Here’s a guide to the comedy that’s changed how we define Canadian TV
When Schitt’s Creek first aired on CBC Television in January of 2015, the network could not advertise the sitcom’s full title. In its radio and television advertisements, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation disguised the name with long bleeps; across the border, National Public Radio and television critic David Bianculli described the title as “a joke (he) can’t tell on the radio”.
Now, the series’s inauspicious beginning seems like a distant memory. The show’s arrival to Netflix in 2017 catapulted the series to international fame, and after concluding its sixth and final season in April 2020, Schitt’s Creek swept the Emmys. With a combined fifteen wins and nominations, the show set a record for any comedy series in its final season.
Schitt’s Creek follows the Rose family as they transition from a luxurious lifestyle to relative poverty. After a shifty business manager disappears with the family’s fortune, federal agents repossess their belongings and the Roses are left with only one asset: a deed to the small town they bought on a whim in the nineties.
To avoid homelessness, video mogul Johnny (Eugene Levy) and washed-out soap opera star Moira (Catherine O’Hara) are forced to relocate to Schitt’s Creek with their two high-strung children, David and Alexis (Dan Levy and Annie Murphy). They settle in the town’s run-down motel, completely unprepared for life outside of fame and wealth.
Like Paris Hilton’s caricature in The Simple Life, the family must learn to live among ordinary people. They become acquainted with the town’s peculiar citizens: Roland and Jocelyn Schitt, the community’s backwoods first family; Ted Mullens, a kind-hearted but dull veterinarian; Twyla Sands, the town’s sunny cafe server; and Stevie Budd, the motel’s sardonic attendant.
Schitt’s Creek is a fairly formulaic TV comedy, but that’s part of the series’ appeal. Especially in the time of COVID-19, the show has become comfort television, quietly mirroring viewers’ experiences with isolation, family dysfunction, and economic insecurity.
Despite Schitt’s Creek’s overwhelming small-town relatability, where the show really shines is in its nuanced interpersonal relationships and family dynamics. “Our show, at its core, is about the transformational effects of love and acceptance,” co-creator Dan Levy remarked during his Emmys acceptance speech, “and that is something that we need more of now than we’ve ever needed before.”
In both 2019 and 2020, Schitt’s Creek was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award in the “Outstanding Comedy Series” category, highlighting the series’s positive representation of queer relationships. Throughout the show, David Rose transitions between same-sex and straight romances, embodying his pansexual identity. To quote alcohol-appreciate David himself, he likes “the wine and not the label,” drinking “red wine … white wine” and sampling “the occasional rosé.”
The series also addresses the Rose family’s classism and eventual evolution. Johnny, Moira, Alexis, and David’s contempt for the lower-class people around them seeps through nearly every early interaction in Schitt’s Creek. But, eventually, the family warms to their offbeat home, a town that accepts them in spite of poverty, sexuality, accidental love triangles, and pompousness.
Of course, given the show’s renowned cast, Schitt’s Creek seemed bound for greatness. All-stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara’s consistent comedic genius pave the way for newer talents like Dan Levy, Annie Murphy, and Emily Hampshire.
These stellar performances led the Schitt’s Creek cast to take home all four major acting categories at the 2020 Emmy Awards: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (awarded to Eugene Levy), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Catherine O’Hara), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Dan Levy), and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Annie Murphy). This was the first instance of any comedy series receiving all four acting awards in the Emmys’ 71-year history.
Given the show’s recent acclaim, it is difficult to imagine that Schitt’s Creek might have never been broadcast had CBC not stepped in. Before being picked up by the CBC, Dan and Eugene Levy were declined deals by several American networks. Now, in the wake of the show’s overwhelming success, some cast members remark that the series’ unconventional path was precisely what it needed; its quirky production history matches the offbeat feel of the show.
Speaking with CBC Radio arts reporter Eli Glasner after the Emmys, Dan Levy described Sunday night as “the greatest possible, happiest ending (the cast) could have ever imagined,” adding that they’re “all just overwhelmed” by the profound success of their eccentric Canadian story.