In case we forgot where the previous episode left us, Schmicago episode 3 (“Bells and Whistles”) opens with The Narrator (Tituss Burgess) slapping up “Wanted” posters for one Mr. Josh Skinner. According to the poster, Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) is wanted for “murder,” “escape,” and “jazz.” We know that he fled from jail via The Happiness Bus with Topher (Aaron Tveit) and his hippie tribe. The police, however, don’t know where Josh went, and they’re keen to recover their prime suspect in the Elsie Vale case.
Melissa (Cecily Strong), too, would like to know where Josh disappeared to. She begins the episode on a high, rushing to Bobbie Flanagan’s (Jane Krakowski) office to share the latest lead in the case. Melissa wants Bobbie’s advice on whether or not she should visit the address she found in Elsie’s date book. Bobbie doesn’t care. She wants to know why Josh made himself look extra guilty by participating in a prison break. The news that Josh slipped out of jail stuns Melissa. She starts crying, much to Bobbie’s bewilderment. “Here, here,” the lawyer tries, gingerly patting Melissa’s head. “I mean, there, there.”
“I just really hope Josh is okay,” Melissa frets. Cut to Josh, waking up in a golden-hued hippie paradise full of sunshine and good vibes. Best of all, to Josh’s mind, is his brand new hair. “I’ve had recurring dreams about this!” he marvels while patting his afro. But Josh quickly realizes that he might not be cut out for communal life with the hippies. Topher wants to initiate his new friend into the tribe, and Josh protests that he’s “not much of a joiner.” The tribe launches into a musical number that solidifies Josh’s doubts about his place in the commune.
“Everyone’s Gotta Get Naked,” a silly anthem about how nudity will solve all the world’s problems, references Hair with its content. One of Hair’s major claims to fame is, after all, the on-stage nudity. Musically, the song doesn’t seem to correspond directly to any of the numbers from the show. (The gibberish lyrics at the top of the song do tip the cap to “Good Morning Starshine,” but the Schmicago version includes the names of characters from Grease.) Topher and his hippies can’t wait to shed their clothes, but Josh isn’t down. “I’m sorry, what now?” Josh asks when the tribe hits the chorus. We’re treated to the sight of Aaron Tveit’s face multiplied across the screen in kaleidoscope effect while he earnestly sings that “flower’s don’t wear pants.” Josh gets tricked into seeing all that T&A (and more) he was so excited about in the premiere.
Meanwhile, Melissa ventures to Quick Street to find out who Elsie Vale was meeting every week. On her way, she notices another familiar face from Schmigadoon. Kristin Chenowith, who played villain Mildred Layton in season one, returns for Schmicago as Miss Codwell. Melissa finds Miss Codwell berating orphans on the street. “Wow. Very different, but somehow still mean,” Melissa muses aloud. With the orphanage and the awful orange dye job, Miss Codwell reads like Miss Hannigan from Annie. But the comically bad Cockney accent and her first musical number (a parody of “The Worst Pies in London” called “The Worst Brats in Town”) indicates that we’ve got a Miss Hannigan/Mrs. Lovett mashup going on. When Melissa asks for help finding the address in Elsie’s date book, Miss Codwell points Melissa to Blight’s butcher shop. Miss Codwell clearly carries a torch for Mr. Blight, tipping us off about what’s coming.
Over at the junkyard utopia, everyone has their clothes back on (for now). Josh thanks the tribe for their hospitality, but he doesn’t think he wants to stay. He explains that the tribe’s “thing” isn’t really his “thing,” up to and including the “closeness to other humans.” Topher takes this as an invitation to perform a parable about the power of community with the tribe. Did somebody say parables? We must be in Godspell. After the terrible skit, Josh insists that he has to go find Melissa and let her know that he’s safe. Topher intercepts, sending one of the hippies out on the errand instead.
Still on Quick Street, Melissa enters Dooley Blight’s (Alan Cumming) disgusting butcher shop. Schweeney Todd in all his glory! Finally! Dooley greets Melissa with an absolutely perfect reprise of “The Worst Brats in Town” that hinges on a short vowel. The butcher saddens at the news of Elsie’s death. Melissa finds out that the dead showgirl would visit Dooley to give him news of his estranged daughter, Jenny Banks. (Ahhh, Johanna + Sally = Jenny.) Dooley fills Melissa in on his backstory, through song of course. “The Butcher and His Wife,” a tweaked version of “The Barber and His Wife,” details his history.
Like Sweeney Todd, a rich man framed Dooley Blight for the murder of his own wife. In this case, the evil man in question is none other than Octavius Kratt. Dooley sings about his thirst for vengeance and his desire to “kill them all.” “First of all… oh, no,” Melissa reacts. She suggests that Dooley should try reaching out to Jenny and telling her the truth before he begins any murderous rampages. Dooley says that he would never want his daughter to see him in his current, undignified state. Melissa promises to bring Dooley news of Jenny as long as he refrains from homicide for a little while.
Melissa reasons that if Kratt framed Dooley for murder, perhaps the power tycoon reused a page from his own playbook and framed Josh, too. Speaking of Josh, the blonde hippie dispatched to find Melissa arrives at the butcher shop. She tells Melissa that Josh isn’t in danger, but she thinks it would be “groovier” if Melissa didn’t come find him. Melissa refuses to accept the dismissal and follows the hippie messenger all the way back to the commune.
Josh has been eating “magic bread,” which appears to have helped him adjust to commune life. He’s pretty darn chill and visibly high when Melissa finds him to give him a scolding. “Did I miss the orgy, dude?” she sarcastically asks. “No!” Josh assures her. “I mean, yes, but it wasn’t really an orgy, just everybody getting naked. But it was more like locker room naked?” The tables turn when the tribe insinuates that Melissa’s too much of a square to hang with them. In an effort to prove how cool she is, she hastily throws her bra in the fire. “Sometimes, you just gotta say ‘Heck it. Shoobie doobie,’” she announces. Cringe. Even though Melissa has thoroughly embarrassed him in front of his new friends, Josh leaves with his wife. He can’t miss his trial tomorrow if he expects Bobbie Flanagan to get him off.
At the courthouse the next day, things don’t seem like they’ll go the defendant’s way. Josh sees the judge reading a newspaper with the headline “He’s Guilty! (Probably),” and he notes the all-white jury with dismay. But then Bobbie Flanagan makes her grand entrance. She’s lowered into the courtroom on a trapeze, wearing a plethora of sequins. Bobbie starts in on “Bells and Whistles,” a spectacular number that razzle dazzles the court. And I do mean “Razzle Dazzle” in the Billy Flynn sense, even though “Bells and Whistles” owes nothing melodically to that song. “Dance 10 Looks 3” from A Chorus Line comes to mind as a likely inspiration, while the incredible patter section recalls “Getting Married Today” from Company. I bow at the altar of Jane Krakowski, who pulls out every trick in the book to sell this sequence. As Josh said last episode: Whoa.
The judge and jury alike find themselves utterly won over by Bobbie’s theatrics, as well as her “comprehensive knowledge of the law.” The jury votes, and the judge declares Josh “not guilty.” The couple celebrates, thinking this must be their happy ending. With Josh freed and the murder plot over, they should be able to leave Schmicago.
The episode concludes with Octavius Kratt (Patrick Page) stewing over Josh’s acquittal. Surprise, surprise, Kratt totally tried to frame Josh. We finally get to hear Page sing in that ominous bass as Kratt laments his failures. As Dooley made clear, Kratt is our Judge Turpin character. We get a little self-flagellation moment, à la “Johanna (Mea Culpa),” during Kratt’s song to cement this association. But musically, “Two Birds with One Stone” signals Andrew Lloyd Webber more than Sondheim. (It’s a riff on “This Jesus Must Die” from Jesus Christ Superstar, to be precise.)
Kratt bemoans his lack of luck with “stupid” women before getting a peek at Melissa outside of his window. Suddenly, he wonders if Melissa could be the answer to his lady problem. Perhaps she will be “smarter than the rest” and agree to be his wife. If Josh and Melissa thought they were leaving Schmicago, Kratt has another thing coming for them…
And all that jazz…
- At the beginning of the episode, we get brief flashes of some of the storefront signs in Schmicago. We see a toy store named after Sondheim, Schwartz Happy Family Portraits, Herman’s Hummable Tunes music shop (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to some rumored Broadway beef), and Ebb & Co. Apothecary. Later in the episode, we also get a glimpse of the Kander Absinthe Café. Very nice. I had wondered if the double “b” in the Kratt Klubb’s name was an oblique nod to Cabaret lyricist Ebb. Turns out that I didn’t need to be looking for such veiled allusions.
- I can only imagine what the Aaron Tveit fangirls have done with “Everyone’s Gotta Get Naked” on TikTok. I’m scared to check; someone do it for me.
- Schmicago wisely keeps Alan Cumming as far away as possible from the Kratt Klubb. Cumming’s iconic reinterpretation of the Emcee in various versions of Sam Mendes’s staging of Cabaret won him a Tony and made him a Broadway star.
- I was kind of hoping that there had been a real orgy at the commune. If Josh got busy with Topher, that would make the couple 2/2 with regards to banging Tveit’s characters in the Schmig-verse. Although the Narrator promised lots of sex, Josh and Melissa have gotten less in Schmicago than they did in Schmigadoon. Seems unfair.
- The quick ventriloquist bit in “Bells and Whistles” is a fun quotation of “We Both Reached for the Gun” from Chicago.