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How ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Became Such a Reliable Source of TV Joy

On the occasion of “Schitt’s Creek” dropping a (lovely!) Christmas special tonight, it’s a safe bet that you’re either reading this as a big fan or a confused bystander wondering when and why the hell this low-key Canadian show became so beloved.

To be a “Schitt’s Creek” fan who watched it from the start (or at least since it dropped on Netflix) means defending it to skeptical naysayers with emphatic joy. “The title is the name of a town, it’s supposed to be a joke!” you’ll exclaim to their raised eyebrows. “It takes some time to get going, but once it does, it’s the best,” you’ll insist to their initial wariness. And if all of the above doesn’t work, there’s nothing quite like whipping out a trusty, “but Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara” caveat to prove the show’s inherent bonafides.

All of the above is true. The series about a rich family going bankrupt began as a fun project for O’Hara, Levy, and his son Dan (also “Schitt’s Creek’s” co-creator and showrunner) to play the kinds of narcissistic weirdos that have long defined their comedy. It was always sharp, and everyone’s arch performances made characters that could have been too irritating to withstand too hilarious to ignore. (Though admittedly, Chris Elliott’s slovenly mayor was perpetually out of step from everyone else.) But it was also always clear if the series was going to have a meaningful life past its premise, “Schitt’s Creek” would have to shift from its initial “snobs vs rubes” setup to become something more.

And lo, it did. As us annoying diehards will tell you annoying reluctants until we turn blue in the face, “Schitt’s Creek” has since revealed itself to be a bright spot of comedy as smart as it is warm. The Rose family slowly but surely let go of their former lavish life and tried to move forward in their humble new one, albeit with a wall dedicated to the many ostentatious wigs of their theatrical matriarch Moira (O’Hara, turning in a performance as bonkers as it is brilliant, as per always).

But while the partnership of O’Hara and Levy — playing a married couple once again — is a reliable goldmine, the impressive evolution of “Schitt’s Creek” is in large part thanks to the Rose’s children and the actors who play them. David (Dan Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy) began the series as insufferable party monsters (though ones with impeccable comedic timing). Four seasons later, they’re still partial to the finer things in life, but they’re also functional-ish adults capable of compassion beyond their most immediate needs. Alexis leaned into her ambitious side, had her heart broken, stitched it back together. David made his first best friend (played by a perfectly deadpan Emily Hampshire), started a business, and fell in love. They didn’t become different people, but they did become better ones, and watching them do it was a wonderful, unexpected pleasure.

David’s romance with his smirky business partner Patrick (Noah Reid) has been a particular highlight, though also a mildly controversial one. As “The New Yorker” columnist Emily Nussbaum recently noted with both confusion and curiosity, there’s no real homophobia in Schitt’s Creek, a tiny rural Canadian town that even just statistically wouldn’t have a huge LGBTQ population. But according to Dan Levy, that was an explicit choice, not an oversight. “I have no patience for homophobia,” he unequivocally stated at this year’s Vulture Festival in Los Angeles. “As a result, it’s been amazing to take that into the show. We show love and tolerance. If you put something like that out of the equation, you’re saying that doesn’t exist and shouldn’t exist.”

So, no, maybe David being openly pansexual in Schitt’s Creek isn’t “realistic.” But bypassing homophobia altogether makes it possible for Levy to prioritize David’s queerness and relationship without centering the reactions of straight people around him (an annoying, persistent trope in stories that are ostensibly about LGBTQ people). It allows David the room to mature as a person and Patrick to figure out his sexuality without having to set aside time to deal with bigots. It makes room for a moment like the beautiful one mid-season 4, when Patrick croons “Simply the Best” to David, eyes crinkling with soft happiness as David (rarely one to embrace the inconvenience of having feelings) fails to fight a smile. When Moira leans over to give David’s arm a supportive squeeze, it isn’t just a sweet moment, but a significant one four seasons in the making that acknowledges just how much they’ve both grown.

The Christmas special takes everything that the series and its characters have learned to heart. It shows us a brief glimpse of the luxurious life the Roses lived when they had all the money in the world (not to mention a captive audience for Moira’s wobbly version of Christmas classics). But as we and they quickly realize, they also had far less of the affection they have for each other now — and that, much to their surprise, is truly priceless.

The “Schitt’s Creek” Christmas special airs Dec. 19 at 10 p.m. EST on Pop. Seasons 1-4 are currently available to stream on Netflix.

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