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Original caricature by Jeff York of Ariana DeBose in the second season of SCHMIGADOON! (copyright 2023)

The streaming comedy series SCHMIGADOON! could very well be the most unique sitcom this century. Its first season story concerned a forlorn twosome’s attempt to save their relationship at a couple’s retreat who then stumbled upon a magical, Broadway-esque world called Schmigadoon in the woods. Melissa and John (Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key) were at first flummoxed by such a place but then grew to find the residents charming. Everyone broke into song and dance to express themselves, and soon enough Melissa and John were doing so too. The series was a hoot as it satirized popular mid-20th century shows like THE MUSIC MAN, BRIGADOON, and CAROUSEL, and their quaint communities of naifs. Such an idealized world ending up inspiring Melissa and John to try to love each other a little harder, so they returned to their home in Manhattan better for having experienced such a sojourn.

Now, it’s two years later, and Melissa and John are not just committed to each other, they’re married and trying to get pregnant. Their failure to start a family is starting to stress them both out, so they decide to go back to Schmigadoon to see if they can recapture some of the magic they experienced there the first time. This time, however, they find a much darker place. Schmigadoon no longer exists as it’s been replaced by a darker, scary city called Schmicago. Of course, that change is riffing on Broadway’s transition from the family-friendly musical comedies of the 40s and 50s into the much darker-themed shows premiering in the 60s and 70s.

Everywhere Melissa and John go in Schmicago, they run into people living on the edge, the types found in shows like SWEENEY TODD, HAIR, SWEET CHARITY, and indeed, CHICAGO. Our heroic couple feels anxious in kind as they’re forced to rub shoulders with gangsters, strippers, hippies, sleazy law enforcement, and a smarmy, all-knowing narrator (Titus Burgess) channeling the faux-friendly, sequined stylings of a smarmy Ben Vereen.

Burgess’ narrator tries to guide Melissa and John through the ins and outs of this dangerous, new world, and it’s a kick to see last year’s cast return in different roles. Broadway vets Kristen Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Jane Krakowski, Aaron Tveit, and Jaime Camil all return and are having a ball here. Two of the standouts of the cast include Dove Cameron, playing an equally brazen and vulnerable Sally Bowles-type from CABARET and Patrick Page channeling silky evil as this year’s big bad. Martin Short pops by too for a few funny scenes and the invaluable Adriana DeBose returns as well to ‘do her thing’, providing a few showstoppers as a chanteuse  at the local cabaret.

Melissa and John try to stay out of trouble and find their way home, but the strange residents of this depraved new world keep getting in their way. John even gets arrest for a murder he didn’t commit in the very first episode. ( The first two are available now on Apple TV + with four more to come.) The mixing of shows like SWEENEY TODD and HAIR can seem very odd at times, and this season doesn’t feel quite as cohesive as the first, but the satire is as sharp as ever, even if there isn’t a song as catchy as the Emmy-winning “Corn Puddin” from 2021.

Show creators and head writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul work wonders with the dialogue and songs throughout, and the choreography complements all of the Great White Way lunacy perfectly. (Chenoweth and Cumming channel SWEENEY TODD so well it would behoove someone somewhere to cast them in the legit roles.) The series finely walks the line too between loving the shows they’re spoofing and taking the piss out of them.

Strong and Key are even better this go-round, playing both the parody and the pathos with equal aplomb. And despite all the fun digs at everything from the precociously irritating orphans found in shows like ANNIE and OLIVER to the new-age angst in shows like JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, this season feels more serious. The messaging has more gravitas this go-round as it reminds us that survival in any world is always a tricky task. We all must make the most of whatever lot we’ve got in life, whether we’re living in Schmicago or Chicago. And anybody who faces such challenges head-on each day deserves our applause.

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