'What an unexpected joy': Farewell Schitt’s Creek, the hit sitcom with a heart of gold

When the sitcom began life in 2015, on a hard-to-find cable channel, with an off-putting title and a meagre budget, it didn’t exactly make a splash. Even those who likedit failed to notice its quietly radical agenda – how it offered up a small-town world in which homophobia wasn’t given oxygen; the way it juggled absurdity, wit and pathos like it waseasy.It had “nothing at all of much importance”, shrugged the San Francisco Chronicle, “except a whole lot of laughs”. As its season six swansong arrives on Netflix in the UK, the show has earned its rightful place in thepantheon of TV comedy. Video: Schitt's Creek | Moira Rose’s Winery Commercial | CW Seed (TODAY) The ingredients were always there for something special. Created by a then-unknown Dan Levy and his American Pie star father Eugene, Schitt’s Creek had a simple set-up. A preposterously rich family of eccentrics – video store tycoon Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), his former soap-star wife Moira (Catherine O’Hara), their foppish son David (Daniel Levy) and socialite daughter Alexis(Annie Murphy) – get busted for tax evasion and lose everything they own. So they up sticks and move to Schitt’s Creek, their fall from grace taking them from mansion to motel, from decadence to destitution. “Let’s pray we don’t wake up.” But as the show progresses, and the Roses find themselves embraced by a town they have only ever sneered at, so they are won over by its way of life. “On a very surface level, the show is about a wealthy family that loses their money,” says Dan Levy, who took the reins as sole showrunner in season two, “but that’s nothing more in the long run than a vehicle for exposing and revealing character. And I think the show, beneath the surface, was really an examination and an evaluation of love.” Emily Hampshire, who plays apathetic motel manager Stevie, agrees. “It actually reminded me of those old Billy Wilder movies, like The Apartment and Irma la Douce, where it’s so funny, but the heart’s in it and the love. Alexis and David’s childish bickering – “You get murdered first,” they hiss at each other while arguing over who’ll take the bed nearest the door – is magnificent. “That’s exactly the kind of paranoia that makes me wary of spending time with you.” But for all its acerbity, there is a vein of goodness running through the show. It’s there in David’s pursed lips as he tries to disguise a smile; in Johnny’s awkward moments of vulnerability; in Alexis’s brief flashes of generosity; and in Moira’s genuine delight in her children’s happiness. In January 2017, the same month that Donald Trump assumed office, Schitt’s Creek landed on Netflix, offering a beacon ofpositivity at atime when it was most needed. Previously only broadcast on CBC in Canada and Pop TV in the US (which you had to flip through 273 channels to find), it suddenly had apotentialaudience ofmillions. Netflix is famously secretive about how many people watch its shows, but by the end of season five, viewing figures on Pop had increased by 1,100 per cent. “It was like a time when things were not amazing politically in America,” she recalls, “and all of a sudden, the show came back from our hiatus, I went into Bed Bath & Beyond, and it was a very different experience for me.” Since then, there have been Emmy nominations, comic con appearances and tours – on which they aremet with a feverish, Beatlemania energy. “It’s like this cult of love – I think the goodness that it puts out really comes back to us,” says Murphy, whose Instagram follower count jumped from around 93 to more than half a million after the move to Netflix. Known to a whole generation as Kevin’s mum in Home Alone (1990), and having starred in films such as Beetlejuice (1988) and Waiting for Guffman (1996), O’Hara was already a comedy powerhouse. As this emotionally unstable logophile with a bizarre,transatlantic accent and a vast collection of wigs, O’Hara puts in one of the most fantastically deranged performances in sitcom history, and has turned the word “baby” into an artform. “The great joy of hiring Catherine is that she comes with an arsenal of ideas, all of which are so unique to her that you can’t even begin to concoct them yourself,” says Levy. And we were very lucky to have had her.” “I have all the emails we exchanged before doing the series,” says O’Hara, who had worked with Eugene Levy on SCTV (the Canadian equivalent of SNL) in the Seventies, and on the 2000 mockumentary Best In Show. I recently reread those early emails and laughed at howI was already coming off like Moira and Eugene was the kind, caring and accommodating man Johnny would be. Moira’s a bit of an alien and I’m grateful I got to play her ridiculousness.” Gallery: Schitt's Creek: The 10 Best Moments From the Series' Finale (TVLine) And what about that accent? “I’m fortunate to have met some interesting people in my life and I hoarded some of their unique qualities, hoping they’d come in handy when I wanted to invent a fun character,” she says. Eugene would remind me who Iwasmeant to be.” “Literally, you never knew what was coming out of her mouth,” says Annie Murphy, who played Alexis. It was a real struggle to remain professional, and, you know, with a normal look on your face.” Working with O’Hara and Levy senior was a dream come true for Murphy. “The second I saw Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as names on the breakdown for the audition, I can’t even describe to you how desperately I wanted this role,” she says, “because those two are perfect people in my mind.” That enthusiasm paid off. A spoilt socialite with an endless array of outlandish stories – “I once dated this sultan’s nephew who was forbidden to talk to me or even look at me, and we made it work for like, half a regime change” – Alexis could easily have been, well, awful. Goldie Hawn could be described asflighty orditsy orwhatever, but she’s also this incredibly effervescent, smart, charming individual that people just gravitate towards without knowing exactly why. And so it wasreallyimportant forme topaint Alexis as a fully fleshed-out human being, as opposed to just the stereotypical ‘dumb blonde’.” “We knew from the get-go that we never wanted her to feel like a caricature of a socialite,” says Levy. “We wanted her to embody all the qualities that we’ve come to know from these popular socialites, but there had to be a warmth and a lightness in order to make that character last. You look at the leading ladies of all the big romcoms and thereasonthere are so few of them, and the reason they have become so successful, is because they have that perfect alchemy as an actor. She hadn’t worked for a year, had in her bank account and was midway through a divorce when she auditioned for the role of Stevie, Johnny’s business partner and David’s best friend. Though she had no idea that the disdainful desk clerk would become such a key character – “I really thought that Stevie was going to just be the girl whobrought these people the towels and said a sarcastic comment every now and then” – that didn’t make her any less terrified. I felt Iwas putting myself in the shoes of this man I’ve been playing for two years, and he was having to explain to the people closest to him something about himself that was integral, that hewasworried that they might not accept, the people that are supposed to know you the best and love you the most, that they might think of you differently, or turn on you or disregardyou.Iguess that was just something that I’ve never had to face, and so to be in the shoes of somebody who was doing that, it just totally changed me.” Some critics suggested it was unrealistic for a tiny, unhip town in North America (we never find out exactly where the show’s set, but it’s filmed in Goodwood, Ontario, population 663) not to bat an eyelid at a same-sex relationship. In a viral video, the cast of Schitt’s Creek were brought to tears by a thank you letter signed by 1,800 mothers of LGBT+ kids. To know that our show has left behindsomepositive change in the world, and particularly in the families and friends and lives of the LGBTQ community, I honestly could not have asked for anything more.” And so, Levy decided that it was time for the show to end – just as the show’s audience was at its largest, and just as it had finally found the mainstream success it deserved. “It would have been very easy for him to continue – people were offering him everything,” says Hampshire, “and so for him to stick to his guns and be like, ‘No, this is the way it should end,’ he wasabsolutely right.” The final season is glorious – equal parts zany one-liners and existential catharsis. Johnny, Stevie and the town mayor Roland Schitt fly to New York with a business proposal. Maybe I should just stay in character Gallery: Shows Like Schitt’s Creek to fill the impending Rose Family void (PureWow) Saying goodbye wasn’t easy.