Co-creators Eugene Levy, left, and son Daniel Levy were among the Schitt’s Creek panelists at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Jan. 17. (photos by Rod Morata/Michael Priest Photography)
Fans of Canada’s mega-hit TV show Schitt’s Creek were eagerly eyeing the stage at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Jan. 17. They had just viewed the first two episodes of the sixth and final season on a big screen and the main cast was about to appear. When the curtain lifted, the audience loudly cheered, as Eugene Levy (Johnny), Daniel Levy (David), Catherine O’Hara (Moira) and Annie Murphy (Alexis) sat smiling.
The moderator, Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson, didn’t waste any time asking why they decided to call it quits.
“We had discussed it and thought six seasons would give us enough time to tell our story,” said Daniel Levy, the show’s co-creator, co-executive producer, writer and Eugene Levy’s real-life son. “Working so closely with the show, it almost spoke to me. I felt we built enough to land the plane, so to speak. From day one, I have been aware of overstaying your welcome. I would rather leave people with a real joyful idea of what the show was and what it meant to them.”
The clever, funny, quirky Schitt’s Creek is a fish-out-of-water sitcom in which the ultrawealthy Rose family – Johnny and Moira and their two adult children, David and Alexis – goes into bankruptcy and loses everything. With no money and nowhere to live, they have little choice but to relocate to Schitt’s Creek, a Podunk town that Johnny once bought David as a joke. Their new home is the town’s no-frills one-storey motel, and the foursome, who had previously been preoccupied with their own extravagant lives, learn to become a real family. “When you get down to it, the stories are about who people are, not what they are,” said Eugene Levy.
Once settled into their new life, the Rose family has to contend with the town’s scruffy mayor, Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott), his wife, high school teacher Jocelyn (Jennifer Robertson), the sarcastic motel receptionist, Stevie Budd (Emily Hampshire), and café waitress Twyla (Eugene Levy’s real-life daughter, Sarah Levy).
Schitt’s Creek, filmed in Ontario, premièred in 2015 on CBC in Canada and Pop TV in America. It’s produced by Not a Real Company Productions Inc. In 2017, the show started airing on Netflix as well, and viewership soared. The series has won numerous awards, including Canadian Screen Awards, and an MTV Movie and TV Award for Daniel Levy.
Initially, Daniel Levy came to his dad with the show’s premise and a script. “In the beginning, it was a way to do something with your son,” recalled Eugene Levy. “We started it as a great project and wanted to make it as far as we could. We ended up getting it on the air in Canada on a real network – and I thought that was great. Cut to five years later and, thanks in a major way to Daniel, who has guided this to a brilliant conclusion, Schitt’s Creek has received so much acclamation and passion from fans.”
Each season, the writers have been able to advance storylines without crossing the line into absurdity, and the actors have been able to develop their characters’ unique personalities and eccentricities.
“I wanted to make sure the actors were challenged and excited about coming back [each season] to do their parts,” said Daniel Levy. “When you have a cast of this quality, an ensemble as extraordinary as we have, it would be a dishonour not to show up each season with great storylines, given the calibre of work that they do. The actors need to feel challenged and excited to come back to do their part – that’s what keeps them motivated. When things flatline, people check out.”
He continued, “When you create characters the audience loves, you can take them on a lot of terrific story rides. With the growth of the characters, we were able to add in a layer of sentimentality. Without sounding shmaltzy, there was such a collective sense of excitement with our cast and crew, that actors showed up to watch scenes that they weren’t even in.”
The show’s writing has revealed the characters’ different layers. Take Alexis, for example. While she is self-involved, mostly oblivious and enjoys referring to past relationships with Hollywood celebrities, she is still charming. “When we met Alexis on paper, she was not that likeable – she was quite shallow and selfish,” said Murphy about the character she plays. “But, when I got the breakdown for the audition, at the end it said, ‘a young Goldie Hawn,’ who is bubbly and effervescent, but grounded. I wanted to play her as a fully fleshed out human being. The writers did a good job letting her grow as a human. I have so much fun playing her.” (Alexis often exaggerates her hand gestures and is fond of saying, “Ew, David!” to her brother.)
Moira, the family matriarch, has become an iconic figure over the years. Before moving to Schitt’s Creek, she was a socialite, actress and inattentive mother – she didn’t even recall her daughter’s middle name! While she remains eccentric, self-absorbed and theatrical, she, too, is likeable. “Originally, I wanted to come up with a character I would have fun playing and people would love watching,” said O’Hara, who wears a variety of wigs in every episode. “I didn’t know anyone would care. But the writers kept giving me great opportunities.”
Moira accentuates inappropriate syllables when she speaks. How does she choose which syllables to accentuate? “In the moment, it just makes sense,” O’Hara said, laughing, and raising her voice at the word “sense.”
The character of David has a few obsessive-compulsive tendencies, is occasionally hypochondriacal, is into pop culture, has a keen eye for fashion and is often sweetly sarcastic. He opened the store Rose Apothecary and started to date Patrick (played by Noah Reid), his business partner. As the series progressed, the two fell in love and, in the last season, they plan their wedding. When asked if the sexuality addressed in the series caused advertisers to push back, Daniel Levy said he wasn’t aware of any advertiser having done so. “The networks have given us a lot of freedom,” he said, “and, for that, I am so grateful.”
From the beginning, Schitt’s Creek was a low-budget show. “We were just a little Canadian television show,” Daniel Levy admitted, adding that they didn’t exactly have the budget of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. “But not having money helped. We had to maximize our budget and were forced to be creative and put the little money we had on the screen. As the expression goes, diamonds are formed under extreme pressure. Great work happens where you are pushed to the limits.”
The final episode will air April 7. “It’s a beautiful conclusion to the series,” said Eugene Levy.
Daniel Levy wrote the last episode of the show in half a day. “Because we had exceptional writers who helped me make this show what it was, the last episode essentially wrote itself,” he said. “We didn’t want to backload a ton of stories, which can happen in some series finales. I didn’t want to be burdened with expectations of making it any bigger than it is, because it’s a small show. I didn’t want it to feel any bigger than any other episode we had done. I wanted our last episode to be just a great episode of TV.”
Alice Burdick Schweiger is a New York City-based freelance writer who has written for many national magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and The Grand Magazine. She specializes in writing about Broadway, entertainment, travel and health, and covers Broadway for the Jewish News. She is co-author of the 2004 book Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman, with Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman.