“Schmigadoon!” was clearly made by and for people who love musicals, for better and occasionally worse. Seeking to create enough original music to power a TV series is always a major challenge, with the added burden that the songs in this 10-episode Apple TV+ show are largely spoofs aimed at those who have spent too much time watching Turner Classic Movies.
Produced by “Saturday Night Live” patriarch Lorne Michaels’ company, the premise (like the title) is a play off “Brigadoon,” where Gene Kelly and Van Johnson stumbled upon a magical village.
Here, it’s a pair of lovers, Melissa (“SNL’s” Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key), who inadvertently enter a throwback village, discovering that the only way they can cross the bridge back to their reality is with their one true love, leading to a bit of shock when the magic doesn’t work for the two of them together.
What unfolds, then, is a series of encounters designed to test the couple’s ties – and whether their destined partner might actually be one of Schmigadoon’s colorfully clad residents – augmented by an array of high-spirited numbers and knowing asides. For starters, the absence of gay characters in old musicals is amusingly addressed.
If you hear echoes to the likes of “Carousel,” “The Music Man” and others, you’d be right, sung by an enormously talented cast – including Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron, Ariana DeBose, and Jaime Camil – who all appear to be having an absolute ball doing it.
Still, the problem with this sort of exercise – conceived by animated-movie veterans Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, working with director Barry Sonnenfeld – hinges on sustaining it, and the series perhaps inevitably drags in the middle, a little too self-satisfied with the premise and its cleverness in evoking the past.
“Women were so underwritten in early musicals,” Melissa muses, recognizing the thinness of one of the characters. Later, she reassures Josh that “nobody dies in a musical,” before rattling off a long list of all the characters that do.
Simply put, it’s sporadically fun but a little too cute for its own good. Working in the confines of streaming affords “Schmigadoon!” the luxury of appealing almost exclusively to the high-school-drama geek contingent, a reasonably small if generally desirable demo.
The series also happens to tread the boards in a year that will see an inordinate number of musicals hit movie theaters – “West Side Story” and “Dear Evan Hansen” among them – after the disappointingly tepid box-office reception for “In the Heights” despite stellar reviews.
Somewhat spared from traditional commercial pressures as a streaming entry, it’s nice that an outfit like Apple had the latitude do produce “Schmigadoon!,” even if the project feels fairly disposable.
With its playful title and trappings, “Schmigadoon!” is designed to get attention. As for whether a significant number of people actually watch it, like the show’s leads, a streaming service can afford to cross that bridge when it comes to it.
“Schmigadoon!” premieres July 16 on Apple TV+.