Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

Schmigadoon!: Cecily Strong Just Sang, Danced, and Psycho-Laughed Her Way to an Emmy

The SNL star has never been more vulnerable in a showstopping performance

Maggie Fremont
Cecily Strong, Schmigadoon!

Cecily Strong, Schmigadoon!

Apple TV+

If Season 1 of Apple TV+'s musical comedy Schmigadoon! asks if there is an audience for a series that is both part of the musical genre and a send up of it, deep cut references and all, the currently airing Season 2 declares it. Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio's series returns sharper and more confident than ever, with a cast that is fully committed. 

In Season 1, couple Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) hit a rough patch in their marriage and wind up stuck in Schmigadoon, a magical land built entirely from the Golden Age of Broadway musicals during the 1940s and '50s — think Brigadoon, Oklahoma!, and Carousel — until they can find their way back to true love. Season 2 finds Melissa and Josh changed by their time in Schmigadoon, but the monotony of everyday life and their inability to have a baby sends them searching for a way to return to the bright, hopeful land of musicals. This time around, however, the couple lands in Schmicago, a much seedier magical world, this one made from the "edgier" musicals of the '60s and '70s, like Chicago, Cabaret, A Chorus Line, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Hair, that took Broadway in a new direction. While Melissa and Josh attempt to find a happy ending for themselves and others in their orbit that will allow them to leave, they wind up in the middle of all the murder, mayhem, and music that exists in Schmicago.

The season's first four episodes haven't missed — no, seriously, how many times have you watched Jane Krakowski's "Bells and Whistles" performance? — but still, the penultimate episode, "Famous as Hell," converges storylines and moves chess pieces in preparation for the finale, standing above the rest. From where I'm sitting, there is one major reason for that: Cecily Strong is a freaking beast in this episode. Not that she hasn't been great up until this point as half of the, for the most part, straight-man couple that acts as the audience's proxy in the well-orchestrated insanity that goes on in this show, but this episode is bookended with two scenes that allow Strong to show off her range in a way we haven't seen before. It's a one-two punch that immediately tosses her into the Emmy conversation. 

The 41 Best Shows and Movies on Apple TV+ Right Now

The episode — which sees Melissa and Josh learning the old "with great power comes great responsibility" truth when they realize they might not have cracked the happy ending formula just yet — forces Melissa into a position she's never been in: the spotlight. Back in Episode 2, Melissa auditions for a spot as a performer at the Kratt Club (Schmigadoon's version of Cabaret's Kit Kat Klub) in order to hopefully discover some evidence that will exonerate Josh, who's been wrongfully accused of the murder of Elsie Vale, a former Kratt Club dancer. In the hilarious audition number "I Need to Eat," Melissa, clearly lacking some dancing skills, admits to feeling "like a wildebeest" next to everyone else. She is, honestly, terrible. But her rough-around-the-edges dancing is no match for the self-doubt she experiences by comparing herself, both physically and talent-wise, to everyone around her. 

Episode 5's opening number, "It's My Turn Now" feels like a response to that moment. Melissa, who is looking forward to another day of being "the best chorus girl you've ever seen" happy to "just blend in and follow the others when she forgets her choreography," is forced into a solo stage performance with almost zero time to prepare. It's a preposterous proposition and yet Melissa barely hesitates to say OK, because deep down, she wants this moment for herself, she's just been too scared to take it. She gives herself a onceover in the mirror and then she appears on stage, alone, in a kicky black and purple dress, and she timidly begins her song about never having "been the one who got the part" and having "a knack for hiding in the back," but wondering, "maybe it's my turn now." 

Although they tackle different subject matters, the song feels like a reference to the Sally Bowles Cabaret showstopper "Maybe This Time," and that is exactly what this song becomes — a showstopper. Strong has never sounded better here, belting with the best of them. But the moment is more than just a great song: Later, Melissa will remark on how empowering it was, how it made her "feel strong and gorgeous." But we don't even need her to explain it, we get to see that transformation written all over her face throughout the performance. It's the most vulnerable Strong has been in the series. There is no joke here, there is no flashy set behind her or a chorus line of dancers to distract — it's just her. By the end of the song, with all that hard-earned confidence, the lyrics shift and she sings, "Yes, there's no more maybe, 'cause baby, it's my turn now." It's not just a gorgeous vocal performance, but an excellent example of character development done through song and Strong nails it all the way through.

Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong, Schmigadoon!

Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong, Schmigadoon!

Apple TV+

But that's not all Strong has to offer in this episode. By the time we get to the closing few minutes, Melissa and Josh are back at the club, this time to enact a plan to give the season's villain Octavius Kratt (Patrick Page) his comeuppance (OK fine, they are going to hand deliver him to Alan Cumming's Sweeney Todd-esque Dooley Blight who is probably, definitely going to kill Kratt in an act of revenge, but Melissa doesn't want to think about that part). Melissa calls Kratt while he's sitting a few tables in front of her and plays up the fact that she's now his favorite girl since her whirlwind climb to the top spot at the club, by which I mean, she attempts to be seductive, by which I mean, she says things like "heeeeey, sexy, thanks again for all the flowers and the candles and poems about my feet." It kicks off one of the funniest sequences of the season. 

The writing here is great — this episode is written by Josh Lieb — but Strong makes some comedic choices that are so fun and unexpected, both in her physical comedy and comedic timing, that take it to the next level. Why does Melissa think it'll be sexier to sit on the chair next to Kratt backward, A.C. Slater style? I mean, it's hilarious that she can't do it because her dress is too tight, but the choice to attempt it at all? I'm still laughing about it. Once awkwardly situated at Kratt's table, Melissa then launches into a terrible impression of her pal and Kratt's former favorite Jenny (Dove Cameron) that is so bad it is genius. When Kratt asks her if she got the roses he sent, her immediate response is "moses supposes I have" and then covers up the gibberish with what can only be described as a 1940s-style laugh, but psychotic. She uses that laugh again as the only way to respond to Kratt's truly off-putting "I'm incapable of feeling remorse," admission. From top to bottom, the whole scene is a masterclass in comedy. 

Cecily Strong has always been fun to watch in this role, but something about her performance this season has felt looser, more vulnerable, and more assured, and there's no better showcase for that than in this episode in which she proves she can do it all. If that's not Emmy-worthy, I don't know what is. 

Schmigadoon! is streaming on Apple TV+. New episodes air Wednesdays.