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'Schmigadoon!' co-creator talks season 2

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

In the first season of "Schmigadoon!" Josh and Melissa, played by Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, found themselves in a magical, musical place, the type of place where the food on the breakfast menu causes everyone around them to break into song.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCHMIGADOON!")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) My gal loves corn pudding. She eats it constantly. Sometimes I get to wondering, does she love it more than me? Does she love it more than me?

DETROW: This week, Apple TV+'s "Schmigadoon!" returns for season two. And while this time, Josh and Melissa have figured out they're living in a musical, the vibe seems a bit off.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCHMIGADOON!")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing) Welcome to Schmicago, our fantastical farrago. Mystery and magic, endings are not tragic.

DETROW: Schmigadoon is now, as you heard, Schmicago. It's traded the classic, syrupy "Music Man" feel of the first season for the broodier, smokier musicals of the late '60s and the '70s - think "Chicago," "Cabaret." And to talk all things "Schmigadoon!" we are joined now by Cinco Paul. He is "Schmigadoon!'s" showrunner, and he wrote all of those delightful songs. Cinco, we are thrilled to have you on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CINCO PAUL: I am thrilled to be here.

DETROW: So season one was all about the main characters finding true love. They found it by working their way through a Golden Age musical filled with parasols and bowler hats and things like that. Where do we find Josh and Melissa at the start of this new season?

PAUL: They made it out of Schmigadoon. They crossed the bridge. They got back into the real world. But they found, over time, the magic of Schmigadoon has worn off, and they're just not as happy as they think they should be. And so they get the idea, well, maybe we can go back to Schmigadoon. And they discover you can never go back to Schmigadoon. And instead, they find themselves in Schmicago - darker, grittier, sexier, scarier. And they're told they can't leave until they make a happy ending. So I thought, oh, that's a great journey for Josh and Melissa, right? How do you find joy in a world where there are no happy endings? - which is really our world.

DETROW: I think you would probably admit that musicals can kind of sometimes be maybe a closed-culture world, to put it mildly. What's your pitch for people who weren't the type A theater kids who know right away that "Schmigadoon!" is a riff on "Brigadoon" and know exactly what song you're referencing at every point in the two seasons?

PAUL: Yeah. To me, it's come for the comedy, and then stay for the music. You know, we have Cecily and Keegan leading the comedy, and, really, that's at the heart of this. And so hopefully that's the carrot that pulls people in. And then suddenly they say, wait a minute, am I actually enjoying a musical? That's sort of the Trojan Horse method.

DETROW: So a big number in season one happens when Josh has to find true love to leave Schmigadoon. He gets a little desperate, and we get this montage moment where he's trying to court the entire town at once. And we get the big song, "Cross That Bridge."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCHMIGADOON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Find that bridge, and cross it now. Find that bridge, and cross it right now. Let the other gals keep waiting, wasting time procrastinating by the bridge and cross it right now.

DETROW: So let's just take that song. What was your starting point? Were you thinking, OK, this is the plot of the season at this point? Or are you thinking, I want to do this type of song from these types of musicals and working backwards from there?

PAUL: It's probably a bit of both. But this one, I think, was driven a little more by story.

DETROW: Before we move on to season two, I'm wondering, is there a particular song from either season that you had to cut that you're still mourning?

PAUL: Yeah. I mean, there was a song in season one that was based on "We Kiss In The Shadows" from "The King And I" called "We Neck In The Basement."

DETROW: (Laughter).

PAUL: I really loved that song, and that had to go. And then season two, I really wanted to write my version of "Ease On Down The Road" from "The Wiz," and we just couldn't find a place for it again. So...

DETROW: You did find the place for a lot of "Chicago" references. I want to talk about "Do We Shock You?" This is early on in the first episode. Josh and Melissa find themselves in a cabaret.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCHMIGADOON!")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Do we shock you, make you ill at ease? Do we offend your tender sensibilities? There's no norm we won't transgress. Look, there's a man, and he's wearing a dress.

DETROW: So I think the technical term for this song is kind of, "(Hey) Big Spender"-y (ph)

PAUL: Yes.

DETROW: But there's also a running joke on shifting standards that you were playing with. Was that the starting point?

PAUL: Yeah. This next era of musicals, it's not as easy pickings as the Golden Age...

DETROW: Yeah.

PAUL: ...As far as things that are problematic 'cause generally, things were more progressive. It's the '60s and the '70s. But they were pretty full of themselves, thinking a lot of how transgressive they were being.

DETROW: Yeah.

PAUL: You know? And we're, like, pushing boundaries, man, and those sort of things. So it was - I realized, oh, this is ripe area for a little bit of satire.

DETROW: Is it a little harder to spoof or celebrate, like, a "Sweeney Todd"-type song than a "Hello, Dolly!"-type number?

PAUL: One hundred percent. I mean, the Sondheim stuff is my biggest challenge this season 'cause "Sweeney Todd" is my favorite musical.

DETROW: Yeah.

PAUL: And it's just like, how can you poke a hole in that? It's perfection. And so, you know, you find the humor in it in other ways. Just the earnestness of a Sweeney character singing, you know, about his torment and then having Cecily just sort of bounce off of that and react to that as a modern person is - that's where you get the humor from. But it's just like, there's really nothing to mock...

DETROW: Yeah.

PAUL: ...In "Sweeney Todd."

DETROW: I had a big-picture question for you, and it's a little inspired by something that actually happened at NPR the other week. It's been a bit of a difficult time at NPR. We've had a lot of layoffs, like a lot of other media companies.

PAUL: Yeah.

DETROW: But for our Tiny Desk concert, the cast of "Wicked" came in a couple weeks ago. And you could just feel the mood of everybody there shift in such, like, a wonderful and sincere way. And I'm wondering, what do you think it is about songs from musicals that can spark so much more emotion than other types of songs?

PAUL: Boy. It's just - there's something magical about people bursting into song and singing their feelings. It's such a brave act in so many ways. And it comes straight from the heart 'cause people don't burst into song to say something snarky or cynical. I think, in some ways, we wish we could all be that free.

DETROW: Yeah.

PAUL: And so there's something just really magical and delightful about it. At least for me, I've always found that. Like, since the first musical I saw, I was just like - I just loved it. And I knew that ultimately, I wanted to do that too.

DETROW: That was Cinco Paul. He is the showrunner and the songwriter for the Apple TV+ series "Schmigadoon!" Season two is out now. Cinco Paul, thank you so much for joining us.

PAUL: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.