Watch Schitt’s Creek Right Now!

In Praise of the Perfect Quarantine Show

What’s the best show to watch in the End Times? Well, on the one hand it’s natural to look for something that is extremely comforting, a treacly slice of nothing to blot out the apocalypse. Then, of course something like The Christmas Prince movies are perfect! Or, maybe you want something more intense and visceral, to really make you think and occupy your frantically spinning mind? Then perhaps a show like Succession or Watchmen, or early Game of Thrones.

But let me humbly suggest to you that none of these are the perfect quarantine show — Schitt’s Creek is. Like a perfectly seasoned bowl of phở, Schitt’s Creek has more spice and edge than the treacly nonsense, but is warmer and more comforting than the truly dark shows. So let’s embrace the bleakness but enjoy the optimism of the perfect show and put on one, two or seven episodes at the end of a rough day!

Flawed But Relatable Characters

The premise of Schitt’s Creek — a billionaire family loses everything and has to move into a rural town — sounds maudlin at best, treacly garbage at worst. In the hands of lesser writers, the show could easily have slipped into the worst excesses of mediocre sitcoms, with the Roses learning “what really matters is love/family/warmth/whatever” from earnest local townies. In fact, the Season 1 trailer paints a truly bleak picture of what this show could have been:

*Barf*

But even in the uneven pilot episode, it becomes clear that this is a well-worn sitcom trope that Schitt’s Creek is going to avoid. Yes, the Roses are monsters. Alexis is an airheaded, spoiled brat. David is pretentious and useless. Johnny is so deeply incompetent he doesn’t realize how stupid he is. Moira is…Moira.

But the locals are monsters too! Roland is an overbearing jerk, Stevie is a cynical burnout, and even Jocelyn’s cheerful persona is clearly a mask for intense madness (which she gets to delightfully flex in an insane season 5).

This isn’t a show where a bunch of monsters learn to be good people from local saints. It’s a show where a bunch of monsters meet other, very different monsters in new and hilarious ways! And every new oddball that the show throws into the mix — oblivious Bob, vicious Ronnie, cheerfully dorky Ted — becomes another fun character to bounce off the established characters in new and interesting ways.

However, Schitt’s Creek doesn’t treat these characters as caricatures — it handles them as real characters with warmth and humanity. By doing so, they emphasize what makes each one of these insane characters just a little bit relatable. Who among us hasn’t been in over our head like Johnny? Or spacey and out of touch like Alexis? Or arrogant and judging like David? Or perhaps, like Moira, reacted a tad dramatically?

Schitt’s Creek very much leans into the traits that make these characters real people. They never stop pointing and laughing at the characters, but they are pointing and laughing at them as real people.

This is helped by the fact that all these characters have very real relationships with each other. Johnny and Moira perfectly nail the dynamic of an old married couple who have spent far too much time with each other. They are two very different people, but every time you see them bounce off each other you’re reminded of the deep love that keeps them together, even as they drive each other crazy. David and Alexis, meanwhile, are literally every sibling relationship ever. Their vicious jabs and deeply hurtful insults are all based in the kind of familiarity and knowledge that only comes with growing up with each other.

This means that while we laugh at these characters and their insane misadventures, there also is a part of us that recognizes them, and who they are to each other. For all the out of control sniping and hilarity, these are still real people who have real, grounded relationships with each other.

Funny As Hell

Of course, none of that matters if the show doesn’t do anything with these characters. And my lord, this show is so unbelievably funny. Not only is the acting and writing excellent, but the show’s editing is uniquely good. The show’s editors are so, so good at cutting a scene right where the joke has hit its funniest lines.

For instance, enjoy this delightfully brutal and hysterical cold open:

Or, this amazing (perhaps too topical?) cold open:

Or fine, this one!

A lot of digital ink has been spilled on how good the actors are, but it can’t be stated enough — the entire cast is hitters up and down the line. Emily Hampshire is a sarcastic treasure as Stevie Budd. Annie Murphy elevates Alexis’ vocal fry to an art form. Dan Levy is a comedy god. Eugene Levy mostly plays the straight man, but the few times he’s able to flex Johnny’s comedic potential he brings a cheerful, clueless gravitas that is absolutely delightful.

And I mean, I can’t do any of that without highlighting the comedic genius that is Moira Rose, a legit icon and one of the best characters to grace a television screen:

In particular, her interactions with David are an absolute art form. Watch perhaps the peak of all North American comedy, “fold in the cheese,”

Not only do we get to see these flawed, real characters, they’re all pretty much uncontrollably funny. Sometimes we’re laughing at them, and sometimes we’re laughing with them — but we’re pretty much always laughing.

Organic Character Growth

Not only are these characters flawed, relatable and funny, they also grow in ways that feel real and believable. Throughout the show we see characters take small steps forward and small steps back. At the end of their arc, we can look back and see that those small steps eventually added up to something. Importantly, it’s rarely one massive leap forward, or a deus ex machina that would rob the characters of important growth.

The real steps move slowly forward. Most of the time, you can’t even see the arc until it’s finished. Take a look at Alexis, for instance. Alexis works as a receptionist, then finishes high school and gets her college degree. Then she starts work as her mother’s publicist before working in PR for Interflix. Looking back, it all works together as a coherent story. But at the time, there’s no reason to believe any of these small steps are leading anywhere. Alexis just takes it one step at a time, with no plan whatsoever, and things end up falling into place. It all makes sense in the end, but there’s a lot of steps in between that at the time don’t seem to add up to anything.

That’s true for Alexis’ relationships as well. After first running into the barriers of Alexis’ and Ted’s immaturity, both characters have their own paths to follow and they grow separately (Alexis with Mutt and Ted with Heather) into more mature adults capable of having a better relationship. Their reconnection is one of the sweetest, most genuine moments in the show. Both characters have matured, and they both acknowledge how much they’ve grown as people and how they want to be happy together.

Unfortunately for them, Alexis’ growth doesn’t stop there.

Part of the bravery of the show is the fact that it takes its characters to their logical destination, even if the ending isn’t one anyone wanted. Ted’s growth path leads to him chasing his ambition and his dreams, and he finds his dream job in the Galapagos. That means Alexis has to make a decision. The old Alexis would never have been able to even date someone kind, sweet and caring like Ted. A more recent version of Alexis would drop everything and chase this great guy around the world. The new Alexis though — as much as she loves Ted, she realizes now that she has her own path and dreams, and those are taking her to New York, not the Galapagos.

As much as they love each other, they can’t be with each other. Not through any fault of their own, but just because this is where their stories had to go.

Their breakup is an incredibly hard scene to watch. It’s so sad, emotional and sweet that Eugene Levy was openly weeping offstage as it happened. But that’s what had to happen for Alexis’ journey to continue.

Earned Warmth

All of the above — flawed characters, acerbic humor and a commitment to organic growth means that moments of triumph on Schitt’s Creek are relatively rare. The writers at times seem to take an almost gleeful pleasure in pulling the rug out from characters. But that means that when success DOES happen on Schitt’s Creek, the moments are completely earned and are overwhelming in their warmth and power.

Let’s take a look at Stevie in Season 5. By any measure, Stevie has a rough season. Alexis and Ted have just reconnected and are discovering a new, better relationship. David and Patrick’s relationship continues to intensify, culminating in a beautiful proposal. In the midst of her peers discovering new, beautiful and intense relationships, Stevie seems to have found her person when she meets the charming Emir.

Their relationship is sweet and charming, which makes it all the more brutal when Emir abruptly ends things. Stevie is devastated, even more so because everyone around her is pairing off and finding their forever people.

To console her, Moira gives Stevie the lead part in Cabaret. This is a very sweet gesture that is slightly undercut by the fact that Stevie is, by her own admission, hysterically unprepared and unqualified to be the lead in a show.

The rest of the season has Stevie handling the massive pressure of being the lead, all while she also deals with the guilt and pain of the breakup. When David gets engaged and Stevie disappears right before the big show, there is real concern among the characters that Stevie might have had a breakdown. And it wouldn’t be a surprise! Stevie’s been through a lot!

But all that struggle and pain leads up to one of the best moments of the series:

Moira doesn’t try to salve away the pain, she doesn’t try to give Stevie platitudes about how it’s going to be okay. She fully acknowledges that Stevie’s in a lot of pain right now, but that the pain is the right place for her to be right now. Stevie will be okay, Moira reminds her. She’s doing exactly what she needs to be doing.

Of course, Stevie crushes it.

David Rose

No one better exemplifies the strength of this show than David Rose. At the start he is an absolute monster. He is a vain, entitled, spoiled child whose only accomplishments in life (running an art gallery, being involved in fashion) have come directly from the deep pocketbooks of his uncaring parents. He has the unearned cynicism of a teenager and the arrogance of someone who’s never worked. He is rude to everyone he sees, dismissive of his parents and gleefully willing to pile onto his sister during her weakest moments.

But he’s also a character we’re sympathetic to — we see his vulnerability, admire his confidence and laugh at his wit. He immediately forms a deep and real friendship with Stevie, and no matter how much David may complain, he’s always there for Stevie. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the most reliably funny characters in the show, bringing a sharp wit and acid delivery through all six seasons.

His growth as a character comes in small, earned steps. Slowly, as he connects with his family and the locals, we see him support Alexis, Moira and Johnny in their own adventures. He becomes a full member of the community, helping Stevie, Roland and Jocelyn, before eventually working at the Blouse Barn. When an opportunity opens up for him to open up Rose Apothecary, we see it for what it is — a challenge and a growth opportunity, not (as Moira fears) a chaotic gamble by an out of control, emotionally stunted child. David isn’t that person anymore!

And finally, his eventual life partner Patrick. By the time Patrick enters David’s life, we’ve seen enough real, organic growth to understand how David might be ready for a serious relationship for the first time, as well as how complicated that will be for him.

It’s a real strength of the show that Patrick is not a perfect person. Everyone in David’s life says that Patrick is perfect, and in a lesser show he could have very easily been a blandly handsome cardboard cutout. But no. Patrick has, for all his wonderful qualities, some real flaws as well. He’s meticulous to the point of OCD, he’s overly competitive, and he has a secret ex-fiancée that he didn’t tell David about.

These are real tests for David and Patrick’s relationship, and the show treats them as such! It places the appropriate level of blame on Patrick for some of his mistakes (especially not telling David about his ex-fiancée), while positioning the rest of Patrick’s flaws as real things that David has to learn and adjust to. Their growth as a couple is sweet, organic and feels incredibly real.

And it culminates, of course, with the most emotional scene in the entire series:

Honestly, it’s a strength of this show that I could have mapped these themes onto any of the main characters. But if there’s any one character’s arc which exemplifies the show, it’s David Rose.

End of Blog Post

So pour yourself a glass of fruit wine from Herb Ertlinger, put on your most fantastic wig and your most incomprehensible fashion sweater and enjoy six seasons of some of the best quarantine entertainment Netflix has to offer. Enjoy the schadenfreude of watching horrible characters eat shit, the optimism of watching those horrible characters grow into much better people, and the hard-fought small victories these characters get!

Ew, David!
Jefferson

Former centrist neoliberal drone, newly woke (((Snowflake Justice Warrior))) as of 11/9/2016. Call your reps.

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