The Schmigadoon Season 2 premiere brings its central duo to a darker world, with songs that reflect it.
It is entirely fair to call Schmigadoon a niche show, which makes its second season a bit of a surprise in this day and age of constant series cancellations. The first season of the Apple TV+ series was an elaborate, in-depth homage/parody of musicals from the 1940s and 1950s, but the Schmigadoon Season 2 premiere takes a new aim at the succeeding decades of sexier, more sordid musicals, expanding both the range of the songs and hopefully, the emotional depth. However, it is clear that Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong are basically caught in the same supernatural song-and-dance trap, but this time, someone is going to die.
The extremely high concept premise of the Schmigadoon Season 1 premiere was that the current voice of Toad in The Super Mario Bros. Movie and the longest-tenured female cast member in Saturday Night Live history are a couple who have grown distant find themselves trapped in a strange, quaint town in which everyone is constantly bursting into song and highly choreographed dance, unable to leave until they find true love. To give the uninitiated a sense of the tone, Key and Strong are informed of this by the ever-game Martin Short, playing a Leprechaun via the magic of forced perspective.
In the Schmigadoon Season 2 premiere, Key and Strong have made it back to the real world with their bond refreshed and swiftly get married. But the non-musical world is a pretty boring place, and depression sets in, exacerbated by troubles conceiving a child; with admirable, montage-aided efficiency, the show has the couple back in the woods where they first found the town of Schmigadoon, but this time, they encounter the much more sinister, comedically erotic “Schmicago.”
In short order, Key finds himself accused of murdering a showgirl and locked in a prison that sure seems to put a lot of people in the electric chair, while Strong takes the showgirl’s place in both the cabaret and the interests of the sinister, bass-voiced owner Octavius Kratt (Broadway legend Patrick Page). While Strong searches for clues to exonerate her husband, not to mention get a few song and dance routines, Key bonds with a hippie and gets himself in even more hot water by refusing to blame the alleged murder on being driven insane by the harmonic richness and melodic complexity of jazz.
Your appreciation for the Schmigadoon Season 2 premiere (and the season at large) will depend on one’s tolerance for the aggressive lampshading of the show, which blatantly uses Cecily Strong’s love of musical theater to explain what’s going on. This time around, Schmigadoon doubles down by introducing the Narrator (season 2 MVP Titus Burgess), a character whose sole purpose is to break the fourth wall and tell the audience what’s going on and get really irritated when interrupted by our heroes.
Depending on your love of self-aware humor and musical theater, that aspect of the show is either a feature or a bug. However, Schmigadoon has a couple of potent weapons in its arsenal: another batch of incredibly catchy songs and the return of most of the original ringers from the first season.
The music featured in the Schmigadoon Season 2 premiere (and the entire show) is composed by Cinco Paul, who co-created the show with Ken Daurio; the pair are best known for their work with the Illumination animation studio, having written three Despicable Me movies, among others. Paul has a remarkably precise ear for pastiche, creating spot-on parodies of Cabaret, Hair, and Chicago that even musical theater neophytes will find somehow familiar.
The best jokes of Season 2 so far are built into the songs themselves. While much of the humor in Schmigadoon is generated by Key and Strong reacting nonplussed, as one would to elaborate song-and-dance numbers, it works best when it is in response to the actual songs. The second episode of the season (“Doorway to Where”) is the best example, in which the married duo watches cabaret dancers perform a song in which they challenge their presumed audiences with deviant behavior that should scandalize them.
However, given this is a parody of 1970s musical theater, that means Key and Strong react diffidently to the shocking revelation that one of the dancers has a tattoo or that a man is wearing a dress. In a way, it is kind of a mission statement for the season, with the show gently and lovingly mocking the outdated subject matter of times past.
Then there’s the returning cast, which includes Dove Cameron (doing a solid imitation of Liza Minnelli in Cabaret), Ariana DeBose, Alan Cumming, and Jane Krakowski (making the addition of Titus Burgess an Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt reunion). However, all of them are now playing new, sexier, and/or more violent characters, with Strong helpfully pointing out that you wouldn’t expect an actor from one play to respond as the same character in a different one. Again, you either buy the premise, or you don’t.
By the end of the Schmigadoon Season 2 premiere, it is clear Key and Strong are going to have to fight their way back to each other, much as the first season had them prepared to call it quits and go separate directions. No doubt, the couple will have a lot of catchy, murder-filled songs to help them along the way.