This guest essay on Schitt’s Creek is part of our Decade Rewind. Keep up as we look back at the best, worst, and otherwise interesting movies and shows of the 2010s.
Chances are, if you have a Netflix account and haven’t been living under a rock, you know the significance behind the term, “FOLD IN THE CHEESE!” It’s just one of the many quotable lines from the beloved father/son-written comedy Schitt’s Creek that exemplify the one-of-a-kind hilarity you’re guaranteed when you spend a half-hour with the Rose family. That line is yelled back and forth between David Rose (Daniel Levy), former NYC-based art curator, and his mother, Moira (Catherine O’Hara), ex-soap opera actress, while they try to cook family dinner for the first time in possibly their whole lives. While that kind of scenario might be hard to relate to, the rest of the family dynamics, while exaggerated, are sure to be similar to just about any viewer’s personal experiences.
After losing everything, the once well-to-do Roses are forced to live together in adjacent motel rooms in an impossibly small town that Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), the patriarch and former owner of Rose Video, bought as a joke birthday gift for his son years ago because of its name: Schitt’s Creek. Living in such close quarters is new to the Roses, and the proximity to each other seems like a nightmare at first but quickly reveals itself to be just what they needed. David and younger sister Alexis (Annie Murphy) are sharing a room, which is crazy at their adult age of… well, they never really clear that up. We just know that in season one, Alexis tells David, “You are like, 34,” to which he responds, “I’m basically 29.” So, somewhere in between?
But underneath all the humor, the show is full of heart. There’s a kind of nostalgia that sweeps over you watching Schitt’s Creek, like a warm throw blanket being draped over you when you doze off on the couch, like the first Fall day cold enough to bury yourself in your coziest jumper and hug yourself all day. The comfort that watching Schitt’s Creek offers is reminiscent of the simple comfort that a daily routine brought as a child. The joy of knowing every day would be more or less the same: go to school, come home, watch TV, do homework, have dinner, repeat. That kind of monotony that is typically rejected by us as we grow older and associate routine with dreaded mundanity. But for a kid, a routine is an essential part of growth.
The Roses experience this themselves, confined to a routine in their small town: sleeping in the same motel every night rather than globetrotting; going to Café Tropical for breakfast because there are no other options, a far cry from the limitless eateries in their old home of New York; go to their jobs instead of catching a flight to another country for a quick break from the cold; come home, repeat. While this seems restrictive, it gives the Roses room to blossom into more well-rounded individuals and a more open and loving family.
Another reason Schitt’s Creek evokes this nostalgia is because a town so small with no defined location grants its viewers the ability to step outside of their own lives, just enough to take a break from the harsh reality of the news cycle and life’s stresses while still maintaining a real-world quality and offering something to take away. (Also, maybe it’s partly because Alexis’ wardrobe is basically what all the It Girls of my youth wore on MTV, see: Laguna Beach, The Hills.) By staying ambiguous on the actual location of the town, Schitt’s Creek doesn’t need to involve politics that extend beyond Moira’s run for City Council to deliver relevant messages to its viewers every week. It just has to stay human — something it never fails to do.
What separates Schitt’s Creek from other family sitcoms is the ingenuity of its content. Each episode takes place inside this small town, with one restaurant, a motel, a vet’s office, and later, an upscale general store, and yet, the show doesn’t run out of stories that develop the characters into lovable, relatable figures. All too often, a sitcom airing new episodes weekly not only uses but relies on current events and politics to create content for its episodes — every character has to have an opinion, there will be some kind of discourse intending to inform the viewer on all sides of the issue, and by the end of the episode, there’s an illusion of resolve. While these efforts can be well-meaning and may help some people have an easier time digesting news and politics through this kind of lens, there are plenty of people who like to use TV as a way to break free from the news. Schitt’s Creek grants us that lovely little privilege. In fact, it largely ignores all the goings-on in the world and hyper-focuses on the small town and small stories with big meanings.
All the stories exist within the confines of Schitt’s Creek and give viewers the reward of watching the Roses accomplish small goals that become markers for milestones, like: Alexis learning how to ride a bike, a knowledge she then imparts on to David in a moment that shows it’s never too late to broaden your horizons (which becomes a recurring theme for Alexis’ character); or David renewing his driver’s license, which is a stressful situation where David’s anxiety runs rampant. Alexis tries to calm him down, only causing a fight which later inspires David to reveal to Alexis that he didn’t enjoy much of his young life because he was too busy worrying about her while she recklessly gallivanted around the world, getting into trouble with rich bad boys, a tender moment that shows how much he’s always cared for her. When Alexis considers moving out of their shared motel room into an apartment, David noticeably thwarts her efforts. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t seem too upset about it. Their brother-sister relationship is deeply relatable: they fight, can’t stand each other. Still, they’re secretly each other’s biggest champions and can’t live without each other. It’s a delight to watch.
Moira and Johnny, as a married couple, embody perseverance and unconditional support. The love they show each other is far more aspirational and realistic than other modern depictions of long-term love. To nail such a trope is impressive in its own right, but even more so considering the recent trend in TV and film of dealing with long-term relationships in terms of divorce, separation, and co-parenting. Schitt’s Creek gets raw about the reality of love in a different way: simply put, despite losing everything, Moira and Johnny still have each other, and they don’t take that for granted. They choose to love each other every day and have clearly mastered the art of learning each other’s love language.
Most of the time, their love languages are similar in the sense that both value ego-stroking. Moira knows how to make Johnny feel confident in his role as the patriarch despite his financial status, and in return, Johnny showers Moira with affectionate compliments that make her feel as beautiful and beloved as she did as a young soap opera star. They stick up for each other when David and Alexis are bullying them, like when Johnny has a hangover, and Alexis and David order the smelliest things on the menu at Café Tropical. They offer each other the strength and support that allow them each to go on to do fulfilling things for their personal growth and careers. Moira and Johnny’s relationship shows that nothing can really hold you down if someone always has your back. Isn’t that what marriage is supposed to be about? Further explorations of love, through David and Alexis’ characters, display relationships rooted in being cautious, that over time grow into safe relationships built on acceptance, both of self and of their partners – something they may have picked up on from their mom and dad.
The Roses resist their fall from grace in the first season. They refused to admit to themselves that this was their life now, living in a motel in the middle of nowhere, no car, no capital, and seemingly no hope. By the second season, though, they have not only started to accept their fate and adjust to their new conditions, but they even began to thrive. David gets a job at a boutique and proceeds to make the store a vision of his own. Alexis, tired of wasting her time in failed relationships (and needing money after spearheading a raw milk deal gone bad), gets a job as a receptionist at her veterinarian ex-fiance’s office. Moira is forced to get to know everyone in town during her run for City Council, and she finds they have more to like than she imagined. Johnny humbles himself and asks his kids for help, finally accepting that he’s not the breadwinning businessman he once was. Even though David and Alexis have never really worked before, they take their new jobs in stride, making their parents (and okay, me too) proud.
By the third season, Moira, used to being an actress, is now only publicly speaking at town halls. Still, she’s happy to have an audience again. And Johnny finds a new business partner in motel owner Stevie, running the business with her, now named after both families as the RoseBud Motel. Watching this family grow into their own is inspirational because it’s so relatable. The Roses’ journey to happiness doesn’t make anyone feel bad about not being as wealthy or successful as the family on TV. It doesn’t shame anyone for their jobs or imply that people aren’t working hard enough. It might even make people feel more secure in their lower-class status, especially seeing the Roses get even closer to each other and become more confident in themselves after losing everything.
What started out as just a light-hearted show, full of laughs at the expense of an over-the-top family, quickly revealed itself to be a poignant show about so much more: perseverance, friendship, the power of re-inventing yourself and being your truest self without shame, loving and failing and loving again, and finding joy in places where it seemed impossible. Every week, I look forward to shutting out my own life and running off to the small town of Schitt’s Creek, forgetting my own problems and letting myself get wrapped up in whatever issue is plaguing the Roses. While I might not be ready to trade my big city life (and all the stresses that come with it) for a cozy one in a small town like Schitt’s Creek, it’s a comfort just knowing I can mute my surroundings and let myself visit for an hour a day, worrying only about the Roses’ world, a most necessary part of a welcomed routine.