Why Canadians see themselves in ‘Schitt’s Creek’

Why We Wrote This

Beneath the double-entendre title of the popular Canadian sitcom “Schitt’s Creek” lies a show that Canadians say embraces their core values of tolerance and community.

Courtesy of Louise Downs
Louise Downs, who organized the first SchittCon gathering (a "Schitt's Creek" fan club convention), stands with her daughter Myra in Goodwood, Ontario, at a site where the popular sitcom filmed, June 9, 2019.

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With its departure this week after six seasons – leaving devastated fans across North America in its wake – the cheekily named sitcom “Schitt’s Creek” closes a curtain on a TV community that reflects the very values of openness, whether over class or identity, that are so often associated with Canada today.

The show, named for the fictional town where the cosmopolitan Rose family ends up after losing its money, resembles the rural communities that Canadians know well. But instead of over-the-top tropes, it features nods to what some say are identifiably Canadian characteristics, like collectivity.

Americans embrace rugged individualism, says Laura Grindstaff, a sociologist at the University of California, Davis. Whereas the Rose family, she says, doesn’t arrive “in this sort of new space geographically, or more importantly emotionally, without being part of a community in a collective.” 

Viewers have taken that spirit and formed their own communities. “It’s such a highlight for us to be able to watch this every Tuesday night, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s over,” says superfan Louise Downs. “It feels so silly, but it really does feel like I’m losing a best friend. I can’t even imagine life without Moira Rose.”

As the bighearted, surprise hit comedy “Schitt’s Creek” ended its run this week, viewers could be forgiven for never fully realizing it’s set in small-town Ontario. 

Schitt’s Creek, where the cosmopolitan Rose family ends up after losing its money, resembles the rural communities that Canadians know well. The cast is Canadian, led by national icons Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. But there are no Canadian flags, no hammed-up accents, or over-the-top tropes. 

Yet as the sitcom bows after its sixth season – leaving devastated fans across North America in its wake – it closes a curtain on a community that reflects the very values of openness, whether over class or identity, that are so often associated with Canada today.

Daniel Levy, who co-created the show with his father, Eugene, gave a nod to its Canadian ethos in an article published Tuesday – the day of the show’s finale – in Toronto’s NOW magazine. “We shot the show in Canada, it was a Canadian cast and crew. And I feel like the show embodies the Canadian identity and the philosophy of acceptance, love, compassion, and empathy,” he said in the interview. 

The sitcom first aired on the CBC, becoming a hit in its home country and eventually across the border in the United States, where it earned four Emmy nominations. It begins when the gaudy Rose parents lose everything and are forced to move with their adult children to Schitt’s Creek, a town they once bought as a joke. 

Pop TV/AP
(From left) Annie Murphy, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, and Daniel Levy from the series "Schitt's Creek." After six seasons, the sitcom is coming to a close.

The humor in the first few episodes is more caustic – many of today’s fans actively disliked the Roses and some even the show itself.

Throughout the seasons, storylines and jokes rely on the Rose family’s hard go at adapting to life with no luxuries, but beyond the comedic punches – “Oh, I’d kill for a good coma right now,” says family matriarch Moira Rose – the family stays in and becomes an integral part of the town.  

As the characters develop and transform, the sitcom softens and becomes sweeter, at the exact moment many viewers just wanted a half-hour of relief. “Schitt’s Creek” came of age through the rise of the Islamic State and its spate of terrorist attacks, the Brexit vote, the unexpected election of U.S. President Donald Trump, and now a global pandemic. 

Canadian values

While the comedy is built around the clash of cultures, from the beginning the townspeople accept the artifice and eccentricities of siblings David and Alexis Rose, and the overdone lexicon of Moira. (Ms. O’Hara said in a live Instagram session recently that “Foyle’s Philavery: A Treasury of Unusual Words” and “Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary” inspired her script.) It exemplifies tolerance that reflects Canadian culture generally, says Greg David, a Canadian television critic and owner of “TV, eh?,” a site that covers Canadian TV.

“There’s values in there, and maybe some things that we as Canadians like to think are more Canadian than in other countries around the world, when it comes to acceptance,” says Mr. David. “I think we’re more laid-back, have a ‘live and let live’ type of attitude.”

That openness is best illustrated in Daniel Levy’s portrayal of David Rose, who is pansexual and develops one of the most cherished relationships on the show with Patrick Brewer, played by Noah Reid. But their sexuality is not central to the storyline. It’s simply a loving relationship like any other – and there is an utter lack of homophobia to be found anywhere around them. That’s aspirational, but it’s been a watershed for LGBTQ communities. Mr. Levy has said he created a world in which he would want to live. 

A sense of community

Laura Grindstaff, a sociologist at the University of California, Davis, who is from Canada and looks at cultural issues through media, says that she sees a show intentionally transcending particularism – whether that’s in nation or gender. “It’s working against categorization, and against labels,” she says.

Yet she does see hints of Canada, beyond its cast and production, in its central theme of collectivity. “This is about getting to where you are by forming community and working together collectively. That is not quintessentially American,” she says, “where you’ve got the rugged individualism, ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ stuff. For the Rose family, she says, “they don’t arrive in this sort of new space geographically, or more importantly emotionally, without being part of a community in a collective.”

That’s a message that has inspired fans across North America, and helped them form their own communities. Louise Downs, a superfan in Nova Scotia who runs the fan club “Schitt’s Creek Fans Shoot the Schitt,” says her Facebook group grew from a few hundred in the first weeks she started it in 2017 to more than 23,000 members today. The majority are Americans.

She says she, and legions of others, are “devastated,” especially while much of North America is in lockdown over the coronavirus. “It’s like, jeez, couldn’t we have a few more episodes? Because it’s such a highlight for us to be able to watch this every Tuesday night, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s over,” she says. “It feels so silly, but it really does feel like I’m losing a best friend. I can’t even imagine life without Moira Rose.”

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