Now that Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) and Melissa (Cecily Strong) are once again stuck in a weirdo alternate world where life’s a musical, Schmicago finally loosens up and has some fun. It’s evident why the showrunners might have wanted to release the first two episodes simultaneously. The premiere had to explain how Josh and Melissa got trapped in the Schmig-verse again. But with the logistics out of the way, episode 2 (“Bustin’ Out”) confidently gets down to business doing what this show does best: flaunting an encyclopedic knowledge of musical theater in the silliest way possible. I mean that as a compliment since this installment entertains far more than the premiere.
Episode 2 opens with Josh wearing an old-timey striped prison uniform behind bars. “Josh is rotting in jail / for the death of Elsie Vale,” the Narrator (Tituss Burgess) musically recaps. Once he gets past the stuff we already know, the Narrator casually drops a bombshell on an unsuspecting Josh. In Schmicago, convicted murderers get the “Schmiga-dee-death… penalty.” As Josh listens to the dulcet tones of the electric chair, Sergeant Rivera (Jaime Camil) hauls in a new detainee.
Enter Topher (returning cast member and bona fide Broadway heartthrob Aaron Tveit), a dreamy and comically self-obsessed hippie leader. Josh, notably bald, comments that his new cellmate has “hair… so much hair.” Sure enough, Topher does look like he wandered out of Hair, sporting a fringed leather vest, bell-bottom jeans, and a fantastic ’fro. Topher is a seeker, and his “I Want” song—clearly influenced by “Corner of the Sky”—introduces a dash of Pippin into his characterization. In “My Doorway to Where,” Topher sings to no one about his undefined longing for… something more.
Tveit purposefully throwing himself into a musical number with complete disregard for his scene partner yields consistently perfect results. In season one, Tveit’s character Danny hilariously ignores Melissa’s reactions during “You Can’t Tame Me” (and its even funnier reprise “You Done Tamed Me”). The showrunners know not to mess with a winning formula. In “My Doorway to Where,” Topher remains steadfastly oblivious to Josh’s baffled response to his sudden outburst of yearning.
Meanwhile, Melissa seeks legal counsel in her quest to free Josh. She goes to the office of Bobbie Flanagan, whom she assumes will be a man. Melissa should have paid attention to the “i.e.” because this Bobbie is a lady lawyer. As played by Jane Krakowski, Bobbie reads as the love child of Roxie Hart and Billy Flynn. Ms. Flanagan flashes her lovely legs and all but promises her client that she can win any case. Melissa doesn’t trust her new lawyer’s sex appeal and sense of panache to win the day, however. She would prefer to find some hard evidence with which to persuade a jury that Josh didn’t murder Elsie. Melissa decides to investigate to find the real killer, thereby proving Josh’s innocence.
Bobbie suggests “the standard play.” When Melissa doesn’t follow, Bobbie explains that she means Melissa should audition to be a dancer at the Kratt Klubb. That way, Melissa can do undercover sleuthing at the club, surreptitiously question witnesses, and snoop around the crime scene without suspicion. In fact, Octavius Kratt and Madam Frau are holding auditions to replace Elsie Vale that very afternoon.
So Melissa shows up to the tryout, feeling way out of her depth. The audition scene takes its cues from “I Hope I Get It,” the audition number in A Chorus Line. All aspiring dancers sing about their desperate need for work, and each proffer up their miserable backstories. (One of the dancers might be an erstwhile Von Trapp, if her story is to be believed.) Despite her apparent lack of dancing talent, Mr. Kratt (Patrick Page) ominously selects Melissa to be the club’s newest showgirl.
Back at the clink, Bobbie makes her grand entrance. “Here Comes Bobbie” (musically inspired by both “All I Care About” and “Roxie” from Chicago) finds the lawyer slinking down the length of the jail towards her new client, Josh. From the cells on either side of the aisle, the prisoner chorus beseeches Bobbie to “get us off… on technicalities.” Krakowski milks this walk for all it’s worth, and Josh replies with an appropriately dazzled “Whoa.” Bobbie hands her card to Josh, informing him that Melissa hired her as his legal representation. “The law is ten percent precedent and ninety percent wow,” Bobbie assures Josh. “Lucky for you, I’m very good at wow.”
Backstage at the Kratt Klubb, Melissa meets her fellow performers. She makes quite the awkward and conspicuous P.I., but no one at the Klubb notices her leading questions. Jenny (Dove Cameron) immediately takes the new hire under her wing. In practically one breath, the club’s rising star announces that she believes in Josh’s innocence, welcomes Melissa to showbiz life, and suggests that Melissa should be her new roommate. Jenny’s old flatmate, the murdered Elsie Vale, doesn’t need her room anymore. Melissa accepts Jenny’s housing offer, hoping to find more exonerating clues at the apartment.
And now, it’s time to see Bobbie in action. She calls a press conference in which Josh must read a prepared statement explaining why he killed Elsie. Josh repeatedly objects that he didn’t, as a matter of fact, kill anyone; but Bobbie doesn’t seem to care about the truth. Her prepared statement, disbelievingly read aloud by Josh as Bobbie silently mouths the words behind him, claims that jazz music and booze drove her client to homicide. Even as the (white) press eats it up, Josh can’t make himself finish the ridiculous statement. “I can’t stand up here and say I murdered somebody because of jazz,” Josh says with his usual scorn for the absurdity of the Schmiga-doings. The press leaves even more convinced of Josh’s guilt than before.
Melissa comes to visit Josh in jail after the failed press conference. Their frequencies could not be more different. Melissa can’t wait to tell Josh the good news about her new job, and she’s riding high on “the glitz and the glamor.” Josh has no idea what she’s talking about until Melissa explains “the standard play” to him. He tries to be supportive of Melissa’s successes, but Josh is still pretty concerned about, you know, possibly getting executed. “Do you think I could actually die in here?” Josh urgently asks Melissa. “Definitely,” the Narrator unexpectedly interrupts popcorn in hand. “That’s what makes this all so entertaining!”
Following her brief reunion with Josh, Melissa goes to Jenny’s apartment to settle in. While there, Melissa learns that Mr. Kratt has begun courting Jenny in the wake of his previous mistress’s murder. Although Jenny plays the airhead, she seems rather pragmatic about her “romance” with the electricity king of Schmicago. She knows he can protect her and give her material comfort. As the new roommates discuss Kratt, Sergeant Rivera stops by to pick up Jenny for dinner with his boss. He also covertly warns Melissa to keep her nose out of business that isn’t hers. (Rivera, perhaps by training, is the only character so far who has found Melissa’s undeniable fishing for information about Elsie, well, fishy.) Rivera leaves with Jenny in tow, and Melissa starts looking for clues.
However, the amateur detective gets distracted by a beautiful pink feather boa. When Melissa puts on the boa, she’s magically transported to the stage at the Kratt Klubb. She, Jenny, and the Emcee (there’s Ariana DeBose again!) form a trio of sparkly showgirl jailbirds. The ladies, cheekily chained together at the ankles, perform a catchy little showstopper called “Bustin’ Out.” The titular number heavily recalls “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from Company.
While Melissa and her ladies sing about bustin’ out of a bad relationship, Josh and Topher literally bust out of jail. The Happiness Bus has arrived, and Topher invites Josh to hop on. Josh had assumed the Happiness Bus was metaphorical until said bus busted out the back wall of his cell. Josh frets about whether or not leaving with the hippies is a good idea, but he eventually relents after some peer pressure.
Backstage at the club, Melissa celebrates her triumphant first performance. “They adored you!” Jenny gushes. As a reward for proving her star potential, Madam Frau (Ann Harada) gives Melissa Elsie’s old (private) dressing room. The police have hardly touched the room since “they already caught the killer,” as Madam Frau drily notes. Time for Melissa to poke around! She finds a notebook with a page marked. On the page? An address…
As the episode closes, Josh sings a rendition of “My Doorway to Where” with Topher, his hippie tribe, and his sock puppets in the back of the Happiness Bus. Rather uncharacteristic of Josh, if you ask me. The Narrator, along for the ride in the bus, looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. Burgess gives the camera an impeccable “can you believe this shit” look to cap it all off, proving once again that he is the Schmicago MVP.
And all that jazz…
- I’ve been referring to season two as Schmicago instead of Schmigadoon!. That’s largely because of the season’s new title card, which we see for the first time at the beginning of this episode.
- As soon as I saw all of those men lined up behind bars in the jail, I was hoping for a horribly uncomfortable, gender-swapped “Cell Block Tango.” (“She had it comin’ / She only had herself to blame” is a big ol’ “yikes.”) Alas, I’m afraid we might not get Schmell Block Tango this season.
- A recent revival of Company gender-swapped many of the characters. The main character, Bobby, became “Bobbie.” If the writers know their show’s niche, obsessive audience, I’m positive that Bobbie Flanagan’s name is a winking reference to this.
- You didn’t think I’d name the notes section “And all that jazz” and then miss the joke about knee rouging, did you? (If you were curious, flappers did really rouge their knees and pull their stockings down.)
- Melissa’s impressed observation that Jenny’s apartment “would be 1.8 in Park Slope” got a chuckle out of me. I must be getting old if real estate humor makes me laugh.
- As Melissa beholds the address in Elsie’s notebook, what sounds like a few bars from “The Barber and His Wife” from Sweeney Todd plays in the background. Quick Street, Fleet Street, get it? Schweeney Todd, here we come.