Schmigadoon review: Modern love meets old-fashioned musical in cheerful, star-packed comedy

Keegan-Michael Key and SNL's Cecily Strong cross a bridge into a musical in the charming Apple TV Plus series Schmigadoon. 

Apple TV Plus

Schmigadoon, Apple TV Plus' new parody of musicals, might be filled with 1940s characters singing outdated lyrics, but it's a sincere relationship story with a lot of heart. 

The six-episode show, which starts streaming Friday, doesn't quite answer the question of why society needed a spoof of old musicals, but it packs just enough laughs and saccharine moments to make you glad you stuck around. And in addition to Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key as the couple at the center of the story, you get to spend time with Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Fred Armisen and Jane Krakowski. CNET Culture

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In Schmigadoon, Josh and Melissa's three-year relationship stalls, and they wind up on a couple's backpacking trip. Though the audience doesn't know everything that's happened since the two got together, it's not hard to get a clue. They butt heads on a hike, Josh showing a lack of enthusiasm and effort, and Melissa not letting it slide.

But then the pair spots a bridge, shrouded by mist, and steps across. What follows is an introduction to the sweet, song-heavy town of Schmigadoon, home to a gaggle of townspeople with old-fashioned clothing and views. Residents break out into a lively musical number, introducing audiences to the plethora of in-your-face musical parody to come. "Where a man can dream, dream so big and wide ... and a gal can be there right by his side..." they sing. 

Schmigadoonians live in a studio musical from the 1940s, a fact Josh and Melissa soon discover. The news is delivered to them by a small, bearded leprechaun, who also reveals they can't leave Schmigadoon again until they find "true love." 

Apple TV Plus

Though I consider myself a fan of musicals in general, I haven't seen too many older titles, especially from the 40s and 50s. The series draws from Brigadoon, which debuted on Broadway in 1947, and follows two young American tourists in Scotland who stumble onto a town that appears once every 100 years.

Still, even without a degree in classic musicals, it's not hard to feel like you're in on the show's jokes and criticisms of the genre. The series is a lively, light-hearted tale about relationships, capturing what it's like to feel burned out, hurt and stuck, but also comfortable and valued.  The first two episodes of the series premiere Friday, with the rest released weekly.

The production was co-written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, who also worked together on Horton Hears a Who, The Lorax and Despicable Me, with Paul crafting all the show's catchy tunes. It was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, known for directing the the Men in Black movies.  The characters in Schmigadoon are expressive and overstated, and it's fun to watch the show's stacked lineup of stars do their thing.

Chenoweth plays a dearily dressed traditionalist who frowns at Josh and Melissa's "newfangled ideas." Cumming is the mustachioed mayor who is secretly gay. Disney channel star Dove Cameron is a plaid-wearing, sweet-talking farmer's daughter. Ironically, the mystical bridge causes a rift in Josh and Melissa's relationship, throwing the pair into new romantic encounters. That prompts some memorable musical numbers, including one about "enjoying the ride," and another about "crossing a bridge." (Another parody, it includes lyrics about finding a man before you are too old to be desirable.)

We learn more about Josh and Melissa's relationship through flashbacks at the start of each episode. There's the good -- the pair saying "I love you" for the first time as snow falls around them. And there's the bad -- when Josh awkwardly refuses to join Melissa on the dance floor at a wedding.

It paints a broader picture of what things were like between them.  The series also has truly funny bits of dialogue. Josh, still not acclimated to his musical prison, describes it as "if 'The Walking Dead' was also 'Glee.'" At one point, Melissa happily exclaims, "That hot guy just bought me for two dollars..." I'll let you watch for yourself to fill in the context on that one. 

Not every scene is quite as engaging. Especially in the latter three episodes, my attention started to wander. But the musical numbers, for the most part, shine through.

Extensive parts of songs were shot in one take, which kept my eyes glued to the screen. It also helped that the episodes were roughly 30 minutes each, a length which, for the most part, didn't stretch the material too thin.  It's just about as long in its entirety as this summer's In The Heights, but a little less real and rough around the edges.

It should be more like 2016's La La Land, another relationship tale, but Schmigadoon is grounded so little in reality it's hard to compare the two.

In the end, it's is a comedic fairy tale, where things never get too rough, and morals and messages abound. 

If you have about three hours to spare, and don't share Josh's total hatred of musicals, do yourself a favor and cross the bridge to Schmigadoon.