There are 13 more episodes of the final season of “Schitt’s Creek” to look forward to, yet fans have been mourning its pending conclusion since last year’s announcement that its sixth season would be its last. The Canadian sitcom about a formerly rich family that loses all of its money and must move to a small town its patriarch once purchased as a joke has grown in acclaim and audience since it premiered in 2015.
“Schitt’s Creek” wasn’t chasing trends. It offered viewers something that has been missing in the mad dash to hook audiences right out of the gate.
But 2019 was a watershed year for the show: It was nominated for four prime-time Emmy Awards and the cast — particularly star and co-creator Dan Levy — was suddenly everywhere, from Vogue’s 73 Questions to The New York Times. No longer an underrated gem, the show (which airs in the U.S. on Pop TV on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET) will end its run as a certified smash.
As the streaming wars rage on and more and more competitors enter the fray, there’s immense pressure to immediately attract a huge audience, hence the many new and upcoming series that leverage existing intellectual properties (i.e., Disney’s “The Mandalorian”) or are straight-up remakes (i.e., “Gossip Girl,” “Saved by the Bell” and “Reno 911!,” which are all on track to be rebooted).
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“Schitt’s Creek” wasn’t chasing trends, though. It offered viewers something that has been missing in the mad dash to hook audiences right out of the gate: the opportunity to watch characters grow and change before our eyes in a deliciously funny, slow-burn evolution. And just as important, this show is clearly a labor of love.
Because in this series, it’s the evolution that matters, not the premise. The pilot episode is not at all representative of the run as a whole — it’s a true starting point. The satisfaction lies in watching the Rose family — wig-obsessed former soap opera star Moira (Catherine O’Hara), stalwart but overwhelmed Johnny (Eugene Levy), bubbly and bratty socialite Alexis (Annie Murphy) and sarcastic fashionista David (Daniel Levy) — adjust to their circumstances over time, reluctantly reconnecting with one another and striving to find themselves outside of the protective bubble of their wealth. Even better, they come to see that their status stunted them, preventing them from revealing the passionate, kind, loving people they turn out to be — and in some ways, always were.
“Schitt’s Creek” does character arc spectacularly well, showing that the flaws that family members retain (self-absorption is a common one) don’t prevent them from shining in other areas. We see Alexis go back to school and build a business, David embrace the vulnerability he once was so ashamed of, Moira become a productive (yet still overbearing) member of the community, and Johnny use his financial acumen not only to improve their circumstances but to help someone else.
“Schitt’s Creek” does character arc spectacularly well, showing that the flaws that family members retain (self-absorption is a common one) don’t prevent them from shining in other areas.
If that development was crushed into a single season, as it might have been if “Schitt’s Creek” had been under pressure to reveal its hand all at once, it wouldn’t have the same emotional pull. In the battle for viewer attention — especially on Netflix, where many original series last only two or three seasons — it seems like a good strategy to pack in important events and character development. But if we didn’t know how unlovable David thought himself to be, for example, that famous Season 4 scene in which his boyfriend, Patrick (Noah Reid), serenades him with Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” wouldn’t carry the same weight. If we didn’t know that the Roses’ friend Stevie (Emily Hampshire) didn’t feel as though she hd never lived up to her potential, her whole-hearted rendition of “Maybe This Time” in the town’s production of “Cabaret” wouldn’t pack such a punch. (There is a lot of singing on this show — another plus.)
One hopes that every TV show is a labor of love for someone. But “Schitt’s Creek” is the most lovingly crafted series airing right now. Created by the father/son team of Eugene and Dan Levy (and featuring Eugene’s daughter, Sarah Levy, in a supporting role), it also reunites Eugene with O’Hara, his long-time friend and frequent acting partner. Shot on location in Ontario, fabulously funny character actors fill the recurring cast. Not only is every aesthetic detail thoroughly thought through (Dan Levy goes shopping for wardrobe pieces himself), but narratively, everything happens in service of its worldview. And if I had to sum that worldview up, it would be that people are annoying, but mostly good.
David is explicitly identified as pansexual, yet at no point does he or any other LGBTQIA+ character encounter any prejudice. When Patrick comes out to his parents in Season 5, he’s met with love and acceptance. This is a conscious and deliberate choice. “If you put something like that out of the equation,” Dan Levy said about homophobia at the show’s Vulture Festival panel in 2018, “you’re saying that doesn’t exist and shouldn’t exist.” Sure, that might make the piece more optimistic — even idealistic — than your typical HBO prestige piece, but that’s part of the appeal.
Taking that position also makes “Schitt’s Creek” a piece of protest art that knowingly models a present we should have. As proof, the show’s optimism never feels naive or limiting. The ultimately positive reaction Patrick receives doesn’t make his fears about being honest with his family any less real.
Comedies about family dynamics will never not be a tentpole of television. What’s more relatable than bickering with the ones you love? What sets “Schitt’s Creek” apart, however, is its focus on individual improvement and those small wins that make life bearable. The Rose family improves separately but also together. They make one another better. It’s a remarkably un-cynical position to take as the third decade of this millennium begins, but the key to becoming a happier, more satisfied person is indeed … other people.
“Schitt’s Creek” is populated by characters you want to spend time with, without being overly sentimental or cloying. The investment of time and attention pays off in dividends. And with the state of the television being what it is, it feels unclear when we’ll have his kind of relationship with a TV family again.