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Television

How ‘Creek’ explains queer culture to its right-wing fans

BEVERLY HILLS - CA - MARCH 02, 2016 - Dan Levy, co-creator and co-star of the sitcom “Schitt’s Creek
Dan Levy, co-creator and co-star of “Schitt’s Creek,” photographed at the Paley Center for Media, March 2, 2016.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Television Critic

It’s been a good year for “Schitt’s Creek,” a situation comedy about a formerly wealthy family living in a small-town motel. Its reputation and audience have continued to build with memes and GIFs and the old word-of-mouth, rising to a rapidly sold-out “up-close-and-personal” appearance in September at the Theater at Ace Hotel and another last month at the Hollywood Roosevelt. (A North American tour begins Jan. 20 in San Francisco.) New episodes of the Canadian-made show air in the U.S. first on the basic cable network Pop TV and later slide onto Netflix, where many latecoming converts doubtless have been made.

When the CBC series began, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, who play Johnny and Moira Rose — and whose work together goes back to “SCTV” and forward through a number of Christopher Guest films, including “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind” — were the main selling point. (Some will have come for Chris Elliott as mayor Roland Schitt.) But Eugene’s son, Dan Levy, who plays son David Rose and co-created the show with his father (and continues to run it) has emerged as a star in his own right, as have Annie Murphy as sister Alexis and Emily Hampshire as motel proprietress Stevie Budd.

They’ll all be present Wednesday, along with every other “Schitt’s” character of note, when Pop airs the series’ first holiday special, a beautifully wrapped package full of laughter and tears. Written and co-directed by Dan Levy, it’s built around a delicate, deeply felt performance by Eugene Levy, whose Johnny thinks it would be nice to have a Christmas party, as the specter of richer Christmas parties past troubles his mind. (It’s worth noting that Levy, in an episode very much about the meaning of family, is surrounded by his own — daughter Sarah Levy plays town waitress Twyla.) It gets right to the heart of what the show is about: To paraphrase another Canadian, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone and you realize that what you had wasn’t what you needed at all. Though, in “Schitt’s Creek” style, there is a sharp kicker to cut the sentiment.

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I spoke with Dan Levy backstage before the Ace show about how far the series has come and where it’s going next. Season five begins Jan. 16 on Pop.

Your live show sold out in no time.

We’ve slowly but surely built a really loving fan base, and I think this last season, the fourth season of our show, was the most emotional and sensitive and tender. As a showrunner, I know you don’t just get that; you have to earn it.

Did knowing you had that fan support let you go that extra step?

In a way. I think it was also just looking at our cast and what they’ve proven they can do in terms of the brilliant duality of balancing of funny, funny content, funny lines, with emotional moments that can play just as true as the comedy does. It was always an intention to continue to pull back the layers. And like in any kind of relationship, the more you know about people, the more tender it gets, because you care more. I think this fourth season struck an emotional chord with people that in a way substantiated their belief in the show. Considering how our subject matter can be quite polarizing, we’ve received just the most overwhelmingly positive, joyful response. Say what you will about social media, but it has been wonderful in terms of our show.

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Some of the most touching feedback I’ve received has been from right-wing, religious-based people who have never understood queer culture.
Dan Levy

Actor Dan Levy prepares to read a question as actors Emily Hampshire, Noah Reid and Sarah Levy, righ
Dan Levy, left, prepares to read an audience trivia question as actors Emily Hampshire, Noah Reid and Sarah Levy react to scoring a point with the right answer during “Schitt’s Creek: Up Close & Personal” in September at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

Do you have a picture of your fan base?

I’ve had families from grandparents to grandchildren all come up and say that they watch it together, but I have not found a through line in terms of what that fan base is. Because, especially in America, it’s Democrats, it’s Republicans, it’s people whose beliefs are not necessarily mine or our show’s.

Some of the most touching feedback I’ve received has been from right-wing, religious-based people who have never understood … queer culture. They’d never had an in to that world before, and they’ve fallen in love with the characters. If we can continue to open people’s eyes to realize that everyone’s deserving of love, that’s a wonderful thing.

As a gay person to tell these stories and to have no questions asked and no notes from network and to feel completely uninhibited in saying, “This is a gay couple on TV; they’re going to kiss like any straight couple would” — it’s amazing. Gay relationships have historically not been treated the same as straight relationships. You don’t see the same kind of sexuality, intimacy, kissing because it’s been considered taboo or headline-grabbing for so long. I love that we’ve been able to just tell a relationship as it is, as it exists, for me, for my friends, for people I know, for people out in the world, that doesn’t come with a lesson to be learned. It’s just two people loving each other.

la-1544579158-3gq9d6cork-snap-image
Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) and Moira Rose (Catherine O'Hara) dicker over a Christmas tree with man-of-many-trades Ray Butani (Rizwan Manji) in the "Schitt's Creek" holiday special.
(Pop TV)

You did some really touching work as David this last season. Did you surprise yourself as an actor?

No. It’s really been my first major venture into acting, but I have such a personal connection to this character that it really has allowed me to do things I never thought I could do. And it goes without saying I empathize so much with this story and with these people, but I also think our stories have evolved with an incredibly lovely trajectory, and it’s come quite naturally in terms of playing the emotional stuff. We’re always making sure there’s a level of acidity for every sentimental moment that we have, never letting any of the characters feel completely fine.

Actors Eugene Levy and Dan Levy speak during Schitt’s Creek Live at the theatre at the Ace Hotel on
Actors Eugene Levy and Dan Levy speak during “Schitt’s Creek: Up Close & Personal” in September at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
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Will you be staying deep for season five?

Season five is, I think, the most exciting season we’ve done so far. It’s reassuring to know once you’ve made a next season that it’s just as great if not greater than the one before, that you have more stories to tell, that you have more life to squeeze out of these characters.

I think season four really was a midpoint for our show: The characters got to this place they never thought they could go. Now where are they going? We have a whole half a football field to go, so where are we going to run with the ball now? For me it was really important to expand the parameters of the town, show places we’ve never been, show sides of people we’ve never seen and pair characters that haven’t necessarily been paired before. We have a lot of fun this year, and it’s big and it’s bright; it’s shiny. Where season four was sort of a rumination on who they are and what life means to them, season five takes all the lessons we’ve learned in season four and runs free with it. Some of the performances are just astounding.

You try to keep your actors happy, to write things that make them want to come back to your show; you never want anyone to return and feel they’ve flatlined. You want to constantly be pushing the boundaries and pushing the actors to a point where they’re resting on this precipice, feeling, like, comfortable — but also totally uncomfortable.

‘Schitt’s Creek’

Where: Pop TV

When: 10 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under 14)

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Canadian ‘Creek’ overflows with good humor

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd


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