The Long, Slow, Satisfying Growth of Schitt's Creek
It takes a lot to get me into a new show. After all, what new show could possibly give me something that compulsively re-watching Sesame Street and Muppet Babies does not? I ask that only partially as a parent of a four year old and eight month old. Sure, being a dad gives me an excuse to binge-watch those kiddie favorites but I’d probably try to consume them compulsively anyway, because I am a deeply emotionally stunted man-child who must escape into a comforting childhood world of make-believe in order to cope with the harshness and brutality of the real world.
Accordingly, when I heard that Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Chris Elliott, three of the funniest people in the history of the universe and longtime personal favorites of myself and every other right-thinking American or Canadian, were doing a show together I got excited.
Then I saw that the show was entitled Schitt’s Creek and I got less excited. My enthusiasm was curbed. I enjoy rude humor and shock comedy as much as the next man. The Underground Comedy Movie and Movie 43 are my two favorite films. Andrew “Dice” Clay is my favorite entertainer. Yet my dumb brain had a hard time accepting that a show with that title could be any good, let alone good enough to justify making it one of the three new shows I get into a year.
I assumed that if a show starring Gods of comedy like Levy, O’Hara and Elliott was any good I’d be hearing a lot about it and the show’s debut received a muted response and mixed reviews. But instead of going away or getting cancelled, the show just kept building a following.
As the years went on, I kept hearing more and more about Schitt’s Creek. Schitt’s Creek has enjoyed a slow build, as audiences, first in Canada, and now in the United States thanks to Netflix, have discovered it and shared it with their friends. The tart sitcom about a wealthy family reduced to living in a backwards Canadian town they purchased as a joke after getting ripped off by their bean counters has built up such terrific word of mouth, and such strong buzz five seasons into its run that even I was moved to start watching it.
I’m glad I did. If the premise for Schitt’s Creek sounds suspiciously like that of Arrested Development that’s for a very good reason. I found the two shows to be very much alike, simpatico explorations of fabulously dysfunctional, rich families coping with a sharp downturn in fortune. But instead of feeling overly derivative, Schitt’s Creek complements Arrested Development and vice versa.
Like Arrested Development, Schitt’s Creek opens with a family as eccentric as it undeservedly rich taking a steep plunge down the socioeconomic ladder, plummeting from a place of prominence in society to one of humiliation.
For Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), a businessman of questionable ethics, and his socialite/reality show wife Moira (Catherine O’Hara) and their spoiled rotten progeny David (Daniel Levy, Eugene’s real-life progeny and the show’s co-creator) and Alexis (Annie Murphy), that means moving into a rundown motel in a small Canadian town.
After the blockbuster success of American Pie, Levy was very lucratively typecast as an amiable nerd, a good-natured doofus, most tragically in not just the American Pie sequels but the American Pie direct-to-DVD spin-off as well.
So one of the many great joys of Schitt’s Creek lies in seeing Levy escape the straightjacket of nerd roles to play a character of real depth and substance, a smart, accomplished man who loves his wife and his family but it averse to playing by the rules as a matter of principle, and has instilled a predilection for rule-breaking in his children.
O’Hara is equally magnificent as the kooky matriarch, a sharply dressed, dazzling iconoclast who lives in a world of her own, a realm infinitely more wonderful and dazzling than the grubby world of Schitt’s Creek.
Levy and O’Hara have a legendary history together dating back over four decades that Schitt’s Creek both honors and builds upon. If these characters have a warm and deep and loving and beautiful and complicated history together that informs and deepens every gesture, ever interaction, that’s probably because the comedy icons playing them share that kind of immeasurably deep history together as well.
Murphy adds layers and depth to what easily could have been an impossibly gorgeous, one-dimensional figure of Instagram-Friendly glamour but Daniel Levy is the real breakout star of the show, playing a character we have legitimately never seen before, in television comedy or outside of it, a pansexual dandy in cashmere sweaters with depth and soul, a riotously funny outsider trapped in the least fabulous place on earth.
Elliott, meanwhile, plays the kind of character that is easy to pigeonhole and dismiss based on their mullet and Wal-Mart wardrobe but as with every element of the show, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface than first appears. Elliott adds all sorts of weird layers to a character who could easily have been just another lazy cartoon redneck. Elliott’s chemistry with Levy is particularly tricky and wonderful. Seeing two all-time greats who have been under-served by their material so often get to play off each other with such great dialogue is a goddamn delight.
The wife and I have been binging Schitt’s Creek as fast as we can. We just finished the two seasons and can’t wait to get to the others, particularly since the critical and popular consensus seems to be that it only gets better with time.
You have no real excuse not to watch Schitt’s Creek now that you not only know it exists, and stars some of the most awesome people in the world ever at their very best, but also have read an entire article about how great it is, or at least skimmed it. If this accomplishes nothing more than getting you, yes, you, the person reading this right now, to watch Schitt’s Creek then I will consider it an extraordinary success and useful to boot.
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