Dragging your heels harder than a ratty old piece of luggage over finally sitting down and watching the much-talked about Schitt’s Creek? Well upgrade that suitcase to a Samsonite wheelie and step out of the club because this is one Canadian comedy that more than lives up to its hype.
The Dan and Eugene Levy creation could have easily been another bad comedy in which terrible, rich people are forced to live outside of their comfort zones in the old fish-out-of-water trope. Think Kelsey Grammer’s failed ABC sitcom Hank from 2009, which was over quicker than it started. But rather than go for the cheap, obvious laughs, the Schitt’s Creek pilot takes its time. As the audience watches the Roses move out of their lavish home and into a rundown motel with “refrigerated air” and “push button phones,” we laugh because things are clearly not going to get better for this family anytime soon. There are no lessons to be learned. No moral codes to be upheld. No glass-half-full speeches about still being a family. Things are shit in Schitt’s Creek, and the Roses make no apologies for wanting “a bathtub and a long extension cord” to escape it all.
That lack of remorse or realization of their own awfulness is exactly what makes laughing at these characters so enjoyable. On their own, each and every one of them could be considered cartoonish, but together you buy this family. Each actor sells his or her role in a unique way, making for a cohesive family unit and an overall smart comedy. From Catherine O’Hara’s small screams to Dan Levy’s smart-assed head cocking, these actors use their body language as much as their lines to deliver the point. They’re committed, and we want to get committed with them.
Tonally, this type of comedy isn’t seen much on network television, and especially not in Canada. Rather than quick scenes, upbeat music and punchy writing, the first half hour feels more like a theatre act that’s taking its time to set up the scenes to come. Eugene Levy, whose plethora of popular roles lead audiences to expect he will play some sort of goofy father figure, instead chooses to play Johnny Rose as an overly polite anchor to the rest of his kooky clan. We don’t think he’s going to snap when it all gets to be too much, exactly, but we also know he has no clue what he’s going to do to get his family out of their current jam.
It’s because of that tone that watching David and Alexis (Annie Murphy) fight over who will be “murdered first” feels authentic and not ridiculously over the top, and why we believe the town’s “mayor” would overstay his welcome and then take off the motel doors when he feels disrespected. Sure–most comedies would probably think to juxtapose excessively large menus at a tiny diner table, but not many would use it as subtly as Schitt’s Creek. Writer Dan Levy gets it: audiences don’t need to be hit over the head to get the joke. By not pushing those little extras front and centre, they work with the plot to deliver a more nuanced comedy.
By the end of the pilot, you can tell Dan Levy poured his heart and soul into the project. From the meticulous wardrobe selection, to the detailed backdrops, to the fun pop culture references (Diddy’s White Party, anyhow?) the younger Levy has managed to surpass expectation and present a delightful comedy that also just so happens to be Canadian.
No wonder it was the first Canadian network series to ever be picked up for a second season ahead of its debut. Sorry to all those who wanted to pull a Moira, “pick up a hammer and nail this coffin shut,” but we hope this little gem of a comedy sticks around for a long time to come.
Schitt’s Creek airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.
What did you think of the first (and second) episode? Tell us below.