One of the most beloved TV comedies of recent times, Dan and Eugene Levy’s Schitt’s Creek finally won big at the Primetime Emmy Awards last night, notching up a total of seven wins (out of 15 nominations). The Canadian sitcom, which wrapped up its six-season run in April this year, completed a clean sweep of the comedy Emmys, winning Best Show, Writing, Directing and acting nods for each of its four principal cast members — Dan Levy (David Rose), Eugene Levy (Johnny Rose), Catherine O’Hara (Moira Rose) and Annie Murphy (Alexis Rose). With Schitt’s Creek having finished its sixth and final season in April, the Emmy honours are also a fitting and triumphant goodbye to a series that was as wholesome as it was clever.
The story follows the fortunes of the once-wealthy Rose family, who lose all their money and are forced to relocate to a small town Johnny Rose once bought as an ironic birthday gift for his son David; the titular Schitt’s Creek. As they reluctantly adjust to this drastic change in circumstances they also learn to live with the town’s longtime residents, like Mayor Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott) and his wife Jocelyn (Jenn Robertson), motel clerk Stevie Budd (Emily Hampshire) and waitress Twyla Sands.
It’s not difficult to see why Schitt’s Creek has developed the kind of following it has these last few years—in terms of pace, plot progression and line-by-line writing style, it resembles nothing else on TV (especially American TV). The night’s other big winner, HBO’s Succession, has a story chock-full with terrible people — Schitt’s Creek is the natural antidote. These characters are at once wholly contemporary and a throwback to the time when it was possible to write a TV show featuring almost exclusively Good People. And these are good people; not heroes, mind, just regular, flawed individuals struggling to establish a sense of self.
Johnny and Moira were instant classics straight off the bat, an elder couple that’s cosy and codependent after 40 years of marriage, and yet also deeply individualistic, retaining the capacity to expand their horizons — they admit to being not-so-great parents at the beginning of the story. But they put in the effort and some comedic roadblocks later; manage to improve their relationships with their adult children. Eugene Levy (best known for Noah Levenstein, his bumbling oversexed Dad role in the American Pie movies) and Catherine O’Hara are both reliably excellent, O’Hara delivering one classic diva moment after another.
David and Alexis were a little thinly written in the first couple of seasons, but that was also down to their characters taking time to adjust to the realities of their new lives (compared to their parents). The third season onwards, both siblings receive splendid arcs, filled with both petty foibles and genuine personal growth. The show’s likeability is also enhanced by its willingness to dive headfirst into potentially tricky territory without letting go of its plain-talking approach. Like the scene where David tells Stevie that he’s pansexual and explains what that means, allegorically — they’re shopping for wine and she says she only drinks red wine. So he decides to run with the metaphor.
David: I do drink red wine. But I also drink white wine. And I’ve been known to sample the occasional rosé. And a couple summers back I tried a merlot that used to be a chardonnay, which got a bit complicated.
Stevie: Oh, so you’re just really open to all wines.
David: I like the wine and not the label. Does that make sense?
Stevie: Yes, it does.
It feels a little pointless to say that so-and-so show’s writing feels ‘realistic’, especially for comedies (very few people are funny a dozen times across 20 minutes, mostly because it’s exhausting to live that way). But Schitt’s Creek does feel much less contrived at the dialogue level than most super-popular American sitcoms (like Modern Family or Veep, the two shows that have dominated the comedy Emmys this decade). This aversion to templatised writing is what led the Levys to turn down an ABC offer in 2015; they feared the ‘standardisation’ process that seemed inevitable with a big network deal. Now, of course, with the Emmys under their belt, we may yet see the Levys return for a movie, this time with the creative control they feared losing the first time around.
During his acceptance speech following the show’s win for Best Comedy, Dan Levy said: “Our show, at its core, is about the transformative effect of love and acceptance, and that is something we need more now than we’ve ever needed before.” He then urged people to vote before apologising “for making it political” even as his father grinned in the background (is there anything more Canadian than an apologetic winner?). That, too, felt like a classic Schitt’s Creek moment, marked by love, laughter and quiet convictions.
This article was first published in DeadAnt, an online publication and new-media venture focused on stand-up comedy in India.