20 of ’20: #4. Schitt’s Creek

This is my second annual “Best Of” series of year-end posts. Some, I assume, will be brief. Some longer. All, varying degrees of serious. I’ll try my best not to use the words or phrases “unprecedented,” “new normal,” or “unpresidented”, but I can’t make any promises.

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Like most pop-culture phenomena, I usually fall right in the center of the “early majority” adopters. Late enough to know it’s going to be something that will catch on, but early enough to be able to say “What?! You haven’t seen ________?!” to all the Late Adopters and Laggards. Since the bulk of Schitt’s Creek fans discovered it late in its run and after the series ended, early 2020 is where I jumped on the train.

I’m not always a fan of shows and books that you have to plow through to a certain point before you love it, but something about this show made me believe that the payoff was going to be worth it. My objections early on is what I often hear from others who have given up on it– These characters in the Rose family, which the show centers on, are just loathsome. And they are, before the transformation comes. Comedically, it was this scene from the second episode of season two that pulled me in. I’ve watched it at least a hundred times since, and have never stopped laughing. But it was the final episode of that season that made me realize, ok, this is something special.

A couple of things I’ve reflected on since watching the series through twice this year: First, Dan Levy, the shows creator and one of its stars, has said that he was attempting to create a world in which homophobia (in particular) and hate (in general) just didn’t exist. What would it be like, he wondered, if the “struggle” motif of marginalized communities simply didn’t exist, if everyone was accepted for who they are and that difference is simply a matter of life, not a reason for division? I was reminded of this when I went through the show a second time, and a phrase from the title of a book by Walter Brueggemann came to mind– Prophetic Imagination. “Bingo!” I thought to myself, “Schitt’s Creek is an exercise in Prophetic Imagination.” It is a work of truth-telling that assumes reality from a different angle. It recognizes that hate and “othering” are not necessary tools for interesting storytelling. Struggle and transformation can occur in different ways than how we’ve imagined in the past. It imagines a new world. A better one.

Second, speaking of the prophetic– I think the show’s timing, over the past six years, was set perfectly into our current milieu, in which the cultural divide between “urban” and “rural” has never seemed more stark and consequential. For Schitt’s Creek, the old tropes of “City Dwelling Elites learn about ‘real life’ from country bumpkins!” and “Country bumpkins expand their worldview after trip to the city!” kind of meld together into a new story. The Roses AND the residents of Schitt’s Creek are both deeply flawed AND have a thing or two to teach each each other. This, for me, was the beauty of the show. It recognized that we are all different, we all lean into certain values more than others, but that we are all worthy of dignity and respect. It does all of this while creating some of the most unforgettable characters and storylines in television history.

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