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Schmigadoon! Episode 5 — “Tribulation”

Courtesy of Apple TV+

Schmigadoon! Episode 5 “Tribulation” doubles down on the musical theatre parody while also increasing the stakes. Everything that happens in the episode is tied closely to the musicals that the show is mining for ideas, which leaves little room for the characters to develop their motivations. This makes Schmigadoon! a frustrating show. Entertaining, but frustrating. It has such great potential, great performers, and a great idea of what it is trying to do, but it keeps following up highs like last week’s series-best episode, “Suddenly,” with moments that don’t quite gel, like the introduction of The Countess (Jane Krakowski).

It turns out that the budding romance between Mel (Cecily Strong) and Doc Lopez (Jaime Camil) has a big impediment—he is engaged. Lopez’s fiance is the Countess Gabriele Von Blerkom, who is also a direct parallel to Baroness Elsa Schräder from The Sound of Music. The Countess is not at all pleased to see the Doctor has “once again” taken to kissing the “help” and she spends the episode attempting to remove Mel from the equation entirely. Krakowski has a very distinctive acting style, and a very over-the-top delivery that fits with the stylized nature of Schmigadoon!, but does not allow the audience to feel a deep connection to the characters she plays.

The Countess (Jane Krakowski) stands on the top of her steering wheel dancing as Mel (Cecily Strong) looks on
Courtesy of Apple TV+

There are two big reasons that The Countess shows up though. The first of these is to give Krakowski a big “show-off” number. The Countess takes Mel on a drive through the countryside during which she sings about all the times she, and by extension, her character trope, has come in second in the ways of love to the younger, free-spirited, outsider. During the song Krakowski goes all in, writhing all over the car seats, jumping into the back seat, and preening sexily as she belts (which Krakowski has done before). At the end of the showcase number, The Countess reveals some crucial information: there have been other “outsiders” and she has removed them from the equation.

Mel is left stranded on the side of the road with her only backpack, and as she says “nothing to go back for,” until she discovers the rock with her name on it that she accused Josh of losing at the beginning of the adventure. With this development and Josh’s discovery of Melissa’s rock at the end of the episode, it seems likely that Josh and Mel are finally on the path to getting back together, and getting out of Schmigadoon. This is probably for the best as there is only one episode left in the season and Mrs. Layton (Kristin Chenoweth) is finally making her move to rid the town of all the “undesirable elements”.

Mrs. Layton was already roughly analogous to Mrs. Shinn from The Music Man, the busybody townsperson who is always ready to spread gossip and innuendo, but with her big number (also titled “Tribulation”) she becomes a frightening combination of Mrs. Shinn and Harold Hill himself. Chenoweth tears into the number (which is almost an exact parody of “(Ya Got) Trouble”) with a gusto that would make Robert Preston himself (the original Harold Hill) proud. Show co-creator and songwriter Cinco Paul really outdoes himself with the number, making it both an incredible homage to the original while still having just enough originality to stand on its own.

Mrs. Layton (Kristin Chenoweth) singing to the locals who begin to give looks of agreement and link arms in front of the Schmigadoon Inn
Courtesy of Apple TV+

In an almost 8-minute number, filmed as an unbroken take by director Barry Sonnenfeld, Mrs. Layton runs through the town square of Schmigadoon imparting the evils of Mel and Josh to the locals. As she sings, just as with Hill, the townspeople are swayed by her preternatural charisma, and, by the end of the song, her plan is revealed. She is running for Mayor to unseat the unsuitable Mayor Menlove (Alan Cumming, who, hilariously, is in the background of the scene with absolutely no lines and is never even really in focus). Mrs. Layton accuses the interlopers of all manner of depravity and blames them for the “tribulation” the town is facing, and the citizens of Schmigadoon eat it up.

While all of this is going on, Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) and Emma (Ariana DeBose) are having a much better time of things. Picnicking in the woods and continuing to bask in the feelings that they discovered in “Suddenly”. Until Josh mentions that Emma seems like both a mother and a sister to Carson (Liam Quiring-Nkindi) which greatly upsets Emma and has her cut off all contact with Josh. It turns out that our sweet Miss Tate has a secret past of pain and regretted decisions and that Carson is her son, not her brother.

The decision to have Miss Tate be more than the fun-loving schoolteacher is a good one, it gives more depth to the character, allows Josh to be more sympathetic as he actually tries to help her lessen her guilt, and, most importantly, it allows DeBose to show that she has range as an actress. When Emma gets angry and cuts Josh off the tension is palpable, and later when she is crying in her schoolhouse and tells Josh the truth, DeBose’s performance is the most naturalistic and nuanced that we have seen on the show so far. Everything about this character and this actress has been amazing.

Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) and Emma (Ariana DeBose) sitting in the woods looking at each other with sad and serious expressions
Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

I haven’t written much about the opening scenes set back in the “real world”, mostly because I prefer the musical aspects of the show, and also I don’t think Strong or Key can pull off the acting in the “realistic” moments. But those scenes have all given a really interesting insight into Josh and Mel’s relationship and their faults. In “Tribulation” Mel reveals that she thinks the expression “dog eat dog” is “doggy dog” and Josh relentlessly hounds her about it. The writing is the key here—episode writer Alison Silverman gets at the heart of both characters, both what makes them charming, and what makes them infuriating. It is also evident from scenes like these that the two of them do belong together and no matter how much we may love Miss Tate, the two of them will have to rediscover their love to leave Schmigadoon.

A Few Of My Favorite Things

To close out these musings each week I thought it would be fun to list a few of my favorite specific references to other musicals. There are many many more and I encourage anyone who would like to play along to post their favorites in the comments!

  • Mel references that characters like The Countess never get a song, but this is not entirely true. The Baroness does have two songs in The Sound of Music but both songs were cut from the movie and are often cut from other productions of the show as well. They also just happen to be my two favorite songs from the piece: “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way to Stop It”. Both songs feature Max and Elsa and include a deeply sardonic take on both love and activism. By including these songs in the otherwise straightforward show about playing in the mountains, falling in love, and escaping the Nazis, Rodgers and Hammerstein add a depth and sophistication both musically and lyrically that productions that cut them suffer without.
  • Ariana DeBose has given several interviews where she talks about her inspirations for Miss Tate. These include Anna Leonowens and Marian Paroo, as previously mentioned, as well as Mary Poppins and a few other essential characters from stage and film musicals. If there is any justice in the world DeBose will end 2021 as an enormous star, but either way, she has already won a great number of lifelong fans.
  • While Mel is stranded on the road the scene goes purple and a lone dancer, dressed to emulate Mel herself, approaches. But Mel refuses to allow it because “no one likes a dream ballet”. The dream ballet may be much mocked and derided but it was an incredible progression in musical theater’s development as an art. And the dream ballet in Oklahoma! Is one of the defining moments of the form, bringing forth themes, artistry, and evocative feelings that could not have happened any other way. So obviously, some people like a dream ballet.

Written by Clay Dockery

Clay Dockery is an actor, author, and impresario extraordinaire. They are the co-editor of Why I Geek: An Anthology of Fandom Origin Stories and was the co-head organizer and creative director of MISTI-Con, Coal Hill Con, and The West Wing Weekend fandom conventions. They live in New York City with their girlfriend and their two chonky cats.

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