Schmigadoon! S2E3 Recap: “Bells and Whistles” Lets It All Hang Out

Bobby Flannigan doing a split on top of a table while holding sparklers with jurors behind her and light coming in windos
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The following recap contains spoilers for Schmigadoon! S2E3, “Bells and Whistles” (written by Jane Klausner and directed by Alice Mathias)

Schmigadoon! S2E3 picks up right where the previous episode, “Doorway to Where,” left off. The episode continues the show’s impressive winning streak with its captivating plot and well-executed musical numbers. After Josh and Topher’s successful escape, Melissa is deepening her investigation into the clues left behind after Elsie’s murder. This leads us to spend extended and exceptional time with the hippies of Godspell/Hair who follow Topher, as well as the denizens of Quick Street, who bear a striking resemblance to some familiar characters from Fleet Street.

Cinco Paul’s deconstructions of classic musical theater numbers are simply outstanding and continue to get better. The most remarkable thing about watching the show is the level of specificity and attention to detail that the entire team brings to each parody. Even if one is not an expert in identifying every song being parodied, the experience is still enjoyable. For those who want to know more about the Broadway easter eggs in the show, the excellent breakdowns by Broadway by Ghostlight are highly recommended.

For this recap, I am going to structure things around a quick focus on each song (though, please note that we still don’t have the official song titles, so I am just spitballing on those):

A group of four people clad in 1960s style attire looking longingly at each other with Topher in the middle
Screenshot/Apple TV+

It turns out that the happiness bus has delivered Topher and Josh to the back alley junkyard where all of the hippies live. Does anyone else get as freaked out by the lack of sanitation displayed in situations like this? There are so many types of “dirty” and I think the juxtaposition of the lusty, sleazy, grime of Schmigago’s ’20s-inspired side is nicely balanced by the pasty, psychedelia on display in this ’60s pastiche. As Josh tells Melissa about the nudity at the end of “Gotta Get Naked,” it is more locker room naked than orgy naked.

This is a great encapsulation of the point Schmigadoon! is making about these supposed cultural warriors. They have good and righteous ideals but sitting around telling parables and getting naked is not making any real change. Similarly, adding in rock music and (at the time) modern characters didn’t make Hair have anything more profound to say. In fact, the radical inclusiveness of art is better encapsulated in a more traditional show like Mame than in the abstract tones of Hair. Though the latter did have a significant impact, it just—to quote lyrics from S2E1— “put a lot of effort into it.”

Later in “Bells and Whistles” we return to the tribe as they attempt to convince Josh to stay with them by putting on a parable song a la Godspell. The story/song “A Lamb Without a Flock” is a pitch-perfect deconstruction of why that particular type of theatricality can be so off-putting. The cast playing the players here is perfect with overearnest expressions and bad impressions but the underlying thing that makes it work as a parody is that the original versions are exactly this campy while still being earnest. Michael Delleva is the huge standout of all of these scenes, with his Michael adding just the right mix of lovestruck and goofy to make the scenes work. Topher seemingly just thinks he is Jesus, but there is an entire sub-genre of musical theater where Jesus, and the counterculture, are both usurped into these performances. And the real results are stranger than anything Aaron Tveit and company can do here.

The tribe with Topher in the center looking to Josh for approval
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Thankfully we leave the junkyard for a while between those numbers and finally get properly introduced to our Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett stand-ins: Dooley Flint (Alan Cumming) and Miss Codwell (Kristin Chenoweth). It seemed clear that Chenoweth was playing a mashup of Lovett and Miss Hannigan from Annie and that is absolutely confirmed with her first number of the season, “The Worst Kids in Town.” Mellisa runs into Codwell on the street, surrounded by various precocious orphans, and Codwell immediately starts trying to sell the children.

The song is note-perfect to the “Worst Pies in London” but, in a moment that I guess puts me into the same snobbish box as Melissa and her disdain for imperfect rhymes, this is the one song on the show that takes me out of the moment when I hear it. And that is because while all the other lyrics scan perfectly between the two songs, ‘town’ and ‘London’ do not match at all. So every single time Chenoweth hits the chorus, it feels like nails down a chalkboard. It seems odd to have such a reaction to a single word in a song, but it happens and makes it so I can’t concentrate on the other lyrics at all.

Of course, Codwell is hopelessly in love with Dooley, the butcher. And being a butcher makes the absurdity of the Sweeney Todd persona even more clear. It seems the entirety of the backstory and motivations for both Codwell and Flint are taken directly from the source material, which is fine because it is a resonating story that always works. We learn as Dooley sings “The Worst Kids in Town Reprise/There Was a Butcher and his Wife” that Kratt killed his wife and framed him for the murder, sending him to jail for 20 years and that Dooley wants revenge. Apparently, Melissa didn’t ever revisit the show after her traumatic viewing because this is all pure Sweeney, and (spoilers) that show does not end well for anyone. Also, Jenny turns out to be a Johanna stand-in along with Sally and Velma and that just makes me want to watch the three originals star in a musical of their own.

Dooley Flint standing in his bloodstained apron looking forlorn
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The two stories come together as Topher sends one of his acolytes, Alex (Alex Gullason), who happens to be a good-looking blonde, to tell Mellisa that Josh is fine after breaking out of prison. Melissa, predictably, does not enjoy this development and follows her back to the junkyard, where Topher is breaking bread with the tribe. The bread is full of drugs and Josh is super stoned but eventually, after a very long hug goodbye, Josh and Melissa return to court for his trial.

This means it is time for the “Bells and Whistles” of the title and the marvelous spotlight for Jane Krakowski’s Bobby Flannigan. And the number is everything we could have wanted. A perfect version of “Razzle Dazzle” worthy of our own Billy Flynn. And an amazing end to the murder plot as Josh is immediately declared not guilty and he and Melissa think they have their happy ending so they can go home. Of course, it is only three episodes into the season, so that definitely will not be the case.

So, as they pack and start to head out of Schmicago we focus on Octavious Kratt. The great Patrick Page’s incredible bass is finally put to work in the closing number, “Two Birds with One Stone.” Page almost always plays villains because his voice is so perfect for those deep, disturbing, tones, and he knocks it out of the park here. The song is a straight analog for “This Jesus Must Die” from Jesus Christ Superstar and Page is perfect at hitting the deepest of Caiaphas’s notes. But of course, Kratt is also The Judge from Sweeney Todd and his lyrics are definitely directly analogous to the Judge’s version of “Johanna,” as are his actions which are complete with self-flagellation. Kratt finally turns his attention to Melissa and it seems the dark roads ahead will only get darker for our lovely couple.

Kratt sitting in front of a stained glass window looking ominously from behind a newspaper
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 love how much specificity Cinco Paul and everyone else involved put into each parody song. The weakness of a show like this is a tendency to go too broad with humor. But here each choice, and each lyric, feel authentically chosen.
  • “Bells and Whistles” is a show-stopping number that is a great showcase for Jane Krakowski—the aerials alone bring to mind her stunning work in the ’90s revival of Nine— but my favorite part is the patter taken right out of Amy’s breakdown in “Not Getting Married” from Company. Not only is it a perfect reference to the original, but it is also a great beat for the character. Bobby Flanigan may be about the “Bells and Whistles” but the secret to her success is indeed a fundamental mastery of the law.
  • “Two Birds with One Stone” is the first real Andrew Lloyd Webber-inspired number to get much play on the show, even though Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar are definitely of this era (and fit the themes of the show) we can only expect—and hope— that a theoretical Season 3 will have much more Webber to parody.

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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