Every Rose Has Its ThornHow “Schitt’s Creek” Mastered the Sharp Sitcom

Schitt's Creek - Season 5 Trailer

I am not a sitcom person.

It’s not that I never watch sitcoms; it’s just that their artificial joy, canned laughter, and light, predictable dialogue makes my skin crawl more than any Netflix docuseries about serial killers. So when my mom—a devout Eugene Levy fan— suggested that we start watching “that new show he’s in, Schitt’s Creek,” I was not enthused. I sat apathetic in our kitchen, scrolling through my phone and not really paying attention to what I assumed would be a campy, heavy-handed joke mill about a down-on-their luck family of unlikeable and out-of-touch characters.

I was so, so wrong.

I spent a week glued to the TV, getting to know Moira (Catherine O’Hara), Johnny (Eugene Levy), Alexis (Annie Murphy), and David Rose (Dan Levy), a rich family that loses all of their assets and moves to a motel in a nowhere town called Schitt’s Creek. The riches-to-rags plotline is anything but a cliché sitcom trope, and instead blossoms into an honest depiction of a family employing productive optimism and pessimistic humor to survive.

Schitt’s Creek is a perfect sitcom for viewers who don’t want TV shows pandering to us, but do desire comedies that deliver genuine human emotions instead of only punchlines. And that’s likely why, since its birth into relative TV obscurity, Schitt’s Creek has become a cult hit, earning high praise from virtually everyone who watches it.

Its newest season is no exception. Season 5 finds Alexis and her on-again vet boyfriend Ted (Dustin Milligan) newly in love, and trying to navigate their clashing personalities. David and his opposites-attract boyfriend Patrick (Noah Reid) are comfortably in love, but still struggling to effectively communicate; in one episode, Patrick tells David that he wants to look for a new apartment, but David doesn’t realize that he’s not invited to move in until much later. Johnny and Moira are ever each other’s rocks, but this season unveils a real and complex conflict that only Schitt’s Creek can pull off. New mother Jocelyn (Jennifer Robertson) is constantly frazzled as her husband Roland (Chris Elliott) haplessly flits around the motel, but they still make time for a steamy date night. Rosebud motel co-owner Stevie (Emily Hampshire) catches the attention of a motel reviewer, and their burgeoning romance, complete with casual white lies and texting mishaps, feels so true to those first few weeks of a new relationship, when excitement is rivaled only by the fear of it all falling apart.

Catherine O'Hara as Moira, Eugene Levy as Johnny, Annie Murphy as Alexis, and Dan Levy as David Rose on Schitt's Creek (Photo credit: CBC)

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While the Roses are no longer plotting an escape from Schitt’s Creek, notions of grander things to come still persist—like Moira landing a role in The Crows Have Eyes III, a D-list apocalyptic franchise sequel. But their roots in Schitt’s Creek are deepening. David’s business is booming, and Johnny is committed to bettering the motel. For the first time, Alexis finds her niche with her own PR business—a logical transition from her successful singles week last season—without the supervision of Moira, who continues to schmooze and shine as a member of her choir, the Jazzagals.

The Roses have grown as much as they have stayed the same—and that’s a good thing. The holiday special gave us flashbacks to the family before Schitt’s Creek: distant from one another, caught up in a world of booze and glamour without even having the time to open Christmas presents together. But now, Moira, Alexis, and David throw a last-minute Christmas party for Johnny at the Rosebud, and Moira and Johnny even offer to babysit Roland and Jocelyn’s new baby. Still, they haven’t turned saccharine; their dynamic is rife with dry comedic jabs. In perhaps the most perfectly delivered line of dialogue in TV history, David, annoyed with Alexis, looks back at her and says curtly, “Mmmmm, eat glass!”

Schitt’s Creek leaves you buoyant—like there is always good to come, even in the worst of situations.

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Watching the once well-to-do and painfully out-of-touch Roses go from desperately trying to extricate themselves from their own personal hell to accepting their fate has provided viewers with the perfect juxtaposition of anti-hero disdain and human emotion. And it’s no coincidence that almost everyone I talk to about the show says that the characters grew on them; the fact that these unlikeable people transform before our eyes is unexpectedly and delightfully comforting, with hard truths about wealth, happiness, and who’s really there when everything turns to shit. And it does all this without ever once being predictable or canned, avoiding every sitcom pitfall that could cheapen otherwise important—even profound—messages.

Since the very beginning, Schitt’s Creek has delivered hope without artifice, love without being trite. And it’s a true delight to see what love and hope still mean to the Roses as they show not only how they have grown to love Schitt’s Creek and all its quirks, but how the town has grown to love them back. Schitt’s Creek isn’t a fantasy world where we wonder how our sitcom protagonists afford their apartment or why they never have to go to work—everyday trials and realities like love, family, relationships, sexuality, and money are handled with an honest levity that is both instructive and comforting. It’s a sitcom that knows sometimes the most effective kind of humor is the kind that reflects reality and plots don’t always need to resolve neatly at the end of every episode because that’s not what happens in life. At the same time, Schitt’s Creek leaves you buoyant—like there is always good to come, even in the worst of situations.

This juxtaposition is what makes Schitt’s Creek the best sitcom and easily one of the best shows on TV. And so, as is often the case (okay, almost always): My mother was right.

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by Caroline Reilly
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Caroline Reilly is a student at Boston College Law School and a reproductive justice advocate. She has also written for Bust and Frontline (PBS). You can follower her on Twitter @ms_creilly, where she tweets about abortion rights, social justice, and being a feminist killjoy.