Please note the review has some mild spoilers – don’t worry the last season is unscathed.
In 2015, CBC Television aired the first episode of the new sitcom Schitt’s Creek that was created by Daniel Levy (son of comedy legend Eugene Levy) about a wealthy family that are forced out of their mansion when their fortune is frauded by the family’s business manager. Their faint glimmer of hope is an asset owned by the patriarch Johnny Rose (played by co-creator Eugene Levy) whom purchased a deed to the small town of Schitt’s Creek years prior, which is where the Rose family retreat to, staying in a basic motel run by the motel clerk Stevie (Emily Hampshire). The first episode Our Cup Runneth Over was ridiculous, shrill and vain – but the formula was there yet to tap into its potential.
Daniel Levy created the series with his father Eugene Levy who plays his dad Johnny Rose, a former owner of Rose Video that competed with Blockbuster. Eugene Levy is very much the straight man and nails every scene he’s in, perhaps most humorous of all is his attempts to be the mediator and make the most of the opportunity, even when his attempts are pretty futile just like his gift giving skills. Johnny Rose is often the fool in awkward situations he finds himself in, such as being unable to refuse the offer of speaking at a funeral to a man he never met or infecting the motel with poison oak.
Co-creator Daniel Levy plays the sarcastic, neurotic and loveable David, a former art gallerist who is used to a life of luxury clothing and a sheltered outlook on life. Canadian actress Annie Murphy, plays David’s sister Alexis Rose, the character is an amalgamation of reality stars such as the Kardashians and Paris Hilton. Murphy was not the original choice for Alexis, but thanks to Daniel Levy’s insistent push as he saw something right in her audition, she was eventually cast for the pilot and the rest is history.
Part of the show’s success is the sibling rivalry between David and Alexis, whom secretly look out for each other but can’t get over the lavish life taken from them. The first fight we see between them is who should sleep closest to the door. This is where the writing of the show gets creative over the seasons, as they both rip into each other to a hysterical effect, such as eating each other’s food, Alexis’ short-lived lead based nail polish line, or David’s reluctance to admit he wants an apartment she is looking at or … the Tamagotchi debate.
Alexis begins the show a vapid Paris Hilton-like heiress whom at one point had a reality show and an unsuccessful music career. However it is in the later seasons that Alexis makes the most growth, going from strength to strength in her outlook to her life such as graduating from high school, gaining a college degree and finding a new respect for Ted who initially becomes a throwaway rebound in Season 1. Murphy imbues a lot of humour and newfound respect for Alexis, and it’s refreshing to see how hardworking her character becomes. Although Alexis’ song written by Murphy herself is without a doubt, a bop.
Meanwhile, David remains as outrageous and pretentious, but I do believe his creativity borders on perfectionist. He challenges the town (and the audience) with perceptions of masculinity as he begins a short-lived affair with Stevie despite his effeminate nature and eclectic fashion, thus it’s revealed he is pansexual. His friendship with Stevie is one of the highlights of the show, because they grow to care for each other. David gets a job in the next season, and takes this forward to open his own store with a business partner, Patrick (Noah Reid), who moves to the town in Season 3. After a rocky start and their hilarious back-and-forth conversations they share, with Patrick often winning any little squabble, the two later become a couple. Levy often grounds David with sincere and heartfelt nuance in the smallest of moments, such as David helping his mother with a musical performance in the town, being serenaded by Patrick or an even more fantastic development with him in Season 5.
Joining the family is a range of colourful characters such as the motel clerk Stevie (Hampshire) whose dry wit and realism is a stark contrast to the Rose family, the dim-witted but beloved mayor Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott, of There’s Something About Mary and Groundhog Day), Roland’s homely and outgoing wife Jocelyn (Jenn Robertson), Ted (Dustin Milligan) is the town veterinarian and eventual love interest to Alexis, then there’s Ronnie (Karen Robinson) the no-nonsense town council member and the pleasant and humble waitress to the only café in town, Twyla Sands (played by Sarah Levy, daughter to Eugene Levy and brother of Daniel). Although they are background characters to the Rose family, they all have moments to shine within the show.
Last but not least, Catherine O’Hara has been a favourite of mine for many years of my childhood, especially growing up with the Tim Burton films. The Canadian actress has starred in many great films such as Beetlejuice, the Home Alone films, the underrated Penelope, voiced Sally in my favourite American animation The Nightmare Before Christmas and she has starred in the countless mockumentaries directed by longtime collaborator Christopher Guest. It is no surprise that she stars alongside her previous co-star Eugene Levy as his wife and forgotten soap actress Moira Rose. To put it lightly, she steals the spotlight.
O’Hara began her career on SCTV (a Canadian answer to SNL) in the 70’s, so Schitt’s Creek is a welcome return to television for her, but a choice that the actress said she was reluctant to make. It is such a relief that she reconsidered after completing the pilot, because the show is definitely written around the instantly iconic persona of Moira. She’s the dramatic, larger-than-life, wigtastic, theatrical and opulent actress of many moons ago, and you can’t wait until she’s on screen again. Some of my favourite moments include her botched ad for a local fruit winery, trying to help her husband buy a car with a reasonable cockney accent, her takeover of the town choir Jazzagals and her campy villainous turn in the ill-fated threquel The Crows Have Eyes 3: The Crowening; O’Hara has added another fabulous character to her career and it will be sad to say goodbye. Perhaps the best part about Moira is her loving support for her husband Johnny, even when they butt heads or they don’t understand a fault they’ve created in a situation.
Over quarantine in the beginning of the continuing and tragic COVID crisis, I was looking for something to watch to keep my spirits up in the evenings. It had been highly recommended by a few friends to cast my attention to the growing critical darling that Schitt’s Creek had become in the last few years. My first impression of the pilot did not leave me hungry for more, but alas my options were limited. Upon reevaluation I decided to go back in with an open mind and to my surprise, the characters of Schitt’s Creek still remain parodies of themselves but through the laughter is a lot of love and soul. The Rose family learn a little (and a lot), they make the most of what they have, but they ultimately realise money can’t buy happiness in the same way as they grow accustomed to each other. Just don’t come between Moira and her wig bébés. As the seasons go and just like with the Rose family, we grow to love the humble rural residents and the small town life of Schitt’s Creek.