TV: Schitt’s Creek (Seasons 1-4)

If you’re craving sweet, affirming comedy, check out Schitt’s Creek, an unassuming show that evolves into something quite winning. It’s about the comically awful, obscenely wealthy Rose family, whose privileged bubble bursts when an unscrupulous financial advisor robs them blind. When the banks take virtually everything they own, the only thing they’re left with is the rural town of Schitt’s Creek, judged too valueless to repossess. The Roses bought the town as a joke, but it quickly becomes their home—and, ultimately, their haven.

The Roses couldn’t be more ill-equipped to handle a life of poverty. Father Johnny (Eugene Levy) has seen his video store empire collapse, and isn’t entirely sure what to do with himself. Hopelessly out-of-touch mother Moira (Catherine O’Hara), a former soap opera actress, is struggling to adapt to life out of the public eye. Their children, David (Daniel Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy), are spoiled and clueless. The four of them, after decades of jet-setting and high living, wind up living on top of each other in a dingy motel-room suite, where they struggle to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives—with the help of the quirky, modest denizens of the town, for whom they reluctantly develop a fondness.

Schitt’s Creek gets most of its early mileage out of the skillful comedic performances of its lead quartet. Daniel Levy steals his scenes as David, a neurotic blend of anxiety and sarcasm, while Murphy brings brilliant ditziness to Alexis. Eugene Levy and O’Hara, meanwhile, provide their legendary first-rate comic timing, the latter behind a hilarious, remarkably concocted accent. Fortunately, the series doesn’t linger on their privileged awfulness for long; they gradually become more sympathetic through their interactions with the town’s adorable citizens. For the most part, the supporting cast is capable and extremely likable. Even Chris Elliott, whose acting style has never really appealed to me, grows on you as the town’s sketchy mayor, Roland. But Jennifer Robertson is a comic delight as Roland’s wife Jocelyn, and I’m also rather fond of Emily Hampshire (as Stevie, the motel employee who develops a touching friendship with David) and Dustin Milligan (as Ted, a geeky, sweet veterinarian with whom Alexis becomes romantically involved).

For all that, Schitt’s Creek feels like more than just a small-town, riches-to-rags sitcom banking on a wealth of comic expertise in its cast. It’s also an upbeat, affirming series that pulls off a powerful, subtle long game in terms of character development. The Roses’ story is upbeat, filled with impressive emotional grace notes as they adjust to their meager new lifestyle. Eventually, their snooty preconceptions melt away, morphing into genuine fondness. This makes it a nice antidote to Hollywood’s traditional coastal elitism. Indeed, the show’s sympathy for its setting sets it apart from something like Parks and Recreation, a predecessor it’s tempting to compare it against. But Parks and Rec, for all its warmth and positivity, had a tendency to punch down and ridicule the very setting it was supposedly celebrating. Much as I still love that show, Schitt’s Creek is a refreshing improvement in terms of its messaging, another step forward. I look forward to following it further.

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