Tuesday night that compact universe of sweetness and insanity, laughter and tears, innocence and experience called “Schitt’s Creek” came to its natural end. At the close of six seasons, the family Rose — defrauded in Episode 1 of its millions — having learned what love is, arrived at its fairy-tale end: the restoration of its fortune. Dang, I am choking up just writing it down.
This event, in the strangeness of cosmic time and modern television platforms, still lies in the future for some viewers, some of whom have yet to understand that it is not a Netflix show, which carries new episodes long after they debut here on the basic cable network Pop. Indeed, America was slow to cotton to the Canadian-made series, which went from outlier to cult item to absolute phenomenon by year four, either because it was “hard to find,"or because some people don’t have “regular TV” or because the media was insufficiently impressed (before it was besotted).
To take out the horn I have fashioned especially to blow at this moment, I was a fan from the start — excited from the first press release at the very prospect of a show starring Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. I had loved their work since “SCTV” stole down over the border, back before Dan Levy, who created the show with his father, Eugene, was born.
And so began a series of happy face-to-face encounters with the creators and cast of the show, stretching from before the premiere to two days before production wrapped, on the site of the Rosebud Motel itself.
‘I don’t want to do snooty rich lady’
It’s February 2015, and I have come to the Aroma Cafe in Studio City to meet Eugene Levy and O’Hara, an interview that produced both a feature and an extended Q&A. Sometimes you get to meet your heroes, and though there is a well-known caveat about it maybe being better not to, if you pick your heroes wisely it usually pays off. They are seriously nice, and — not formal exactly, but grown-up. O’Hara has a cold but soldiers through.
At this point in the show’s (nearly pre-) history, the older stars, their friendship and history — which for Levy and O’Hara includes several films Levy co-wrote with Christopher Guest — are the focus of the conversation. (This includes Chris Elliott as town mayor Roland Schitt.) No one in America has seen Dan Levy. Annie Murphy, who will play sister Alexis to Dan’s David Rose — and daughter to O’Hara’s Moira and Eugene’s Johnny — has had no career at all.
“We work the same way, Catherine and I,” Levy says. “We’ve spent our lives in comedy, and yet I don’t think either one of us think of ourselves as funny people. We love to get into characters that are credible, real, grounded. It isn’t just, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to work with Catherine?’ You’re working with the person who really does this kind of work well.”
“He just doesn’t like to meet new people,” O’Hara says.
“That’s the other thing. But you I’m comfortable with. You don’t criticize me that much.”
Already, O’Hara has a bead on Moira: “I don’t want to do snooty rich lady. I’d rather do someone who thinks that she’s of this world and hip and avant-garde and has been everywhere and is cultured. And who knows about her past? We haven’t gotten too much into that, but I like to think she’s really threatened by this small-town life — because she’s been there, you know? ... I like to think of her as more vulnerable than just snobby or superior. I think it’s way more insecure.”
‘I basically pulled all the drama from my teenage years’
It’s March 2016, and Season 2 of “Schitt’s Creek” is here. I am sitting with Eugene Levy at a table on the patio of the Culver Hotel, waiting for his “fashionably late” son Dan.
“You look sharp,” Dan tells his father, who is wearing a suit his son picked out for him. (Dan and David do not share the same fashion sense.) They treat each other with that mix of indulgence and exasperation common to parents and children, but it is shot through with love and respect and pride. Now family is at the heart of the conversation, past and present, including Dan’s high-school theater days (Eugene: “He did amazing stuff in high school”; Dan: “Sure, uh-huh, go”) and his film school projects: “There was a short I wrote about a guardian angel that was sent to Earth to protect a guy that just lived a really boring life, and eventually the guardianship got a bit boring; and he turned a blind eye for one minute, and the guy slips into a coma. They were all sort of dark and weird.”
Dan has become the captain of the show by now. “Obviously you’re at an advantage when you’re writing a family dynamic and you’ve experienced the dynamic,” he says. “I know where we can take the character of Johnny — a lot of the time it’s just how far can we take the character of Johnny before I get an email from my dad reading the notes at the end of the night saying, ‘You know, I have a problem with how far you’ve taken Johnny.”
Asked whether there is anything of his relationship with Sarah in that of David and Alexis, he replies, “I think that anyone who has a sibling can identify with how we’ve written these two. I basically pulled all the drama from my teenage years with my sister and projected them on to full-grown adults.”
‘What’s your excuse?’
May 2016, up in the old Times building in downtown L.A. I sit down with O’Hara and Eugene Levy as part of a series of video conversations linked to the Emmys, for which “Schitt’s Creek” is newly eligible. (Emmy nominations would finally arrive in 2019 for Eugene Levy, O’Hara, costume designers Debra Hanson and Darci Cheyne, and for the series itself). Of her initial reluctance to commit to playing Moira, O’Hara recalls “it took me a few moments to commit,” but “I already trusted Eugene as a writer and an actor, and as a good man who I could stand to spend time with. I don’t know,” she says, turning to Levy, “what’s your excuse?”
If your patience for watching me ask questions has not been exhausted by the above, this SAG-AFTRA panel that same year features both Levys, O’Hara, Murphy and Emily Hampshire, who plays Stevie Budd, the motel’s downbeat manager.
‘Everyone’s deserving of love’
Now it’s September 2018 — no interviews in 2017, however that didn’t happen — and in the interim the series has grown in emotional depth and ambition and found a wider audience; more and more, I’m being asked if I’ve seen it. With the addition to the cast of Noah Reid as Patrick, a slow-blooming love interest for David, hallelujah, the show has become a standard bearer for LGBTQ issues, without ever making an issue of them. At the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, the cast members mount a loose evening of talk, clips and games and, in the audience, a wedding proposal. (Nothing could be more appropriate.) A packed house greets them rapturously. They will take this show on the road.
“Do you remember pitching the show?” Eugene asks Dan onstage.
“I do remember pitching the show,” says Dan. “I’m 35; I have a very clear memory.”
“I think this fourth season struck an emotional chord with people that in a way substantiated their belief in the show,” he says. “Considering how our subject matter can be quite polarizing, we’ve received just the most overwhelmingly positive, joyful response.
“Some of the most touching feedback I’ve received has been from right-wing religious-based people who have never understood queer culture. If we can continue to open people’s eyes to realize that everyone’s deserving of love, that’s a wonderful thing.”
‘It feels like the happiest place ever’
June 25, 2019, Hockley Valley, Ontario, Canada, on location with “Schitt’s Creek.” Scenes for five different episodes are being shot outside the long, low Rosebud Motel, which the day after tomorrow will go back to being just an old building on a stretch of country road. The cast will scatter not quite to the winds — some of them are related, after all, and others now might as well be — to become different people on different projects. It’s the day before the day before the day before the first day of the rest of their lives. (With a caveat, from Dan Levy: “If we feel like there’s more story to tell, then great — let’s do a movie, let’s do a holiday special. I’m by no means saying I would never want to revisit these characters.”)
I, too, have come to the end of my own related journey. Which is not a thought I share with anyone.
It is a thrill to be here; the building itself exerts a kind of power. There are shows you watch — or bands you listen to — and want to enter that world, that family, to be among not just the characters but the people who play them, to be part of the world that brings that world to life. It feels like the happiest place ever. This is probably not always the case, but it truly does seem to be the case here. The freshness of the air and the singing birds might have something to do with it, but I’m going to go with mutual love and respect. Dan and Eugene Levy, Murphy and Hampshire are all here, along with Chris Elliott and Jennifer Robertson, who plays Roland’s wife, Jocelyn. As on the first day we met, Catherine O’Hara has a cold, but she’s here too in full Moira Rose regalia.
“They’re there as much for each other as for us,” O’Hara says of the fans, watching from the roadside above, and of the fans who turned out across the continent to see them in person. “It’s almost that we don’t have to be there, but we brought them together somehow.”