Schmigadoon! Episode 6: “How We Change” (Season Finale)

Mel (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) stand looking at each other as the people of Schmigadoon look on excitedly behind them
Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Schmigadoon! Episode 6  “How We Change” takes everything that has happened so far and wraps it up in an unexpectedly moving episode about the value of growth, change, and expressing your feelings through song. It was a foregone conclusion that Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) and Melissa (Cecily Strong) would get back together at the end of the season. It was a necessary condition to be able to leave Schmigadoon. But somehow along the way, they were able to learn to love each other and actually affect the townspeople as well. In a show of well-worn tropes, that is probably the biggest one. “How We Change” was able to pull off the feat of being completely predictable but eminently enjoyable.

We as consumers of media seem to have gotten obsessed with the notion that everything we watch has to break new ground, that spoilers are the ultimate betrayal, and that twists are inherently better than figuring out what the ending will be. None of this has to be the case. Sometimes the butler did it and the story is better for it. That has been one of the fundamental joys of Schmigadoon! By embracing the aesthetics and the content of classic musicals so completely the show was able to abandon any pretense of being cool or hip. The ironic detachment that Keegan-Michael Key tried so hard to bring to the series through Josh’s reactions in the first few episodes was shown to be pure folly. For these characters, the creative team, and the viewers the beauty is that Schmigadoon! is unabashedly unashamed of being itself.

And that holds true for Josh as well. In “How We Change” the show finally deployed the card it had been holding all season, letting Josh sing a song. Key definitely wasn’t cast for his singing, but that is actually my favorite part about this moment. Dr. Josh Skinner has been shown throughout as a very capable person who is emotionally shut off. His journey was all about becoming open about himself and actually engaging with the world rather than just commenting on it. Here, at the end, Josh and Mel are back in the Schmigadoon town square and he has to show her that he really has changed. As the characters have repeated several times throughout the season, the only thing that you can do when the emotions are too real for words is sing. And so Josh does.

Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) and Mel (Cecily Strong) dance during in a follow spot with a darkened background
Photo Courtesy of Apple TV+

He sings softly and not very tunefully, but he sings with all his heart. This is the moment of truly being open and not caring about what others think or being cool any longer. It is also a deeply personal moment, both for the characters, as Josh is finally fully invested in the thing that Mel loves most, and for viewers like me who have deep anxieties about both opening up emotionally and about singing. It should be clear to anyone who has been reading these that I love musical theatre. This ability to convey emotional connection through song is why. It doesn’t matter if the show is Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, or a televised meditation on mental illness with a silly name, there is always something that makes me feel a deep connection to the material and characters. But it is also always at a remove for me, because, like Josh, I am not a singer.

Because of that, my connection to this scene and my love for the series were really bolstered by this one scene. I had figured that Josh was not going to sing or that he would be given a line or two but nothing more. (Alyson Hannigan style.) Worst of all I was afraid that Josh would sing but Key would have his voice dubbed over, or at least severely autotuned. But instead, Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul, and company embraced the actor and the character and allowed him to really perform. It was unexpected and a great way to cap off what we had been watching.

Almost all of the supporting cast gathered in the Schmigadoon town square to see the culmination of Josh and Mel’s journey. (With Jane Krakowski and Martin Short the only notable cast members not appearing.) Over the course of the season, each of the supporting characters ended up only really having one big number. Every time the camera panned over Ariana DeBose, Kristin Chenowith, or Alan Cumming I found myself wishing they would start singing. There were quite a few songs for such a short season, and these types of parody songs are particularly difficult to write, but I prefer my musicals with as much music as possible and I think there was plenty of time for more.

Edna (Ariana DeBose) looking lovingly at Carson (Liam Quiring-Nkindi)
Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

It was clear that the biggest limitation of the show was tied to its central concept. By staying tied to the golden age of musicals in style and tone Cinco Paul was able to make some amazing musical and thematic references. And he did an exceptional job with almost all of the music that made it into the show, especially in making it evocative of the era the show was parodying without having it feel “samey”. I can’t help feeling that had the creative team not decided to hew so closely to the concept that more musical experimentation would have been an improvement. 

The finale did give almost everyone one final moment to shine, as the final song brought each of them back for a victory lap. After Josh’s song, the focus shifts from Josh and Mel to Mrs. Layton (Kristin Chenoweth), who very quickly falls apart in the face of the undeniable changes that have come to Schmigadoon. This leads to them quickly unraveling her mayoral race and reinstating Mayor Menlove (Alan Cumming). The finale is a celebration of all the growth the characters have seen. As everyone starts to sing and eventually dance, the style of the music changes. First, it is slight, each character giving an update of the things that have happened to them and “How We Change”. But as the song continues, it gets more frantic. By the time the townspeople have escorted Josh and Mel back to the bridge they need to cross to head home, the times have definitely changed and there is no going back for anyone.

The cast of Schmigadoon! dancing in the town square in front of a sign that says "Election Today"

“How We Change” ends on a cliffhanger—we don’t see if Josh and Mel actually get out of Schmigadoon. The destination was never the point. In the end, there are no spoilers. There is only life, and love, and change. And music.

A Few Of My Favorite Things

To close out these musings each week I thought it would be fun to list a few of my favorite specific references to other musicals. There are many many more and I encourage anyone who would like to play along to post their favorites in the comments!

  • “Let the Sunshine In” is the last song of Hair and the closing number deliberately references it in both style and substance. The implication is clear, Schmigadoon (and Schmigadoon! if it gets a second season) is changing to a different era. With all the love, pain, and musical theatre tropes that come with the late ‘60s and early ’70s.
  • The belting in that closing number is done by Ariana DeBose, in a vocal flourish reminiscent of the much later RENT, and serves to remind us once again that she is an incredible talent who is poised to break out.
  • The quintessential “character who loves musicals but could never be in a musical” is probably Man in Chair from The Drowsy Chaperone, which is, like Schmigadoon! also a musical about an earlier era of musicals. In that case, his love is of the 1920s shows that Rodgers and Hammerstein were rebelling against in Oklahoma! and Carousel. It is of course a part I want to play one day.

Written by Clay Dockery

Clay Dockery is an actor, author, and impresario extraordinaire. They are the co-editor of Why I Geek: An Anthology of Fandom Origin Stories and was the co-head organizer and creative director of MISTI-Con, Coal Hill Con, and The West Wing Weekend fandom conventions. They live in New York City with their girlfriend and their two chonky cats.

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