In most series about fish out of water characters adjusting to small-town life, the quirkiness of the small town is often put on full display so the audience falls as deeply in love with the town as the main characters do. The townspeople’s genuine appeal will charm even the most “hoity-toity” of outsiders, and both groups will become an extended family of sorts. Take, for example Hart Of Dixie, which just ended its possibly final season with an emotional love letter to the quirky Alabama burg of Bluebell.
For the first season of Schitt’s Creek—a father-son team-up from creators and stars Eugene and Daniel Levy—that is not the case at all. The eponymous setting is a desolate rural Canadian town, full of either stereotypical white trash, bored millennials, or hopefully (and somewhat terrifyingly) optimistic townies. The quirkiest of characters, Twyla (Sarah Levy, strengthening the show’s family ties), shares stories about her prostitute friend Trixie at dinner parties, and the trashiest of characters is also the mayor: Roland Schitt, as played by Chris Elliott. Unfortunately for them, the Rose family (the Levy men, plus Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy) is the rare group of people who are obliged to live in Schitt’s Creek.
From the moment Schitt’s Creek begins, it already feels lived-in, with an instant commitment to its own tone of sophisticated ignorance. As incessant knocking occurs, a Hispanic maid has to walk a comically long way just to open the front door. Upon the appearance of men in suits, the first two lines of the series are uttered. “Immigration?” the maid asks, only to get the just as to-the-point response from one of the men in suits: “Revenue.” Just like that, the Rose family is thrown into a tail spin. Johnny (Eugene Levy) tries to figure out how their business manager could’ve made off with all their money, as his wife Moira (O’Hara) has a nervous breakdown—specifically about the safety of her extensive wig collection. Their grown children handle the loss in their own way: Princess Alexis (Murphy) gives off an air of offense to everything that is happening, while David (Daniel Levy) lashes out at the people who are personally victimizing him and ruining his life.
The Roses’ “saving grace” is an asset (beside the wigs) that not even the government wants: the small town of Schitt’s Creek, which Johnny bought as a joke (with no real punchline) on David. Two adjoining motel rooms become their new home as they attempt to sell the town and get out. That proves difficult: Before Johnny bought Schitt’s Creek, it had been on the market for a decade.
Based on the title, it’s easy to assume that Schitt’s Creek is a low-brow toilet-humor factory, completely unbefitting of Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara’s combined talents. But instead of relying on oh-so-easy juvenile gags (some still come into play, especially in the pilot), Schitt’s Creek is a show of witty zingers, which grow progressively more melodramatic with every passing episode.
Surprisingly, the MVPs of the series aren’t Eugene Levy (who is more of a straight man) and O’Hara. Their characters both have their moments—especially O’Hara’s—but it’s Murphy and the younger Levy who are the true stars of the show. Even though all of the Roses are detached from the real world, it is the kids whose sheltered upbringing prevents them from fully understanding their new surrounding and drives most of the show’s humor. While Johnny and Moira (who are a happily married couple despite their children’s dysfunction) occupy Schitt’s Creek’s B-stories, it’s up to the younger actors to carry the load of the A-story, and they do it like seasoned professionals. Murphy is scarily amazing as a socialite with a hard-partying edge and multiple ex-boyfriends named Stavros—a twisted aspiring Paris Hilton. Then there’s David, who has a Billy Eichner-esque intensity for how disgusted he is with everything about his new hometown.
If there is an emotional heart in Schitt’s Creek, it’s David, who is looking for a place to fit in, even in this horrible world. He finds a kindred spirit (and an eventual friend with benefits) in motel manager Stevie (Emily Hampshire, pulling double duty between this show and 12 Monkeys). David and Stevie’s hook-up is a situation that both comes out of nowhere yet is clearly something the first season is building toward, because it leads to the show finally answering the underlying question about David’s sexuality. In the quick moment Schitt’s Creek reveals that David is pansexual, it does so without making his sexuality his defining characteristic or even a reason for his outsider status in Schitt’s Creek. In fact, David’s outsider status is more because he’s a Type A control freak than anything else.
The weakest (yet technically one of the most essential) part of the series is Chris Elliott as Roland Schitt. Elliott has made a career of playing loser characters, to varying results (with Get A Life being the pinnacle of this), but in Schitt’s Creek, his insanely crass, out-of-this-world character feels like just that: crass and out-of-this-world. With the exception of the Roses and Schitt’s estranged son, Mutt (Tim Rozon, playing a character no one ever makes a “dog shit” joke about), the characters of Schitt’s Creek find the mayor’s repugnant behavior charming, and it’s one of the few things that rings false about the series. Roland’s wife, Jocelyn (Jennifer Robertson), is the biggest offender in this area, but her heart-to-heart moments with Moira are a saving grace for the character, as each provides the other with an example of the road not taken.
As Pop TV’s first scripted series, Schitt’s Creek could set the tone for the network’s other programming—for the few eyes the former TV Guide Network gets on it. But in another world, there’s a place for it back-to-back with Fresh Off The Boat or Black-ish (or in an other other world, Don’t Trust The B—— In Apartment 23) on ABC. It’s a weird show with weird, self-involved characters, but first and foremost, it’s about a family. (A weird, self-involved family.) Daniel Levy has a confident comedic voice and a knack for biting dialogue, which can only mature along with the series, especially as we get to know the town and the character more. There is room for improvement—luckily, there will be a second season to work on that.