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‘Schitt’s Creek’s’ Dan Levy on How ‘Six Feet Under,’ ‘Friends’ Inspired His Final Season

It’s a bittersweet time for “Schitt’s Creek” fans. The Canadian comedy that just scored its first Emmy nomination is entering into its sixth season with central characters planning a wedding, yet the season is the show’s final one.

“I understand how optically we look kind of fresh, and we are, but it’s six season — 80 episodes — of television,” co-creator and actor Dan Levy tells Variety. “Because we’ve been in this position where we’ve grown in viewers as seasons have gone on, social media has been so funny [with] people saying, ‘Your show just got on the air, why are you pulling it off?’ I’ve known how this was going to end for several seasons now, so this was an inevitable conclusion, and it’s been six seasons, which is a pretty solid run, I think!”

Since Levy has had the endpoints for the Rose family members in mind for awhile, he shares that he wanted to make sure the “completeness” of his six-season run would satisfy those who made the show, as well as the viewers who have been on the journey with them.

“It felt right, and it felt purposeful, and it was something that we were building towards,” he says. “From the beginning it was really important to me that it was not about episode count, it was not about, ‘Let’s keep this going’; it’s about, ‘Where are these characters going? How far can we take them before we start that era of television which we’ve all noticed in other shows where you’re really scrapping for story?’ So much of this show is rooted in these tiny revelations for characters and the slow burn and slow growth and change in these characters, so it was really about finding the point where we felt like they were ready. And that was the end of Season 6.”

In some ways, it’s a bittersweet time for the characters on the show, as well. The sixth and final season of “Schitt’s Creek” picks up only two weeks after the events of the fifth season finale that saw Stevie (Emily Hampshire) shine in a local production of “Cabaret,” but Moira (Catherine O’Hara) spiral because she learned her film was not going to be released after all, as well as David (Levy) in love and engaged, but Alexis (Annie Murphy) planning to head out of town.

When the new season begins, Moira is still mourning the assumed loss of her career, while David and Patrick (Noah Reid) are throwing themselves full-force into their wedding planning.

“The last season didn’t need a huge push or a time jump or these 180s in terms of the characters because we’d done our work and laid the pieces for what would be this last season. So I didn’t want a lot of change; I wanted this episode to feel as familiar as the last episode they watched — which is why we started our premiere two weeks after the episode they just watched. It’s the morning after the wrap party of the two week run of ‘Cabaret,'” Levy says. “I wanted that sense of comfort of knowing exactly where we are. If we’ve done our jobs properly then these characters would have slowly changed over the course of the show — that was the point of it.”

Ahead of writing the sixth and final season of “Schitt’s Creek,” Levy says he did “a lot of research” on other series’ final seasons to realize what he found personally successful and what he didn’t. Shows such as HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and “Sex and the City,” as well as NBC’s “Friends,” served as sources of positive inspiration for him. Although those three are different in tone, scope and setting from each other, let alone Levy’s show, the common thread he found between all of them was that they didn’t “treat their last few episodes like they were anything other than the show that fans had come to know and love,” he explains.

“The common thread was, ‘Give the audience what they want but also give them something new and expected that doesn’t feel outside of the show.’ If I do my job properly the first episode of our show and the last episode of our show will not feel that different from one another.”

In order to achieve this feel in the final season of “Schitt’s Creek,” Levy and his writers’ room began by spending a day of listing all of the details from the previous seasons they previously liked. This included questions that may still be lingering, as well as little moments, quotes or references they thought the audience responded well to. The goal was to prioritize sprinkling callbacks to as many of those as possible in the final season — as long as they serviced the greater story at large.

“There were definitely days where we were panicked,” Levy says of the pressure to close the door on characters who had come to feel like family. “I really didn’t want to encumber our writers with the pressure or the burden of having to satisfy everyone or overthink it.”

Levy admits that the recent awards acclaim the show and its performers has seen, from last year’s four Emmy nods to the two SAG Awards nominations for which the penultimate season is currently nominated, came so late in the game it didn’t affect how he or his writers’ room broke stories, episodes or considered where to end the show. That is something he says he is grateful for because “it did allow me and our writers to think about the show without the added pressure of expectation or success.”

The biggest challenge of writing the final season, Levy says, was figuring out how to lay the groundwork for where the characters would end up at the end of the season “slowly but steadily over 14 episodes so you’re not stuck with that common problem of wrapping everything up in two episodes.” The biggest finale problem Levy wanted to avoid was the “frantic, mad dash to wrap everything up” that he has seen other shows shove into the final two episodes of a series.

“The mandate was to stagger it because I want those last two episodes to feel free of that panic to wrap everything up in a bow or have our characters do something they wouldn’t necessarily do because we have to accommodate the end,” he explains.

The sixth season premiere immediately begins to seed some important elements. In addition to the wedding planning for David and Patrick, and Moira at a crossroads in her career, Stevie has finally achieved a taste of real success and is starting to wonder what else may be in store for her.

“When you learn more about people, the emotional stakes get heightened as well, and I think in this last season we’ve earned the ability to take our characters to really real places and have them experience really profound revelations about themselves and the world,” Levy says.

The show is no stranger to expanding the world beyond the titular town, and in the sixth and final season, Levy says that will continue, taking some of the characters to truly “unexpected places” in a literal sense — as well as a figurative one.

“I feel like David is an incredibly protected person — I think you see it in the way that he dresses, you see it in the way he speaks, you see it in the way he operates; he’s a very closed-off human. And it was important for me that we get let in to the inner workings of his mind and how and why he is the way he is,” Levy says.

Digging deeper into David provided Levy the hardest acting challenge of his career but also the one that was the most rewarding and provided some of the funniest moments, he thinks.

“Those scenes of getting to peel back the layers on this character in really interesting and challenging ways were probably my favorite scenes to shoot. You do learn some really new things about him. And I think that’s this new era of comedy: Comedy comes in the most unexpected of places, and comedy can be sentimental, and comedy can be emotional — because that’s what life is,” he says.

The final season of “Schitt’s Creek” premieres Jan. 7 on Pop TV.

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