Returning for another adventure, the charm of “Schmigadoon!” shows little signs of fatigue and can be just as entertaining in a unique way: its hard-labored song and dance sequences are easy to love. In an abbreviated introduction, Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) and Melissa (Cecily Strong) become unhappy in the real world again and face some challenges in starting a family. Looking for an easy escape, they pack up their bags and head into the woods, looking for the quaint comforts of Schmigadoon. But they don’t get the sunnier world inspired by Brigadoon, but a grayer one, Schmicago, which is overflowing with this sinful force of nature called “jazz.” One of the first musical numbers that Josh and Melissa witness is a season-best, a laugh-out-loud riff on stuff that is “scandalous” in this time period and absolutely shouldn’t be in modern times (gasp, bisexuality!)
Like last season, Josh and Melissa aren’t allowed to leave this new musical theater landscape until they’ve created a happy ending, although they’re not sure what that means. (A mysterious character, played again by Martin Short, doesn’t tell them.) But the two are quickly flung into a playful course of events with the locals. In a seedy nightclub, they come across the likes of dancer Jenny (Dove Cameron), bar head Madam Frau (Ann Harada), the corrupt Sergeant Rivera (Jamie Camil), and the town villain Octavius Kratt (Patrick Page). On different streets of Schmicago, they encounter stone-faced butcher Dooley (Alan Cumming) and the orphan-hating Mildred (Kristin Chenoweth). Naturally, the plotting of “Schmigadoon!” also involves a hippie commune run by Danny (Aaron Tveit) and a hotshot lawyer played by Jane Krakowski.
This snazzy season offers a new mish-mash of musicals as if trying to play across different audience favorites: there’s a bit of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Hair, Dreamgirls, Cabaret, and of course, Chicago. The series has a good deal of fun going back and forth between this unlikely lineup, and it makes me wonder how bracing it would be to put them all together and hit shuffle. But “Schmigadoon!” is well aware that audiences aren’t here for a cohesive world but an expansive and familiar one. And the emphasis on a throughline of sex, murder, and sultry numbers provides a bizarre dynamic for the plotting—wait until you see how episodes zip between colorful hippy peacefulness to a deathly gray subplot about cannibalism. The emotional stakes aren’t as deep as last season for Josh and Melissa or anyone, but the writing is usually quick on its feet.
“Schmigadoon!”, or “Schmicago!” as it is then branded in the opening credits, is also a return for those who made the series so charismatic. Key and Strong are the true core of the series, and their chemistry feels even more natural this second season. And it’s also about the joy of the returning supporting cast, watching performers like Cameron, Camil, Chenoweth, DeBose, and Harada take on different characters while allowing their gifts in acting, dancing, and singing to fill out the spectacle. The talent becomes a special gift with the show, and their excitement becomes infectious. And the series introduces Tituss Burgess as an omniscient narrator, a role that he seems to relish with each joke about breaking the fourth wall or moment in which he shows off how well he can sing, too.
Having said that, like so many shows, it does feel like “Schmigadoon” still isn’t quite the right length. There’s a tighter, 2-hour version of this that’s a movie or a 10-episode version that really gets into its characters more. The length is great for the binging era in that it’s easy to watch in one sitting, but it still doesn’t feel quite right for the storytelling. Maybe in Season 3, they could expand to eight episodes and see what happens? Presuming they jump a generation again and land in a world of ‘80s and ‘90s musicals (“Schmats”? “Schrent”?), there’s more than enough material to warrant it. And, now, a tough act to follow.
As for “Schmigadoon!,” the second season amusingly shifts from the 1950s-tinged flavor that defined the original run to the edgier, sexier fare of the late 1960s and ’70s, yielding riffs on the likes of “Chicago” (hence the “Schmicago!” branding for this season), “Cabaret,” “A Chorus Line,” “Godspell,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”