I went into “Schmigadoon!” expecting a spiky takedown of old-fashioned Broadway musicals. It’s about a struggling couple, Cecily Strong’s Melissa and Keegan-Michael Key’s Josh, who go hiking and get trapped in a town where everyone and everything is a musical cliché out of “The Music Man,” “The Sound of Music,” and, of course, “Brigadoon.” It’s as if the pair are stuck in “The Truman Show,” but with a song-and-dance motif and plenty of corn puddin’ — a substance that gets its very own celebratory number, it being a metaphor for these stage shows featuring cheesily painted Americana backdrops. They can’t go home until they find “true love,” which, of course, they learn from a leprechaun (played by Martin Short).
But the six-episode series, which premieres on Apple TV+ Friday, isn’t ruthless in its takedown of those sappy musical tropes, which include a man and a woman instantly falling in love, a chorus of merry townsfolk, jazz hands, and moody song reprises. The show goofs on the conventions of the genre, but it’s an affectionate goof, one that makes fun of the sexism and vapidity of the old shows while simultaneously delivering top-notch and well-shot choreography and plenty of catchy schmaltz. Turns out New York doctors Melissa and Josh, who’ve begun to take each other for granted, have something to learn from the insanely innocent people of Schmigadoon, just as those people have something to learn from Melissa and Josh.
And that makes “Schmigadoon!” easier to enjoy; a snarkier and more damning take on musical theater might have been more satisfying for an episode or two, but it would have worn thin after that. The show is a happy valentine to the likes of “Oklahoma!” — but a valentine with qualifications regarding the denial, the moral suffocation, the racism, and the absurd idealism of that old-school world. Melissa is prone to the notion of storybook perfection, and she holds Josh to that standard of love. She needs to get real, to some extent, like some of the Schmigadoonians. Josh, on the other hand, is a cynic who refuses to sing along, and perhaps he needs to let go a bit, to don a stupid hat or sing a mawkish love song to the skies.
Each episode opens with a flashback to previous phases in Melissa and Josh’s relationship back in the city, including their first meeting. We can see them start to drift away from each other, just as we can see their endearing compatibilities. It’s a smart choice, as it gives us an intimate sense of who they were before they reached the pastel-colored crossroads that is Schmigadoon. Strong and Key are just right together, and they are surrounded by a thoroughly game cast of Broadway veterans including Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming as the mayor, Aaron Tveit as the local hottie loner, and Jane Krakowski, whose appearance as a version of the Baroness from “The Sound of Music” is perfection. She sings a song loaded with wordplay that sounds an awful lot like Cole Porter’s “Always True to You in My Fashion,” until, quirkily, it doesn’t.
Like the characters, the songs, from show creators Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, walk an entertaining line between originality and winking appropriation; some are spoofing specific songs from the canon, such as “Ya Got Trouble” and “Do-Re-Mi,” others are just generally familiar. It’s fun to suss out all the allusions — but if you’re not a student of Broadway musicals, you will most likely get a kick out of the witty songs anyway. Melissa is clearly a fan, and her comments about the musical traditions on display add an appealing touch of meta to the proceedings. When the music kicks in for the Baroness’s number, Melissa says, “Wait, you get a song? That’s surprising. You’re kind of a minor character.” Like so much about “Schmigadoon!,” it’s a charming moment, pleasantly self-aware, and always true to its stage roots in its fashion.
Starring: Cecily Strong, Keegan-Michael Key, Aaron Tveit, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Ariana DeBose, Jane Krakowski, Jaime Camil, Fred Armisen. On Apple TV+. Premieres Friday