hammerstein penned the beloved “Cinderella” starring a young Julie Andrews.

But musical television series have generally hit sour notes with viewers and critics.

Robert Morse and E.J. Peaker starred in the ABC’s 1968-69 ABC “That’s Life,” an Emmy nominated hour-long comedy-variety series that weekly charted the ups and downs in the life of young couple as a Broadway musical. The show was filmed before a live audience and featured new songs, standards and even the top hits of the day including Friends & Lovers “Reach out of the Darkness.”  Remember that one? Tony Mordente was the choreographer and guests included Liza Minnelli, Leslie Uggams and the kitschy easy-listening group the Doodletown Pipers. Though reviews were good, the series never caught on with audiences. Morse, who loved the series, thought it was ahead of its time.

And perhaps that was the case with Steven Bochco‘s 1990 ABC musical police procedural drama “Cop Rock”-think of it as “Hill Street Singing the Blues.” Though most critics were tone deaf to the series the L.A. Times Howard Rosenberg said the series pushed against “TV conventionality in introducing the most daring new series of the fall season.” The series was history after 11 episodes though has grown in reputation and even aired in repeats on cable.

Despite having Hugh Jackman as an executive producer, CBS’ 2007 musical-drama “Viva Laughlin” bit the dust after two episodes.

Far more successful was CW’s “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” starring, co-created, written and directed by Rachel Bloom, which ran from 2015-2019. Despite low ratings, the series hit the right notes with critics winning Emmys, a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award.

And NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playhouse,” which ran from 2020-2021, had a small but devoted following and earned five Emmy nominations in its second season. Last December, the Roku Channel premiered the movie “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas.”

So why did “Schmigadoon” avoid the problems of other musical series? The American Film Institute described the secret behind the success of when it received an AFI Award for TV Program of the Year: ‘“Schmigadoon!’ explodes with joy and laughter-and contemporary cynicism. This candy-color cocktail is hand-crafted by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, who have created an ebullient valentine to musicals by inviting even the most sardonic to see the world beyond the fog of “Brigadoon.” Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key light up a glittering marquee of Broadway talent that power an insight into personal change through clever homage, catchy songs and bravura, show-stopping choreography.”

It’s musical manna from heaven for Broadway freaks who know every word and note of the classics. And for those who have never seen a musical-OK, maybe they saw “Cats” or “Phantom of the Opera,” the series isn’t just a box of popcorn doused in real butter. Underneath the cotton candy production design, eye-popping costumes and the Anesco-style cinematography, the town of Schmigadoon is hiding a lot of problems.

The town’s mayor (Cumming), aptly named Mayor Menlove, is a closeted gay man who sings about his struggles in the lovely “Somewhere Love is Waiting for You.” His wife expresses her love for him in “He’s a Queer One, “That Man O’Mine,” which is a bow to “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan” from “Carousel”: “Show me any other man more tender or expressive/I only wish that nightly he was slightly more aggressive.”

The town is puritanical when it comes to sex. When Strong’s Melissa gets a job as a nurse at the office of the town’s handsome doctor (Jaime Camil), she is the only one willing to help a pregnant unwed mother who doesn’t even know where the baby comes out. Strong tells her in the hysterical “Va-Gi-Na” in the style of Julie Andrews trilling “Do-Ri-Mi” from “The Sound of Music.”

And Chenowith gives a tour de force performance in “Tribulation,” a homage to “Ya Got Trouble” from the musical “The Music Man.” Her character of Mildred Layton is the town’s old bitty who is the puritanical head of “Mothers Against the Future.” “Promiscuity and depravity! Interlopers interloping, with hearts colder than the hinges of hell,” she shrieks to the terrified townspeople. Sonnenfeld and Gattelli insisted the number be shot in a four-minute take with a Steadicam following her around the town square, which heightens Mildred’s wrath and unbending puritanical mindset.

Apple TV + announced in early June that there will be a second season, “Schmicago,” which will parody the musicals of the ‘60s and ‘70s. And the cast are scheduled to return for the fun. So, be prepared for a lot of Fosse, Fosse Fosse and jazz hands.

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