Schitt’s Creek is a classic riches to rags tale. The cult sitcom follows the lives of the Rose family, whose spectacular fall from grace landed them in the last place that they wanted to be — the eponymous hick town, their one remaining asset.
They had mansions, private jets, servants, fame and influence. And they lost it all overnight. When the bus deposited them at the town during the first episode, in 2015, the Roses couldn’t imagine slumming it as denizens of a seedy, roadside motel, at the mercy of benevolent townsfolk they couldn’t tolerate.
But they did. Over the subsequent seasons — this week, the sixth and final season kicked off — the characters’ circumstances have changed their value system. While they might still be loathe to admit it, they like themselves, and their lives, better than before.
Schitt’s Creek was created by Eugene Levy and his son, Daniel, who came up with the idea after wondering what would happen if the Kardashians lost everything they ever valued. How would they find meaning? The answer, is that they find something new to value: not possessions, but relationships, connection, and honest communication. Without material wealth, they find richness in their own, unencumbered lives.
An elegy for the American Dream
The story of the Rose family’s downfall is one of true character development. By season six, Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), who made his fortune in video stores, co-owns the down-at-heel motel the Roses are forced to call home. His son, David (Daniel Levy), had been an art scenester who hadn’t known his family was footing the bill, and now runs a small apothecary stocking local goods. After a lifetime of barely-there, pansexual relationships, he’s about to marry a small-town guy with a big heart.
Alexis (Annie Murphy), his sister, was a pampered “it” girl with no talent. After slowing to the pace of small town life, she found the confidence to finish her education. The only hold out to the old life is the Rose family matriarch, Moira (Catherine O’Hara). A former soap star, she cannot relinquish the spotlight any more than she can her dozens of pampered wigs.
As bad as the Roses were to each other when they first arrived at the motel, they were worse to the townspeople: rude, dismissive, solipsistic, and unsympathetic. These childlike adults, used to having everyone do everything for them, were forced to work out how to do things on their own. It can be painful watching for coastal elites who can barely imagine themselves more than a few blocks from Starbucks.
In the real world, Trump was calling to small-town voters: Make America Great Again! In Schitt’s Creek, patronising metropolitans belittled the place, treating the inhabitants like stupid white trash who fall for every piece of fake news and led their country ignorantly into chaos by voting against their interests.
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But Shitt’s Creek reminds us that those in flyover country may have a view of life that allows for more real living than the preposterous demands of urban affluence. It might have only one coffee shop but it has countless communal projects. In cities, making eye contact with strangers is considered aggressive; in Schitt’s Creek, not doing so is reason for offence. The community didn’t judge the Roses or discriminate — it opened its arms, albeit cautiously. Nor were the locals drawn as caricatures. Warm and wise and knowing, they gave as good as they got.
Over five seasons we have watched the Roses grow from unhappy, entitled, neo-liberal brats who live their every desire, to a family that learns to enjoy making do. So many sitcoms’ stories feed off of characters’ static qualities. But the four main characters here have undergone changes on an almost cellular level over the course of their emotional journey.
There are, according to UnHerd contributor David Goodhart, two types of people in our modern world: the “Somewheres” find comfort in the place and customs they were raised with; “Anywheres” seek a global perspective, with no real connection to locality or primary culture. The Roses have made that journey from anywheres to somewheres. They become a family of low-wage earners, unable to travel, part of the communal fabric of the town. They arrive barely knowing each other; they grow to actually love each other. This family that had everything but each other, finally has the only thing it truly needs.
It has been heartwarming and unexpectedly moving to watch their worldview shift incrementally, to follow them eeking out relevance in their new community and recalibrating their values. One by one, each has been tested. Each has been given, over the five seasons, the opportunity to abandon what they’ve built with their own blood, sweat and tears, and return to the pampered ease of their old lives.
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In one episode, Alexis’s old friends offer to bring her back to polite society and give her a job at a parent’s PR firm, where she needn’t even work too hard. Alexis, who is struggling to get her own fledgling PR business off the ground, turns them down; how much better it feels to achieve on your own terms. Moira, the only character whose former life was lived fully in the spotlight of TV fame has found it hard to relinquish that old world. Will Season 6 allow her a redemption of sorts?
What the characters of Schitt’s Creek learn is a lesson for any of us who take our moral message and lifestyle guidelines from reality TV. We watch our idols primp and preen, our children want to grow up to be YouTubers, and we have no idea how to become grounded in the place we live, because we barely believe that it matters. We need to do what the Roses do. We need friends, family, something to lay your hands on and make grow, we need to understand that fulfilment lies in interdependence and relationships. Pursue people, love, real worth and real life, not clicks, likes, and all the empty trappings of wealth.
How much better to have a few people who you care about care about you than to have thousands of people know your name. If only we actually believed it.