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From left, Daniel Levy, Annie Murphy, Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy.
From left, Daniel Levy, Annie Murphy, Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy.

The success of Schitt’s Creek marks a turning point for the CBC Add to ...

Daniel Levy has clearly put some thought into this.

“I looked at the first two seasons as just sort of exploring the place,” he says, speaking with care. “It was just how these people related to their environment, this world they had no understanding of. Now they’ve settled into this place, and it’s about figuring out who they are.”

Levy is, in the strictest sense, referring to the Roses, the laid-low family at the centre of Schitt’s Creek, the CBC comedy that takes its name from the dirtbag town where they live. Entering the show’s third season, the once-proud business tycoon (Johnny), soap opera star/socialite (Moira) and trust-fund children (David and Alexis) are less fish-out-of-water than fish-in-murky-and-occasionally-odd-smelling-water, a gaggle of too-goodniks who are very slowly accepting that their newish home might have its charms. Or they’re certainly not going anywhere any time soon, so best to get on with it.

The Roses are hardly the only ones who are slowly settling in to newish territory with Schitt’s Creek, though. There is also Levy himself: a former MTV Canada personality who was reasonably quiet about his famous father – those eyebrows do enough talking on the subject of family connections – he is now the established co-creator, co-star and showrunner of a comedy that has not only piled up Canadian Screen Awards, but achieved the mark of true Canadian success and gotten big in the United States. Having recently expanded his name from Dan to the more mature Daniel, he would seem to be figuring out what it means to be one of his country’s star creators.

But the success of Schitt’s Creek hasn’t just been good for the Levy name. The show serves as, if not a flagship exactly, then at least a flag marking a new approach for CBC’s English television division. Before Schitt’s Creek, Mother Corp was wallowing in the doldrums of unsure purpose and suffocating safety, pursuing a path that was blandly populist in spirit, if not in actual popularity.

Since CBC announced the show from two generations of the Levy family, though, there has been a marked uptick in experimenting with both content and form, particularly of its comedies, from zeitgeisty sketch (Baroness von Sketch Show) to stage adaptation (Kim’s Convenience) to millennial magic realism (Four in the Morning) to bringing back critical darlings (Michael: Every Day, coming soon), as well as a willingness to dive into online-only digital shorts. If it’s not an identity yet, it’s a sign that it’s looking for one.

All of this combines to put a particular weight on the shoulders of both Schitt’s Creek and Levy, at home and abroad. As one of the relatively few Canadian crossovers – it is the centrepiece show of the admittedly light-on-scripted-programming Pop Network in the United States, and has been hailed as a hidden gem by The Los Angeles Times and The A.V. Club – Schitt’s Creek has occasionally been treated like an ambassador below the border, with Eugene Levy being quizzed about what it is that makes Canadians so gosh-durn funny.

“I really can’t put my finger on why I get that a lot,” says the elder Levy, who spent the majority of his mid-career in the United States either making movies with Christopher Guest or being a wacky-dad-for-hire before returning to explicit Cancon for Schitt’s. “I just know I get that question a lot.”

“I think if you were to break down the ratio of Canadians who have made a mark on a North American scale, it wouldn’t be any more than any other country,” Levy the younger notes, with a hint of wry amusement. “There’s some publicist somewhere who just did a really good job of pitching Canadian comedy. Not that we’re complaining.”

Trolling for a particular Canadianness is an odd thing to do with Schitt’s Creek in any case. Not that it doesn’t fit established tropes, albeit only ones that Canadians would recognize. There’s the intergenerational bridge to the SCTV heyday, for instance, and the fact it is at least partly written in Los Angeles – “Made in Canada (With Parts from Hollywood)” being an unofficial motto for Canadian film and television productions of a certain profile. But the fact its Cancon bonafides are entirely subsumed is the point of its success, if not a cause for celebration: Schitt’s Creek is a thing that is good, sans qualifiers.

If this is all still new territory for Canadian television, and the CBC, we can only hope that the lot of us are quicker on the uptake than the Roses, who are set to spend this third season fitfully finding their sense of purpose in a place they’re only figuring out.

“I wouldn’t say the Rose family are quick learners,” Eugene Levy says, with a dryness that fits most of his character work.

“I think for the sake of the comedy, we can’t have them learn too quickly,” Daniel adds, evincing some of his grasp on what makes the show work. “But if we’ve done our jobs correctly, you will root for them a little.”

Schitt’s Creek’s season premiere airs Jan. 10 at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

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