Schitt, yeah! This was the sweetest scene of the season, anywhere.
by Jim Slotek
(May 29, 2017 – Toronto, ON) It may have passed your notice that people seem to have stopped writing those think-pieces about how Canadians are naturally funny.
And IN Canada? Take away Trailer Park Boys and the films of Michael Dowse (FUBAR and its sequel, The F-Word, Goon) and the laugh meter goes way down. Thank you, Telefilm, for dependably greenlighting movies about incest and suicide.
So, in this fallow time, it is strangely comforting to me that a single smile, and the sweetest, most affecting scene in any TV series I’ve seen this season, North or South, was in a Canadian situation comedy.
Schitt’s Creek, no less.
I am, I confess, hooked by the ongoing tragic-comedy of disgraced ex-billionaire Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) and his family, confined to a motel in the small town he once bought as a tax-dodge.
But though Levy and Catharine O’Hara (as Johnny’s ex-soap star wife Moira) are given the broad comic strokes, it’s been left to the younger cast – including writer/producer/co-star Dan Levy – to humanize the show with the unfortunate name.
(No less a practitioner in profanity than Samuel L. Jackson – a friend of Levy’s since they co-starred in the comedy The Man – has watched the series on the U.S. cable channel Pop and said to me, “A show with that title is on network TV in Canada?”)
The episode was this season’s The Driving Test – in which the pan-sexual son David needs to renew his licence, now that his dad has purchased a hearse-like old sedan. “And all the other cars on the lot were on fire?” David said on the vehicle’s first sight.
To his reluctant rescue came Alexis (Annie Murphy), David’s once globe-trotting sister, a bed-hopping socialite who’d lived off the kindness of millionaires for years.
As she drove him to his test, she answered his anxiety attack by repeating her personal mantra, “nobody cares.”
It turned out to be good advice – the driving instructor being a weekend DJ who was more interested in listening to sweet beats than to assess David’s parallel parking.
But the conversation got more heated on the way home, as David assailed Alexis for skating through life, and attacking her philosophy by saying HE cared, HE was the one who worried when she was incommunicado on some yacht in the Mediterranean with God-knows-who. Not their parents. HIM.
It’s the closing seconds of the episode, and Alexis in the passenger seat, turns away from her angry brother, looks out her window and smiles.
The smile was a wordless revelation, both to Alexis and the audience. That her relationship with her parents – particularly her mother – was chilly, had already provided fodder for gags when Moira showed up for lunch with Alexis with notes of subjects to talk about.
But “nobody cares” was revealed now as Alexis’ long-time defence mechanism as well. The realization that somebody did care, lit her up.
It may seem odd to defend a comedy on the strength of one of its most emotional moments. But people who wrote off Schitt’s Creek on the basis of the title, as some kind of second-cousin to the Trailer Park Boys, would be surprised at its heart.
And feeling for the characters is what takes a sitcom beyond a mere delivery system for jokes. (The same could be said for the also-strong Kim’s Convenience, although its chemistry came pre-cooked from a hit play).
The premise seemed stolen from Green Acres, with city folk dealing with the weirdness and eccentricities of hicks. Except the town of Schitt’s Creek is utterly sane. People have their smart phones and apps. There’s a local resto that serves the usual roadhouse fare. As is the case in a wired world, people look and act more or less the same everywhere. (Throw in a McDonald’s or a Timmy’s and the picture would be complete).
So it is a completely believable, contemporary plot twist when unlikely-but-fast friends David and Stevie (Emily Hampshire) end up sleeping with the same guy (and drop him together when he suggests a threesome).
And it rings absolutely true that a besotted-but-trying-to-act-cool veterinarian named Ted (Dustin Milligan) would keep Alexis on as the world’s least productive employee, where he’s constantly amazed at the rapport she has with the clientele. (Again, Alexis skating through something she’s never done before).
It’s tough to get a comedy series on the air in Canada – especially one that isn’t a straight satire like This Hour Has 22 Minutes. The last successful one built on characterizations was Corner Gas (tellingly, also set in a small town).
And when one fails to find an audience, it doesn’t just fail itself, but Canadian comedy in general – because we’re just that small a big country. Here’s hoping my must-watch finds enough fellow watchers to carry on.
Jim Slotek is a longtime Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter who has interviewed thousands of celebrities. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special. His writing also appears in Cineplex and Movie Entertainment magazines.