The end of the school year — and for seniors, the end of their high school careers — is just around the corner. These final weeks of the semester typically become a time of reflection upon a year’s worth of learning and growing inside and outside of the classroom. And this year there is no shortage of topics to reflect upon as the pandemic era prompted virtually all students to alter their perceptions of what learning looks like, both in an educational sense and in getting to know themselves better. This arc of personal development that many are experiencing in a year like no other is exactly what makes the clever, heartwarming sitcom Schitt’s Creek resonate with audiences.
Schitt’s Creek follows the Rose family over the span of six seasons as they fall from the top of the social ladder and begin a long climb back up it. Audiences meet the Roses as the family’s precious possessions are being reclaimed from them by the IRS due to the family company’s business manager committing fraud. The chaotic opening scene of the show itself may even seem like an accurate representation of 2020 with panic, anxiety, and comedic confusion all taking center stage. The only asset the family retains is the deed to a small town, Schitt’s Creek, purchased as a joke years ago at the height of their affluence. The Roses are thus forced to trade in their luxurious mansion for a motel in the middle of nowhere.
Stripped of their riches, the Roses encounter perhaps their greatest challenge yet: living as average, self-sustaining people. Parents Johnny (Eugene Levy) and Moira (Catherine O’Hara) have to confront the fact that they barely know their adult son and daughter David (Daniel Levy, son of Eugene Levy in real life too) and Alexis (Annie Murphy). In turn, David and Alexis face the fact that they’ve relied on their parents’ endless cash flow for all their lives, rendering them hilariously ignorant and lost in the realms of finding jobs and being responsible for themselves.
Being in the middle of nowhere sets the perfect stage for the characters’ self discovery, and Schitt’s Creek builds the environment of Schitt’s Creek itself first and foremost. Watching an episode makes viewers feel as though they truly are in this rural town, as the show portrays its desired small town effect almost effortlessly. The motel rooms are just out of style enough to feel sketchy at first, but homey soon thereafter. Each person and place of Schitt’s Creek is connected so that just about everyone knows the other’s business, but the gossip and sideways glances at the café dissolve into neighborly friendships at the end of the day. It is in this way that each element of the setting works together to provide an honest but affectionate depiction of small town life so that Schitt’s Creek itself seems like a charming place that viewers might actually stumble upon in their own lives.
Along with the setting of the show comes the atmosphere created by the acting and writing. There is a bit of a slow burn element to Schitt’s Creek as viewers have to adapt to the quirky settings and characters they find themselves placed with just as much as the show’s actual characters have to adapt. The series would quickly grow ridiculous if it didn’t take the time to establish the unique personalities of each character. Over time audiences understand that yes, they really will see Moira in a new, over the top, somehow fashionable outfit and wig every episode. Over time audiences accept that yes, Alexis will continue to use the word “like” as a filler more than they ever thought possible. But with that, audiences are also subconsciously peeling back the layers that make these characters complex: Moira hides her fears of failure under her wigs and couture looks while Alexis masks her fears of social rejection under an (at first) annoyingly bubbly personality.
The show progresses through shorter episodes, but makes use of every second available for both comedy and character development. Daniel Levy’s directing is as genius as his acting, as he brings out humor in not only clever line deliveries but also through utilizing a moving camera and spontaneously zooming in on characters’ faces as opposed to employing an excessive amount of cuts. These framing and camera movement choices give that extra moment of an awkward silence or a lingering beat in the conversation, and those split seconds add up to incredibly authentic and witty episodes.
The first two seasons especially lean into this awkward mood, and the beginning episodes of the show may only bring audiences to hesitant chuckles instead of belly laughs. But don’t worry, there will be moments where holding back laughter is not an option, like watching David and Moira struggle to fold in the cheese while cooking enchiladas or witnessing David learn how to ride a bike as a fully grown adult. Yet the series grows out of its awkward phase beautifully as characters become more fleshed out and the overall tone of the show more focused.
As the show matures, so do its characters, secondary characters included. While audiences cheer on Alexis as she opens herself up to being in a committed relationship like she’s never had before, they also find themselves rooting for Stevie Budd (Emily Hampshire), the manager of the motel where the Roses stay, as she learns to step out of her comfort zone to discover her ambitions beyond her job at the motel. As viewers enjoy watching David grow into an entrepreneur and explore his feelings for love interest Patrick (Noah Reid), they also get to see Café Tropical waitress Twila (Sarah Levy) grow from her initially perplexing character into someone much more charming and witty. Perhaps best of all, every development of a character happens for a reason and none of the characters change so much that they would be unrecognizable compared to their first appearances in the series.
It is the culmination of Schitt’s Creek’s slow burn structure, awkward comedic technique, and general ability not to take itself too seriously that sets it apart from other comedies of its nature. As seasons progress viewers find that they actually know Johnny, Moira, David, Alexis, and the friends they make along the way just as they know people in their own communities. While the show is not necessarily binge-able due to its dry nature, it is instead genuinely enjoyable each time viewers return. Schitt’s Creek isn’t meant to be burned through in a couple of weeks, but instead invites audiences to experience their own journeys of growth alongside the characters.
As the curtain closes on this year that brought us change and challenges, shows like Schitt’s Creek prompt us to ask ourselves not only what roadblocks were put in our way, but also how we faced them. While we may have overcome one impossible obstacle after the other and feel completely burned out, the development of the Rose family reminds us that the past is behind us and that we can grow in even the most difficult of environments. But of course, if we do end up failing and need some encouragement, Schitt’s Creek also tells us that there will always be a place called home where we can return.
Schitt’s Creek is rated TV-MA.
Elizabeth Dyer is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl