Trouble in River City

So the tall half of Key & Peele hooked up with the Strong chick from SNL and went and made a 70s movie about sex. Cute.

It’s hard not to like lighthearted comedy, even when it fall short of Aldous Huxley’s definition of intellectual. An intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex. If you bother to watch the new six episode musical comedy called Schmigadoon, you will find several minor plots involving various angles on the age old question “What’s love got to do.. got to do with it?” all revolving about the complications of having sex outside of the kind of social constructions you can expect from a cast of singing, dancing townies who dress like they all work at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Aside from the miracle of casting that has managed to find three dozen community theatre actors who are all somewhere in the tight neighborhood of 5 foot 8, Schmigadoon gives us all something to ponder - the contemplation of other people’s navels and what lies below. In a series of dramatic skits, our protagonists, a couple of NYC doctors who date for about three years try to find some satisfaction in their tottering relationship by going to couples therapy. What starts off as a simple trip through the forest, winds up on the doorstep of an Oz-like village out of time populated by a musical troupe. This throwback town, a parody of some fantasy of the bad old days when America loved Mickey Rooney, takes our stereotypical couple through stereotypical melodramas of culture clash involving corn pudding. In a twist, they find themselves unable to leave this twilight zone until they find true love.

As their own relationship crumbles, they find two tristable possibilities in the town’s rogue carney who crows that he can’t be changed and in an underage hottie straight out of Lil Abner, complete with her shotgun pappy. Our daring doctors fall for the okey doke fairly quickly because maybe true love is thataway, but it doesn’t work out. So they try again. You see, you cannot leave this Hotel California until you find true love.

Ahh but eventually, after the Nazi duchess, the schoolmarm with a secret, the suave doctor who is the young version of the Dos Equis guy, the closeted mayor and the biddy brigade… Oh wait, I’ve forgotten the antagonist. How could I? The wicked witch of Schmigadoon is a squeaky voiced Bible thumper who, like swamp gas, has permeated every institution in the town that her great great grandfather founded. The Repressor of Truth, Love, Honesty, Freedom and Change wears the pants in this town, under her petticoats and corset. Her sad horse-faced husband, is of course the Christian minister who does just enough bumbling to make you actually miss the magnetic dynamism of Ned Flanders & Waylon Smithers.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Key literally tries to escape Schmigadoon by walking over the magical bridge of true love with every infatuated babe in town. I mean, he is a tall, sensitive, handsome doctor. That doesn’t work, dammit. But he does manage to forgive, with genuine beta sensitivity, the schoolmarm with a secret and transforms her life. As well, Strong works her contemporary NYC charm and transforms her subjects with the most absolutely delightful cringe song I have ever heard.

Well by episode six, all of Schmigadoon has been upended by these rascals and the number one biddy has had it up to here. She sings her soliloquy of consternation and strife, which is of course a campaign speech which aims to save the people from Satan, in the form of homosexuality, extramarital sex, birth out of wedlock, kidnapped infants and yes, goats consorting with sheep. And she almost pulls it off until the magic of those rebellious hellion doctors from New York City compels the townies to tell the truth of their sexual escapades and shed their shame. This process reveals the sexual secrets of the wicked witch whose hubby confesses he’s got a thing for the now openly gay mayor, who of course gets re-elected.

But not before our heroes figure out what twats they have been to each other and finally sing their own love song, and segue into the final number in which the entire cast in their straw boaters and calico finally update their music to 1975. Close your eyes and Schmigadoon has become Godspell.


As much as I love the music of Prince, and Micheal Jackson for that matter, I never quite bought into the idea that sex was all that liberating. Those two artists were clearly at odds. Prince’s sex-machina worked in the most clever ways. I’m torn between his ‘Temptation’ and his ‘Cindy C’ even though ‘Adore’ is in my estimation probably his greatest song. Through all that, Prince was loving enough to keep it as simple as a ‘Kiss’. Michael on the other hand is cursed with ‘Billy Jean’, ‘Dirty Diana’ and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, it’s tragedy after tragedy ending in real life tragedy. He was probably most in love with the ‘Man in the Mirror’ who was always just a lonely heartbroken boy.

Indeed, what love has to do with it is all the difference in the world, as the one character in Schmigadoon with any gravitas put plainly. (I’ll let you figure out who she was). It is in love we recognize our commitment to make it so, to suffuse our faith with works, to show and prove.

The 1970s were, for me, the reprieve from the revolution. The end of the Vietnam War. The end of the long hot summers of race riots. The rise of integration and the Bicentennial. The end of the disaster films and the beginning of Star Wars. It was, in that way of the Happy Hooker, the baby boom after the dark chaos of the dropout generation. The Me Generation brought their long hair and their bright colored bellbottom and collars into shape. Their ideas of liberated sex, drugs and rock & roll were very much like their muscle cars, powerful, dangerous and unsafe. It feels like freedom to drive 80 mph in a convertible with no shoulder belts and a steel dashboard. That’s all we had, and we dared. Anything to get away from consternation and strife.

That is the 1970s of the Schmigadoon emergent at the end of episode six. It has been shocked into recognition of the improvisation necessary to deal with the truth of complexity (about sex). It discovers that the romantic vision of an unchanging ideal village cannot work without repressive lies (about sex). It found out, as Jeff Goldblum told us in Jurassic Park, that life finds a way (about sex).

I don’t have to tell you that in all of its complexity, sex is its own reward. It is in that way like eating. But there is nothing quite so annoying as somebody who feels the need to express to you what kind food or sex they find most acceptable. Well, actually what’s more annoying are proxies of the same subjects, and Schmigadoon’s morality in the kingdom of sex is both as narrow and digestible as it gets.

It’s too bad Key and Strong couldn’t find a more interesting subject than sex to sing about. It’s not the only kind of liberation people need, but yeah it was still cute.