One of the biggest charms of “Schmigadoon!” is in seeing a push-and-pull relationship drama play out among creamy pastel colors, bright daylight, and the blissful artifice of a studio set. Barry Sonnenfeld directed each episode of this season, and he creates a strong tone to the proceedings that keeps it light, funny, and lively, especially when the concept makes way for a warm, mini world. By episode three, as Melissa and Josh settle more into the surroundings and stop pushing back against the musical numbers that come out of thin air, the series also settles in; it makes sense. “Schmigadoon!” gets a significant momentum from how different people try to win their hearts, and it makes us wonder what shift is coming next.
Melissa and Josh also have a “Pleasantville”-like effect on this politely freakish town, in that they change how its sheltered residents think, and how they present themselves. Alan Cumming plays a secretly gay mayor named Menlove (“Schmigadoon!” loves words, especially when they can show how such musicals only pretend to have subtext), and his otherwise enthusiastic character goes on his own small journey of becoming more accepting of who he really is. The show also tries to keep an eye on horrific gender norms from the musicals’ era and tries to correct them, or at least make a knowing joke about them. Melissa becomes a larger surrogate for this experience, especially when she later uses her doctor skills, but everyone in town can only manage to call her a nurse.
The overall emotional impact is less graceful; it can struggle to make a deeper emotional point out of the corny character dynamics that otherwise make the series playful, and the songs classically sweet. And the final episode of this first season seems to rush its plotting, without giving us a good reason as to why except that all good things must come to end, some things more tactfully than others.
But “Schmigadoon!” is just about as entertaining and cute as it dreams of being; in that middle section it becomes especially breezy, and offers that cozy spectacle that comes from basking in vibrant musical numbers with smiling faces, stacked vocal harmonies, and epic choreography. A worthwhile parody—a great one—is an act of love. And while “Schmigadoon!” certainly wants to joke about the strangeness of its own premise, or the antiquated tropes within the musical’s fantasy, it most of all very clearly wants to put on a dazzling show. That very enthusiasm is nearly impossible to resist.
All of season one screened for review. The first two episodes of “Schmigadoon!” premiere on Apple TV+ on July 16.
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