In relationships, sometimes passion can blind partners to fundamental compatibility issues. Melissa and John had a magical meet-cute, but the high of that sugar rush could only sustain their relationship for so long, even with a refresher at the one-year mark. And it goes beyond Melissa liking musicals while Josh hates them: He’s afraid of commitment and doesn’t take Melissa’s concerns seriously, and when he’s forced to put some work into their relationship, he does his best to avoid it.
The opening flashback of “Cross That Bridge” jumps back a year and three months to Melissa and Josh at a wedding where she was a bridesmaid who didn’t vibe at all with the rest of the wedding party. She has no idea that she’s supposed to do a dance with the rest of the bridesmaids, but it doesn’t matter because the song’s lyrics are directions for which way to step. The extremely basic song feels like the writers commenting on how popular music has changed since the Golden Age of musicals, but it also removes any excuse for Josh not to get up and join Melissa on the dance floor. Maybe he doesn’t want to dance, but he can stand up, get on a dance floor, and step to the left, right, front, and back with his girlfriend who clearly wants him next to her.
Josh has been a jerk throughout this series, and the wedding flashback only amplifies that. When Melissa expresses that she’s upset with him for abandoning her on the dance floor, he avoids the real issue and expands her disdain to the entire event by asking her about the three worst moments of the wedding. Josh is a negative person, and the only positive experience we see him have with Melissa that evening is after the wedding ends and they start criticizing it. This isn’t an appealing character trait if you want a partner who will be active and social with you in the moment, and Josh’s hostility toward everything around him makes him unable to engage with and enjoy the present.
Granted, the present isn’t very enjoyable for Josh in Schmigadoon, where he’s forced to marry an underage girl or else get shot by her father. Josh’s attempt to kindly end things with Betsy is derailed once she mentions true love, and all he sees is a glowing exit sign in his head. He doesn’t know how Schmigadoon defines true love, and maybe Betsy’s affection is enough to get him across the bridge and out of this torture chamber. He steals a story from the aforementioned flashback wedding to get Betsy to walk across the bridge with him, and when it doesn’t work, he assembles nearly every other unmarried woman in town to walk across the bridge with him, hoping that one of them will set him free.
The titular song has the gospel influence of songs like Guys And Dolls’ “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat” and Anything Goes’ “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” with a sprinkle of operatic vocalizing reminiscent of Carousel’s “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over.” The women’s collective hunger for marriage evokes the deeply problematic 1954 movie musical Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, in which a sibling septet abducts a group of women and holds them prisoner until they agree to get married. And they do!
Josh is also dealing with Mothers Against The Future, a group of crusty white women who most directly oppose the Black people around them. Their reasoning is always something other than race, whether it’s the books Emma Tate teaches to her students or Josh contaminating the town with his “urban ways,” but both of these things are racially coded. There’s plenty of subtext here, but unlike its treatment of misogyny and homophobia, the show continues to dance around racism (and not in that fun “Corn Puddin’” way). Will it engage with that subject as Josh and Emma are pushed together as romantic partners? I’m beginning to think it won’t, which would be very strange considering the show’s overall conceit of critiquing the social missteps of classic musicals, and the fact that it planted the seed for the race discussion in the first episode.
Things get more serious for Josh and Melissa when they are kicked out of the inn because of Melissa’s evening with known fornicator Danny Bailey, who goes fully off the rails after they have sex and he assumes that he’s about to be a husband and father. Danny’s morning-after song is more of a copy than a riff on Carousel’s “Soliloquy,” which has antihero Billy Bigelow singing about the family he’s going to have and now he needs to get some money, especially if he ends up having a daughter. He ignores that Melissa’s IUD makes his entire song moot, and she learns the dangers of casual hookups in a world where casual hookups aren’t a thing, something Josh discovered the night before.
The production design of this series is one of its greatest assets, and the Danny Bailey spaces really stand out. Danny’s cluttered cabin with its cabinet of canned food and assorted knickknacks, the roulette wheel hanging above his workstation (because he’s a bad boy), and a kitchen table that has enough food to feed the entire town. Yard-long rows of pancakes and bacon and bowls filled with perfect piles of fresh fruit, reinforcing him as a dream man despite his town pariah status. Schmigadoon! is a Universal Television production, and the Tunnel of Love set should be converted into a creepy-romantic spot to take photos on the Universal CityWalk, underneath the giant unnerving baby head.
“Cross That Bridge” is the first episode not written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, with Julie Klausner and recent Emmy nominee Bowen Yang collaborating on the script. I expected more from the episode when I saw their names, but this chapter suffers from shallow characterizations and pacing issues that slow the show’s momentum. We’re halfway through this first season and nothing really seems to be changing, either for the central couple or the town. Melissa and Josh are learning more about Schmigadoon’s regressive ways, but they’re just getting sucked into it all instead of changing how the town functions. Will Schmigadoon go full Brigadoon and always stay stuck in its past time period, or will these outsiders modernize the town and improve the lives of its residents? Melissa is trying to do the latter, but she hasn’t made a hint of progress.
Melissa is disgusted when she finds out what Josh is doing at the bridge, but not because of how he takes advantage of the town’s gender dynamics. She’s angry that he’s selfishly looking for a way to get out of Schmigadoon just for himself whereas she’s looking for a place for the both of them, and she’s completely right. Once again Josh is a massive disappointment, and it’s hard to root for these two characters to be together when every episode just gives us more reasons why they should stay apart. But there’s still hope for Josh’s character. His conversation with Reverend Layton at the end of the episode makes Josh question if he’s the kind of person who is capable of nurturing a relationship so that it grows into true love, and I hope the show delves into that introspective angle to bring some needed dimension to Josh’s character.
In her journey to find a place to stay, Melissa goes to the mayor’s house to see if he can reverse the Mothers Against The Future mandate. Mayor Menlove got to express his deepest emotions in song last week, and his wife, Florence (Ann Harada), follows suit with a ballad in the vein of Show Boat’s “Bill” and Carousel’s “(When I Marry) Mister Snow,” songs about men considered strange by society, sung by the women who love them anyway. Harada’s sincerity and her journey from gleeful delusion to impotent sadness elevates the song above its rudimentary gay jokes, and by the end of the song it’s clear that she knows her husband is hiding the part of himself that can make him happy.
After realizing that she can’t rely on Josh, Melissa takes Florence’s advice and goes to the town doctor to fill a nurse’s position despite being a full-fledged doctor. Jaime Camil shows up at the very end of the episode as the hunky Doc Lopez, and as a Jane The Virgin superfan, I cannot wait to see him ham it up in this musical theater world. He has a very low bar to jump if he wants to be a better partner than Josh, but knowing how old musicals work, he’s probably going to get shot by Danny Bailey (or vice versa). There’s also the possibility that Josh will actually try to be a better boyfriend, but after over four years, maybe it’s not worth it for Melissa to continue investing time and emotion in a relationship that’s going nowhere.
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