Schmigadoon! Season 2 Premiere Recap — Enter Schmicago

S2E1, “Welcome to Schmicago” and S2E2, “Doorway to Where”

Josh in Melissa stand in darkness in the forground looking at a bright sign that reads "Welcome to Schmicago"
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The following recap contains spoilers for the Season 2 premiere of Schmigadoon! S2E1, “Welcome to Schmicago” (written by Cinco Paul and directed by Alice Mathias) and S2E2, “Doorway to Where” (written by Jonathan Tolins and directed by Alice Mathias)

Schmigadoon! returns with a two-episode Season 2 premiere that not only keeps the momentum going from the surprisingly amazing Season 1, but it also gets even better. While Season 1 was tied to the Golden Age of Musical Theatre in the 1940s and 50s— particularly Brigadoon, The Music Man, and the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein—Season 2 has moved forward into the vastly different styles of the 1960s and ’70s. Which, in the inverse of Melissa (Cecily Strong), is an era that I know vastly more about, and enjoy significantly more.

Series co-creator Cinco Paul—who created the show along with Ken Daurio—and his incredible team have put just as much love and attention to detail into the dissection of this era as they did into the first. Melissa may not love these shows with their lack of clear story structure and slanted rhymes, but whether or not Paul loves them, he is still exceptional at writing them. Alice Mathias’s direction is fantastic, encapsulating the look and feel of the Broadway productions and the films they inspired to perfection. And the production design by Jamie Walker McCall also remains incredible and gets to show off much more range than in Season 1, as the entire town of Schmicago is rendered as a perfect encapsulation of the 1920s Chicago or Berlin of Chicago or Cabaret.

Beyond the setting, the cast and the songs remain perfect encapsulations of the era. All of the key cast from Season 1 are back in different roles, each instantly and perfectly identifiable with a character or character trope from the shows of the ’60s and ’70s. I think the best way to unpack them is to center the rest of the recap around each of the songs, who is performing it, and how that impacts the plot. Unfortunately, I don’t yet have a way to know the names of the songs so I am going to identify the song by the description. (Presumably, by the time you read this you will be able to find the actual songs on iTunes, which was lucrative for Apple TV+ in Season 1 and hopefully if the songs sell well enough we might just get a Season 3 of Miss Schmigon!

Episode 1: “Welcome to Schmicago”

Schmigadoon! S2E1 starts immediately after the end of Season 1 with Melissa and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) back in their real lives having been changed by the experience of finding true love. They get married and try to start a family, but the montage pretty quickly turns to drudgery and disappointment. And so, they decide that they should return to Schmigadoon In an attempt to rekindle the spark in their lives. This of course is impossible, as everyone knows, “You can never return to Schmigadoon.” OK, so perhaps no one knows that, but the Narrator (Tituss Burgess) will inform us all of that soon enough.

Because once Josh and Melissa finally cross the magical bridge this time they are taken not to the bright and happy vibrancy of Schmigadoon! but instead to the dark and neon city streets of Schmicago. The opening number, “Welcome to Schmicago” (which is both clearly the title and also the one song title I was able to find) is a perfect recreation of “Magic to Do,” the opening number of Pippin. “Welcome…” even starts with a recreation of the iconic opening to “Magic,” a canvas of white-gloved hands moving rhythmically on a black background until a spotlight hits the Leading Player. The references, parodies, and homages come quickly and furiously from that moment on.

Tituss Burgess standing in a spotlight in front of the white-gloved hands
Screenshot/Apple TV+

In both songs the Narrator/Leading Player character invites the audience into the story, describing the stakes and commenting on the action. This is the perfect way to bring Tituss Burgess into the world of the story as his chaotic energy is sometimes disruptive as someone who is supposed to fit into a fictional world, but with this type of character, the disruption is the point. The Leading Player is both a guide and a trickster and so is Burgess here.

The song also gives us a glimpse of almost all the rest of the cast in their new roles, but I’ll wait and describe them in more detail as they get their spotlights later. Notably, though, we learn from these introductions that in addition to Chicago and Cabaret the series has fun parodies on tap for Sweeney Todd and Annie. And the ensemble gets to show off their skills in Christopher Gattelli’s recreations of Bob Fosse-style choreography.

The recreation of classic Fosse choreography extends to the next musical number. After deciding to stay in town at least one night, and meeting the Sally Bowles, with hints of Velma Kelly, inspired Jenny Flynn (Dove Cameron), Josh and Melissa decide to take in a show at the Kratt Klubb. The first number they watch is another hilarious recreation, this time of “Hey Big Spender” from the Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields musical Sweet Charity.

The dancers standing on stage with their legs draped over a bar
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The number is staged the same way Fosse set “Big Spender” and the satirical lyrics poke into the subject matter that is most clearly true in that show but is also somewhat true of all of these shows. A lot of the “edgier” content is toned down, in Sweet Charity the sex workers from the source material are turned to “dance hall girls,” so despite the aspirations to deeper and darker work, a lot of the shocks are muted and a lot of comedy can be mined from the way these shows worked hard to be edgy at the time, only to seem quite tame to modern audiences.

Before the final full number of the episode, we get introduced to two more essential characters. Patrick Page, the deep bass-voiced villain par excellence from a litany of Broadway shows but probably most known these days for his incredible origination of the role of Hades in Hadestown, has joined the cast as the clear villain of the season, Octavious Kratt. He arrives to ominously stare, growl deeply and hit on Melissa, and it is an incredible comedic performance from the usually stoic Page.

After he leaves, probably to commit the murder for which Josh will later be accused, we get Arianna DeBose’s triumphant return to the show, considering that she won an Oscar since we last saw her here. I was a bit surprised she decided to come back. While she only introduces Jenny here, in a perfect encapsulation of the Emcee from Cabaret, it certainly seems that she (and the character) will have a much more prominent role going forward.

Jenny dancing in front of a red curtain, wearing a black hat and holding onto a chair
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Jenny enters for her big number and it is fantastic. Dove Cameron had some fun moments in Season 1, but Betsy was a limiting character, mostly just doe eyes and a pretty voice. With Jenny though Cameron gets to show off. Velma and Sally are all about showmanship, with the performance being both in-universe and in the show, allowing the other characters to be as affected by the performances as we are. (I love how Josh is both incredulous that this could be the same person as Betsy and completely blown away by the performance.) The song is once again perfectly staged, with the choreography with the chairs both evoking the original take in “Mein Herr” and ultimately one-upping the original with the big finish.

After the show, Josh goes to find the restroom and winds up finding Elsie dead (poor Elsie, she never can make it out of this era alive), and he and Melissa try to make a run for it. Of course, it isn’t that easy to escape Schmicago, and they once again get a musical directive from the Leprechaun (Martin Short). A quick aside, when Short showed up in Season 1, he was easily my least favorite part of the show as I never had any positive associations with him. Now, post Only Murders in the Building, I love it when I see him and I was overjoyed to see the Leprechaun back. It is amazing what one really good show can do sometimes. In any case, Short sings to them that, no longer must they find true love to escape, now the only way out is finding happiness. And, unable to even consider being happy, Josh is caught and hauled to jail as Tituss Burgess sings us out.

Episode 2: “Doorway to Where”

Schmigadoon! S2E2 picks up with Josh in jail and introduces us to the last new character played by a member of the Season 1 cast, Topher (Aaron Tveit). Topher is an amalgam of the base characters of the other main subgenre topic of the musicals of the ’60s and ’70s, the hippie movement. We already had Tituss Burgess as the leading player but with Topher, we have Pippin—as filtered through Jesus from Godspell with just a touch of Berger from Hair. And Tveit nails the character perfectly, the self-assured delusions mixed with uncertainty about his place in the world are perfect. His big song is a great encapsulation of all of this. Of course, the funniest thing about it is that this parody of “Corner of the Sky” is just… the same song with the same subtext. Topher, like Pippin, is a selfish, self-aggrandizing, diva who needs to learn a lesson.

Topher stands holding the bars of the jail cell, bathed in white light from a window behind him, as Josh looks on
Screenshot/Apple TV+

While Josh sits in jail, Melissa tries to find a lawyer to help get him out which takes her, of course, to Billy Flynn… wait sorry Bobby Flannigan (Jane Krakowski… though I initially wrote Jenna Maroney which is a bit unsurprising). Krakowski is another performer who is often too over the top for my tastes, but who fits perfectly into the Schmigadoon! universe. Bobby Flannigan is quintessential Billy Flynn, the flashiest of flashy “Razzle Dazzle” hustler lawyers. She immediately takes the case, once paid a crisp 20 dollar bill, and sets Melissa off to investigate at the club. Krakowski’s song is a perfect riff on “All I Care About is Love ” right down to making the subtext text with how she can “get the guys off” easily.

Melissa meanwhile heads over to a brief interlude into A Chorus Line as she stumbles through an “I Hope I Get It” style audition, complete with memorable monologues about the dancer’s past and headshots held in front of their faces. Thanks to an assist from the exceedingly horny Kratt, Melissa does get the part and rouges her knees and rolls her stockings down for a performance with Jenny and the Emcee later that night. While that trio has a star-making rendition of their jail-themed version of Sondheim’s “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”, Topher’s hippy friends bust him and Josh out of jail, and presumably, they will ride the “happiness bus” into an even deeper homage to Hair and Godspell.

Everything is set up perfectly for the rest of the season by these two episodes. Even though I didn’t get to focus on them Ann Harada, Jamie Camill, Kristin Chenoweth, and Alan Cumming all have their characters established, and their desires set, in these two episodes as well. Keegan Michael-Key’s Josh is much better defined this season too, the fact that he and Melissa wanted to be there and are working on the same side just makes everything hum much better. Cecily Strong may never be able to quite hang with the Broadway stars in the singing and dancing, but she is a spectacular leading lady in her own right and her first song this season was fantastic. As long as Cinco Paul and company can keep this up I, like Josh and Melissa, wish I could stay in Schmigadoon, or even Schmicago, forever.

Jenny, Melissa, and the Emcee, dressed in prison outfits dancing on stage
Screenshot/Apple TV+

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!

  • I went into way too much specific detail in the recap to have many of these this week, but I like the idea of keeping this section.
  • My top favorite thing is just having this goofy little show with such specific tweaks of musical genres back on Apple TV+.
  • Also, I can’t say I disagree with Josh’s preference for this era’s more… provocative… attire and staging. As silly as it can be sometimes, it makes the dancing very fun to watch.

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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