How Dan Levy Created a Safe Haven With Schitt’s Creek (And Why He’s Saying Goodbye)
There’s nothing like Schitt’s Creek—in the real world nor elsewhere on TV. In this fictional town, there’s universal tolerance and equality. It’s a town where lifelong residents and recent transplants co-exist in near-perfect harmony, and a show viewers have flocked to for comfort.
The show and its fictional setting were designed by father-son creators Eugene Levy and Dan Levy to be a place for everyone. This TV haven has been embraced by legions of fans, picking up numerous awards and nominations—including a nomination for Best TV Show and Dan Levy’s nomination for Best Comedic Performance at the 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards— along the way. Now in its fifth season, the show is more popular than ever—and it’s getting ready to say goodbye.
“I think that was just a happy coincidence,” Dan Levy told E! News about the show’s heightened popularity coinciding with the upcoming sixth and final season. “It’s strange because I think in a way, the commerce of television really affects the creators. I think for us, it’s never really been about that. For us, every season, sure it means we’re employed for one more year, but really what it means is that we get to continue telling these people’s stories.”
The series follows the Rose family, father Johnny (Eugene Levy), mother Moira (Catherine O’Hara), son David (Dan Levy) and daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy). When viewers first meet them, they are literally clinging on to the remnants of their once vast video rental fortune. By the close of the show’s first scene, they’ve lost everything except the deed to a small rural town purchased as a joke because of its name. Enter Schitt’s Creek.
Forced to relocate to Schitt’s Creek and create a new life, the Roses eventually became intertwined with the town. David began a new business and embarked on his first serious—and stable—relationship with his business partner Patrick (Noah Reid), Alexis finished school, started a business herself and also found a loving relationship with Ted (Dustin Milligan), Johnny began working with Stevie (Emily Hampshire) on improving the business of the motel they call home, and Moira got involved in local politics. When they first arrived, the family did their best, but strived to get out of their presumed dire situation. As they spent more time there, Schitt’s Creek’s overwhelming goodness started to worm its way into the Roses—and viewers along with them.
“I think the audience, the fans of the show, have really come to rely on it as like a safe space in a dark time. And the thought of pushing that past its expiry date [Laughs.] for the sake of just being able to do another season—I care too much about our viewers and about our characters to risk taking them farther than they need to be taken. So, it was always planned that this was going to be the end. And I really had no interest in pushing that any further and potentially compromising a good thing,” Levy said.
That good thing, that safe space, includes a diverse supporting cast and LGBTQ representation. Levy’s character is pansexual, he has relationships with both men and women, but it’s never treated as a “thing.” David is not defined by his sexual orientation, that’s just who David is. Nobody blinks at his relationship with Patrick. When Patrick serenaded him with an emotional cover of Tina Turner‘s “Simply the Best” in front of a packed store, no one cared or noticed. It was just a sweet moment of public affection. And in the season five episode “Meet the Parents,” written by Levy, Patrick, who had previously never dated a man, struggled with coming out to his mom and dad. He was accidentally outed, and the only reason why his parents got upset was because Patrick was too nervous about how they’d react to come to them and be open. All of this was done by design.
“I sort of feel like as human beings, we learn through experience and what we see. And I’m only going to speak for myself in this capacity, but I don’t really take in a lot when I feel like I’m being taught something,” Levy said. “I think for me, when it came to the show, I thought, ‘Well, let’s not try and make this sort of a lesson show.’ I don’t want these characters to be, you know, a lesson for people to learn about queerness. I think that the better lesson, what will resonate deeper is just showing people in love. It’s really hard to turn away from two people who are falling in love.
“And so, as a result, it was really sort of a mandate from day one that we were never going to paint these characters with a brush that was different than what we were sort of painting our straight characters with,” Levy continued. “I think for a long time I was watching nothing but tragedy befall queer characters on television, and the idea of creating a world where, in this particular case two men were falling in love with absolutely no push back, and to be able to depict how much joy that can bring, not just to the characters who are falling in love, but to the community itself who gets to watch it, was important.”
Levy said he’s received letters from viewers around the world who write to say they’ve been watching the show with their families and it’s had a profound impact.
“Their relatives have been able to understand their lives with a little bit more clarity because they’re able to see the minutia of a relationship and not just sort of an after-school special depiction…or stereotype. So, that to me, at the end of the day, it has become one of the most meaningful elements of making this show,” he said. “To be able to change a conversation in someone’s home just by, you know, writing some comedy, and occasionally the rare emotional, scene is a wonderful thing. And I think just again speaks to how people, when they sit down in front of their televisions, they are their most vulnerable. They’re in their homes. They don’t have their protective shields up that we put on when we leave the house to just walk down the street. [Laughs.] People are their most vulnerable in front of their television screens. And if you can shine some light and some love into those living rooms, I can’t see how that won’t help. So that’s been our motto, and from what I’ve read and the feedback, it really seems to have helped people. So, I would love to see more of it.”
While Schitt’s Creek has turned out to be a safe place for viewers in a fractured world, that’s not what Levy and his father initially set out to do.
“I don’t think it was that specific, but I do know that we wanted the show to be a family show. We wanted the show to be a show that people could watch with their families, that spoke to people of different age groups. And I think when that’s your goal, there are certain sort of universal, not mandates, but just things you need to consider,” he said.
Levy looked at the shows about families he loved growing up, like The Beverly Hillbillies, Roseanne, and the Ross and Rachel dynamic on Friends, and saw a common thread in all of these beloved shows. “These stories were all rooted in love. That the conflict, the comedy, any kind of disagreements, ultimately, we’re rooted in a place of love and not anything dark,” Levy said.
“So that really was our mandate going into this, that this family sort of being put into this, what they considered a terrible situation, will learn that this is going to be quite worthwhile in the end,” he said. “And that sometimes the things that you don’t think you’re going to enjoy will ultimately bring a deeper, richer sense of satisfaction.”
Once landing on the story he wanted to tell with the Rose family, Levy said they knew there would be no “major conflict” on Schitt’s Creek, aside from the episodic tensions.
“I think from my own experience watching TV, I want to know that at the end of the episode everyone’s going to be fine. Unless I’m watching The Americans, and then I don’t want to know that at all. But when it comes to comedy…I think I’ve just been so turned off of really mean comedy. I think there was a chapter for a while where there was sort of this sociopathic, cruelty to comedy and comedic characters on television, where the joke was that you’re not supposed to like them in any possible way. And I never understood it and I never liked it, and I never watched it. So, when given the opportunity to sort of create our own thing…It was always sort of—top of the list was that by the end of every episode, let’s make sure that our audience knows that everyone’s going to be OK.”
After five seasons and counting with Schitt’s Creek and the Roses, audiences will be more than just “OK.”
Schitt’s Creek airs Wednesdays, 10 p.m. on Pop and will return for a sixth and final season.
Originally published on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, 4:00 a.m. PT.