‘Schitt’s Creek’ and the Appeal of Vanilla Gay Romance

Live in Austin, the Comiccon that Never Ends

Living in Austin, Texas, is like existing in a sort of permanent ComicCon. No fandom goes unrewarded. Any minor roadshow or piece of intellectual property can appear in front of large crowds to roaring adulation.

Exhibit A: “Schitt’s Creek: Up Close and Personal,” which sold out Austin’s Paramount Theater for two shows last Saturday night as a headlining act at the Moontower Comedy Festival. Only show creator Daniel Levy and his father, comedy legend and Eugene Levy (Schitt’s Creek’s own Johnny Rose), appeared on the bill. After a bit of banter, they brought out the rest of the surprise ensemble: co-stars Noah Reid, Emily Hampshire, and Annie Murphy, and Catherine O’Hara, the greatest comic actress of our time. When O’Hara appeared, the crowd rose as one, screaming as though she were the Pope crossed with Michelle Obama crossed with the cast of Avengers: Endgame.

When this happened, O’Hara hadn’t even done anything yet. Then she and Levy gave a cute rendition of the God Loves A Terrier song from Best In Show. She did a little bit on the accent of Moira Rose, her epic Schitt’s Creek character, calling them Moira’s “oral mementos of her world travels.” She also talked about Moira’s wigs, saying, “I could no more choose my favorite wig than I could choose my favorite baby.” The crowd yelped as though she were healing them at Lourdes.

Catherine O’Hara, star of stage and screen, appears at Schitt’s Creek Live in Austin.

Now, I like the Schitt’s Creek show myself. It’s a cute sitcom with an immensely appealing cast. There’s a reason I sought out this particular ticket. In fact, I gave the Canadian show one of its earliest write-ups in the States. My thesis then was that Schitt’s Creek was a gentle political parody of rich idiot liberals forced to deal with “real people” when their fortune collapses. That turned out to be a total misreading of the leaves. People wouldn’t fill a concert hall to applaud a sitcom that makes fun of them.

Midway through Season 3, the show ceases to be about the Rose family trying to adjust to life in Schitt’s Creek, and becomes about something very different. David, the family’s oldest child, receives a $40,000 windfall as part of a bankruptcy settlement from his employer, a store called Blouse Barn. He uses the money to start his own business.

A kindly and adorkable town employee named Patrick (Reid) helps David do the paperwork, and somehow becomes his business partner. Selfish, neurotic, and insecurely pansexual, David doesn’t understand why Patrick is treating him so kindly. They open an absurd hipster knick-knack shop called Rose Apothecary, which would have trouble staying open in West Hollywood, much less rural Ontario, and then they fall in love.

The cherry arrives atop their romance one night during some sort of fundraising party at Rose Apothecary, when Patrick serenades David with an acoustic version of Tina Turner’s “The Best.” When we saw that scene, my wife and I looked at each other and cringed. This felt like a shark-jumping moment for Schitt’s Creek, every bit as disastrous as the “I love you Johnnycakes” line from The Sopranos. Boy, were we wrong.

 

It turns out that Schitt’s Creek had been heading in that direction, quite deliberately, for a long time. Daniel Levy created the show, after all. At that moment, David became the protagonist, and the show became about his journey toward love, happiness, and self-realization. At the live Schitt’s Creek show in Austin, Levy described sitting alone in the dark, watching Downtown Abbey, and sobbing after hearing a recording of Reid, who’s a musician, doing his initial rendition of The Best. It was Levy’s dream moment.

In that same scene, scene, Moira gently touches David on the shoulder as David mists up while he’s hearing the song and falling in love. She’s the avatar of a parent supporting their queer child. “Imagine how much more emotional that scene would have been if Johnny had been there, too,” Eugene Levy, Daniel Levy’s actual father, said wryly.

To close the show, Reid played his acoustic version of “The Best” live. The crowd responded as though he were Tina Turner herself, or Paul McCartney playing Yesterday.

“Why are they so into him?” a friend asked. “He’s not even cool.”

That’s true. Patrick, while quite cute, is about as charismatic as a Tim Horton’s pastry. But he clearly doesn’t exist to be cool. When he appeared, Schitt’s Creek immediately morphed into the first PG gay romantic comedy. Maybe PG-13 because of the occasional f-word. It’s an amazing fantasy for Levy to play out, because Patrick, in the show, has never had a gay relationship before David. So not only do they fall in love but David allows Patrick to realize his true self. And vice-versa.

It’s fundamentally conservative, extremely appealing, and, to me, kind of sleepy. But what do I know? I’m an aging straight hipster who’s mostly dead inside. To the crowd at the Paramount, a babyfaced white guy in a button-down shirt singing a bad acoustic cover of an 80s soul-rock song was some sort of deep-feeling apotheosis, a genuine Cultural Moment. Schitt’s Creek has become revolutionary comedy vanilla.

“We never thought we would be here doing this for all of you,” Levy said to the audience. “It’s truly amazing.”

Truly.

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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