Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Why Schitt’s Creek is the One Show I Should’ve Been Watching All Along [Contributor: Jenn]

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I love television. In 2020, there’s just... so much of it though. There are new streaming services cropping up all the time (Disney+ just debuted a minute ago, and NBC is set to release their own service this year), and cable still chugs away like a train on a never-ending, never-slowing track. It can be difficult to know what to watch and just as you finish one “must-watch” series, five more seem to crop up.

A coworker recommended last year that I watch Schitt’s Creek, and I was hesitant initially. I didn’t know much about the series apart from the fact that Netflix recommended I watch it too. The hesitance was derived from a poor, inaccurate conclusion that Schitt’s Creek would be a cynical comedy. And though my assumption was incorrect, it would have been on trend given the comedy shows that have permeated awards seasons in the last few years.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe that those shows deserve acclaim. And while there’s something inherently interesting about a cynical, snider, darker comedy, that just isn’t the kind of show I naturally gravitate toward. (While I watched it, Fleabag doesn’t fall into my general wheelhouse.)

When I finally decided to watch Schitt’s Creek, I was incredibly surprised by how well-meaning, endearing, and sweet the show was. At the time of my binge, only four seasons were available to stream and I flew through those seasons at an embarrassingly fast rate.

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I’ve thought about what makes Schitt’s Creek so special a lot, honestly. I think one of the things that continues to draw me to the show (or any show really) is its characters. But there’s something specific that I love about this show: the earnestness of the characters. While Moira, Alexis, David, and Johnny can all act selfishly — and indeed that is a premise the show is built on — they’re not mean characters; their selfishness is often a result of their obtuseness than it is a symptom of anything mean-spirited.

I think there are a lot of comedies that feature terrible people behaving terribly and occasionally acting funny. But the comedies I tend to enjoy are mostly about people who are flawed but not mean or vindictive, and their comedy is rooted in misunderstandings, bad decisions, or actions stemming from inherent character flaws. There’s a difference between watching characters tear other people down and degrade them to be funny and watching characters make fun of one another because they know one another so well.

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A prime example of this, to me, when I began watching the show was the way Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) treated other people, including his own family. He’s genuinely a good person! He’s a bit misguided, overenthusiastic, and can be selfish at times too. But he treated people around him with respect, even as he expressed his bewilderment with their behavior. That only aided the comedy in the show; Schitt’s Creek isn’t a show about bad people learning to become good. It’s a show about rich people becoming poor and learning what it means to be humbled. Some of the characters learn those lessons harder or quicker than others, but they all learn them.

The thing that struck me, always, is how Johnny treats people like Twyla (Sarah Levy) and Stevie (Emily Hampshire). He doesn’t dismiss them as lesser-then; he just treats them as someone who’s used to having privilege. It’s never degrading or mean. He’s just... well, sometimes a little self-centered and clueless to the plights of real people around him.

Johnny’s posture is usually one of curiosity and learning, and in a lot of ways he’s the person who adapts quickest to the family’s financial situation because of that. He approaches things and obstacles from a place of optimism. Or, at least, he tries. The other members of the family don’t often have the ability to see beyond their circumstances in the moment, but they learn.

Moira (Catherine O’Hara) is always so fun to watch because her self-centric behavior is usually the most recognizable. Yes, she’s a diva. Yes, she’s used to being the center of attention. And yes, she usually finds a way to make it all about her. But Moira has to learn that her behavior has earned her roles and acclaim but cost her relationships with her loved ones. I love watching Moira and Alexis’ (Annie Murphy) relationship grow as the series progresses, and I especially loved how Moira mentored Stevie in the last season.

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(And speaking of, Stevie is such a great straight man/foil to these characters. She’s often making sarcastic remarks and comments, but she genuinely is pushed and challenged by the Rose family to achieve greatness.)

Alexis has grown so very much on the show. She’s compassionate and kind, smart and driven, and always wearing the best clothes. Someone made a supercut of all the times Alexis has mentioned some crazy scenario that happened to her (a lot of which she had to talk, flirt, or rescue her way out of). We’re meant initially to underestimate her — to think that Alexis is pretty, but dumb and that’s all she can be. People constantly take advantage of her because of her beauty, and the sad thing is that she knows it. She’s aware of how she’s perceived and has to work harder than the others in her family to have to overcome that. But she does. I love Alexis’ journey and think it’s really beautiful.

David (Dan Levy) has also grown so much in the show! He’s learned to be vulnerable, to express his emotions, and to create something that’s just his. He’s fallen in love and the fact that he’s been able to accomplish all that he has is so admirable. Also I love Patrick (Noah Reid) so very much. What a kind, gentle, pragmatic character who’s a genuine surprise.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how funny this show is. I typify it often as a “quiet comedy” — one that isn’t meant to always go for big punchlines or slapstick scenes. Though it does have them, Schitt’s Creek’s humor derives from really clever jokes, one-liners, and it relies so heavily on the personal comedic styles of each actor. For example, let’s imagine Moira delivering lines without her fun, random accent and vocabulary. It just wouldn’t work! Alexis and David often have the chance to play off one another’s eccentricities and physical comedy. Dan Levy and Annie Murphy have the actual best facial expressions and a lot of times the most hilarious moment in an episode is delivered by one of them, but made perfect by the nuances in their hands, face, or body language.

I mentioned foils above, and Stevie’s dry, understated jokes are the perfect complement to the Rose family’s over-the-top, bright and bold shenanigans. Her humor is also complementary to the rest of the absurdity that happens in the town! And that’s why I love the silliness and earnestness that the other Schitt’s Creek folks bring like Roland (Chris Elliot) and Jocelyn (Jennifer Robertson). As much as I love the Rose family, they’d be nothing without their found family in Schitt’s Creek.

The setting — an incredibly small town with seemingly not much to offer — of Schitt’s Creek also aids in the humor. The town itself even becomes, essentially, a character of its own. And that’s what a lot of great ensemble comedies offer, really: unique or interesting settings that offer up comedy simply by being who they are (e.g., Greendale Community College in Community or Pawnee, Indiana in Parks and Recreation).

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Speaking of the townspeople, in spite of the Rose family’s issues and initial snobbery, the townspeople of Schitt’s Creek welcome them. They might stare and gawk or poke fun every once in a while, but they genuinely form a found family around the Roses. And that’s really beautiful. The town learns to embrace them, and slowly but surely, the Roses learn to embrace the town back. It’s been six years, but Schitt’s Creek is coming to an end. As much as the family wanted to escape back to their old, rich life in the beginning of the series, the characters have grown immensely in their love for the town and their love for each other.

One of the most touching things is seeing how losing everything changed the Rose family for the better. “Merry Christmas, Johnny Rose” is one of my favorite examples of this, as Johnny remembers the elaborate Christmas parties his family used to host, but realizes that the thing he longs for might have been more unsuspectingly damaging to his family than being broke and moving into a motel was.

The Rose family grew because they were forced out of their individual comfort zones and collective privilege into something unfamiliar and new. While they initially balked at it, Schitt’s Creek has become their home. While there’s a sense of closure because they’re beginning to move forward with their lives, the Rose family will always have a strong connection to this tiny town.

I’m glad I decided to start watching Schitt’s Creek. It’s been such a hidden little gem in my life that I try to tell as many people about as possible. And while I’m sad that it’s ending, I’m so glad I got to embark on this journey with the Rose family. I’ve watched characters grow, fall in love, and I’ve heard the title track from A Little Bit Alexis. I think this show can end with me being happy about whatever comes next for Johnny, Moira, David, and Alexis Rose.

But just one more time for good measure... “Ew, David.

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