Imagine having everything – the big house, the car, glamorous friends, money. The works. And then you lose it all. Schitt’s Creek is a highly successful Canadian TV sitcom series that bases itself on this narrative premise. It was first aired on CBC TV in 2015, and then in the subsequent five years, boosted by Netflix, it went on to become a runaway success over eighty episodes and six seasons, garnering a host of awards. The idea was the creation of father and son duo Daniel and Eugene Levy, the latter of whom had already established a comic presence in American Pie. Not a lot of comedians can pull off a lead character, but some do; Jerry Seinfeld (Seinfeld), Steve Carell (The Office), and of course Eugene Levy are some of them.
“Schitt”, that’s it!
The show tells the story of a rather idiosyncratic family, the Roses, who fall from a position of supreme wealth and social privilege after their business advisor embezzles the family business, called Rose Video. They are left with no option but to move to a motel they once bought as a joke, in a town called Schitt’s Creek. The place was a present for their son David in 1991. Johnny and Moira Rose (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara), along with their sons David and Alexis (Dan Levy and Annie Murphy), find themselves living in two adjoining rooms in the town’s only and run-down motel. It’s not long before they stand out and come into conflict with the inhabitants of the small center for their (formerly) wealthy, contemptuous and prejudiced attitudes.
Although the series presents the characters as essentially self-centred and unsympathetic, at least in the first instance, they somehow make a good family. There are fraternal squabbles, predictably, set against moments of great complicity, while the bedrock of the marriage between Johnny and Moira is surprisingly solid considering how self-absorbed they both are.
Rose’s family is very different from other families in tv shows. Rebecca Pearson, the mother in This is us is a totally different mother from Moira Rose, not only in tone and acting but also in the relationship with her own children. Rebecca is a loving mother who puts her career on hold with triple motherhood.
Moira Rose, played by Catherine O’Hara (Kevin’s mother in Home Alone) is a strong icon of motherhood, strident yet sometimes melancholic. Yet Moira lacks empathy and is unable to show any sincere affection to her own children, and at the same time she comes across as fragile. David is her opposite, kind, sarcastic but afraid of love. All the characters are complex and rich, and constructed in a very human way.
Between surreality and cynicism
The plot revolves around the climate of desirable surreality that Eugene and Dan Levy create in the absurd town of Schitt. Their homosexuality is not a problem and situations boil down to celebrations of the power of love, but atmospheres are subtly ambiguous. The characters might look surreal, but the writing never takes away affection, a lot of cynicism, and even a certain dose of sarcasm that the two writers celebrate; something we can also see in shows like BoJack Horseman. Dan and Eugene are father and son, a millennial and a boomer. We can see their difficulty in communication in this interview, but they must be proud of how the series turned out.
Dan suggested to Eugene to work with him on the idea of a television series. An idea born almost by accident from a very simple concept: the rich losing all their money. A brilliant script supports the simplicity of the original idea, further enriched by the contribution of the actors.
“All I do is win”
Schitt’s Creek relies on its good writing. It navigates a place between absurdity and a touch of good nature. “Our show at its core is about the transformational effects of love and acceptance,” said Dan after Schitt’s Creek won Outstanding Comedy Series at the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards.
Netflix was a key ingredient in propelling the show into the mainstream, and at the 2020 Emmy Awards, for its sixth and final season, it scooped the main list of prizes. Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara won Best Actor and Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Dan Levy and Annie Murphy won Best Actor and Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, while Schitt’s Creek also brought home the Outstanding Director and Outstanding Writing awards.