Melissa and Josh (Cicely Strong and Keegan-Michael Key) are stuck in Schmigadoon, a magical place steeped in some of musical theatre's most beloved tropes and figures, and they can only get back home if they find true love. With their own relationship on the skids, the pair has taken up with the local doctor and schoolmarm, but by the fifth episode—now streaming on AppleTV+—finding true love living in a classic musical is turning out to be somewhat of a challenge.
Schmigadoon! dropped the first two episodes of the six-episode series on AppleTV+ July 16, following with weekly episodes on Fridays. And Playbill, lovers of all things musical, are glued to the screen trying to spot all the spoofs, allusions, and Easter eggs.
Read on as two Playbill staffers go scene-by-scene calling out plot points and the Golden Age musicals that inspired them. If you're behind, get caught up with our re-caps of the first and second, third, and fourth episodes.
The moment before:
Love is in the air in Schmigadoon, with Melissa falling for steamy Doc Lopez and Josh romancing old maid schoolmarm Emma, but we’re also pretty sure that Melissa and Josh secretly still want each other.
EPISODE 5: Tribulation
Talaura: We open in a flashback two years, five months before Schmigs, with Melissa and Josh in another little tiff. This one doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. Josh makes fun of Melissa and she gets mad but he apologizes. To me, this is a relationship that’s working correctly, but let me ask my cats what they think.
(Jk I have a dog.)
Logan: I just find it really difficult to understand how Melissa acts in this scene because I, in fact, have never been wrong yet. It’s my cross to bear.
Back in Schmigadoon, it’s the end of a work day at Doc Lopez’s office and, to the Doc’s surprise, Melissa starts disrobing—by taking off her shoes.
Talaura: How’s he gonna catch that cloud and pin it down?
Logan: It seems like Melissa and Doc Lopez are really starting to fall for each other. Like any good musical, that means it’s time for an Act 2 (we’re on episode 5 of 6, I think we can call this the second act now) reprise of the love duet! Melissa and Doc Lopez return to “Suddenly,” now with deeper feelings and clearer-eyed passion, much like… well, pretty much every musical. And then the pair go on a brief polka waltz around the office, echoing Anna and the King of Siam in The King and I’s “Shall We Dance,” including a direct quote of the fermata’d pick-ups to that iconic dance break—cue the requisite audience applause, at least in my house!
Our pair ends up waltzing directly into Baroness Schraeder The Countess Gabrielle von *clears throat* (Jane Krakowski), Doc Lopez’s fiancé, and, as he tells us, the inventor of stainless steel.
Talaura: The Countess is, of course, a stand-in for Baroness Elsa von Schraeder from The Sound of Music, stepping into the Maria-Melissa/Captain Georg-Doctor Jorge romance, but that phlegmy name von Blerkhom reminds me of Grand Hotel’s Flaemmchen, a role originated by Krakowski on Broadway, so that’s fun. Also note that Melissa is now fully pointing out the references in Schmigadoon, so what are we even here for?
Logan: I also love that The Countess finally gives us the Doc’s first name, Jorge. If I’m not mistaken, the Baroness (and maybe Max) is the only character who refers to Captain Von Trapp as Georg in The Sound of Music. We’re also firmly establishing that, like the Baroness, The Countess is one of those characters that the story wants us to believe are villains even though it’s hard to make that case in 2021 when societal expectations of women have evolved a great deal. 1959’s conniving and cold Baroness is 2021’s strong, intelligent woman who knows what she wants.
Talaura: Meanwhile, Josh is on a picnic with schoolmarm Emma and her little brother Carson. That kazoo worked its magic because now Carson is spitting out syllables and sentences stuffed with S’s and Emma is kissing Dr. Skinner!
Logan: Emma is concerned about Josh returning to New York. “It isn’t safe. It’s filled with gambling and crime and poor souls who have tried to make it big but can’t go back home because of foolish pride.” I guess we’ll take our Marian the Librarian with a side of Guys and Dolls’ Sarah Brown and the Save-a-Soul Mission today.
Things are going great between Josh and Emma, until he tries to compliment her, saying “It can’t be easy being both a sister and a parent.” Emma is bristled and takes off, reminding me of one of my favorite musical theatre conspiracy theories, that The Music Man’s Winthrop is secretly Marian’s love child with Miser Madison and the conspicuously very post menopausal Mrs. Paroo is standing in as his mother to save face in judgmental River City. But enough about my Broadway fanfic.
Talaura: Over in the town square, KChen finally gets her solo and boy oh boy is this worth the wait. This is the number where the episode gets its title: “Tribulation.” It’s a parody of “Trouble” from The Music Man and Hugh Jackman now has some very tiny shoes to fill with this patter performance.
Plot wise, the song blames the outside intruders (Melissa and Josh, natch) for causing strife and tribulation in town, that will lead to all manner of no-good, like babies out of wedlock (leave Nancy alone!) and miscegenation (leave Julie LaVerne alone!), and the Mayor isn’t doing anything about it (“...his mind is elsewhere. In his pants!”) so now she’s gonna run for mayor.
Some very dexterous lyric writing in this number, too. LOL at this little run:
“Not loud-mouthed trash with their tommyrot and flapdoodle
Claptrap and fiddle faddle and jiggery pokery
Stirring up the cream while we're waiting for it to settle
Like vermin in the root cellar, flies in the buttermilk.”
Logan: This one is a pretty direct parody, down to a second verse talking about the “right kind of” people and decrying sinful ragtime music. Christopher Gatelli is also giving us a bouncing ensemble and church hands choreography, just like Onna White used in “Trouble.” Well, Onna White and every other choreographer who has ever staged The Music Man. I doubt this was intentional, but the final shot with Mrs. Layton in front of all the political posters also gave me some “A New Argentina” vibes.
Talaura: And another fun “witch” reference with the broom.
Logan: Back at the schoolhouse, Carson is being punished for “spying” on Emma and Josh’s kiss earlier by having to write “I will not spy” 500 times. Josh ties two pencils together for him so he can write in double time, invoking the “Air Bud rule” so that it’s not cheating—apparently in Air Bud the dog is allowed to play basketball because there isn’t a rule expressly forbidding it. Or something. Air Bud isn’t a musical, so not really my specialty.
Separately, Melissa is out for a drive with The Countess, who laments that “powerful men can never resist the help.” (That particular trope extends well beyond musical theatre, too.) As Gabrielle starts getting a song cue, Melissa is surprised because smaller, supporting characters don’t usually get songs. I guess she hasn’t seen The Sound of Music on stage where Elsa has TWO songs, “No Way to Stop It” and “How Can Love Survive.” Both were cut for the movie version, but they’re kind of bops and worth the listen.
The Countess’s song, “I Almost Always Never Get My Man,” is clearly modeled on one of the great female supporting character songs, “Always True to You In My Fashion” from Kiss Me, Kate. And ya know just don’t worry about how she’s singing, dancing, and driving at the same time—Any real musical theatre talent can totally handle it. Cut to the Countess pulling a gun on Melissa and abandoning her on the side of the road—she doesn’t play around! Turns out that maybe Melissa IS the villain in this story (cue that “am I the villain?” TikTok sound). Melissa’s comeback? “It’s never explicitly stated, but I think you’re a Nazi.” Countess: “Of course I’m a Nazi.” This show is genius.
Talaura: Back at the schoolhouse, before we get to the scene, please note on the chalkboard the Parent-Teacher Conferences appointment times with Loesser, Willson, Berlin, Lerner, and Loewe. Pro-tip: Hit pause whenever you see something written, i.e. the store names in town, Emma’s chalkboard.
Emma admits to Josh that Carson is actually her son! Carson overhears the confession and runs away. Schmigadoon! did right by you, Logan.
Logan: Stay out of my headcanon, Schmigadoon writers!
Back on the side of the road, Melissa is digging through her backpack and discovers her heart rock, the one she swore Josh had lost even though he thought she still had it. Realizing that she was wrong in the fight that started this whole mess, Melissa is thrown into an existential crisis just as the lights turn a dreamy purple and a Melissa-esque dancer ballet-walks towards her. “Oh no, is this a dream ballet? We’re not having a dream ballet. They’re annoying and stupid and slow everything down. Nobody loves a dream ballet—nobody!” Umm, speak for yourself, Melissa!
As any classic musical theatre fan can attest, dream ballets and dream-like ballet sequences became common after Agnes de Mille used one as the act one finale in Oklahoma! Similar sequences can be found in Carousel, Allegro, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, to name just a few. And fun fact, Jerome Robbins had planned one as the finale to Gypsy but didn’t have time to stage it, leading to Sondheim writing “Rose’s Turn” late at night during the out-of-town tryout—I’d say that one really worked out. We’re also visually referencing the dreamy color filters that are all over the film adaptation of South Pacific, an odd choice that was meant to mimic the stage lighting from the musical’s Broadway production.
Talaura: You’re full of fun facts today. I will say that the way Melissa is just standing there on the side of the road not knowing what to do, maybe she could have used the clarity usually provided by a dream ballet, so that’s on her.
Josh is off looking for Carson in the woods and out pops Billy Bigelow...errr...Danny Bailey who beats Josh up for stealing his gal. Josh hits the forest floor, landing right by the “Josh” heart rock that Melissa had thrown away before they got to Schmigdoon. Music swells. Roll credits.
Logan: And stay tuned because the credits run over Chenoweth singing “Tribulation,” which is more than worth the second listen!
"Tributlation," the fifth episode of Schmigadoon, is streaming now on AppleTV+.