In the matter of Schitt's Creek (CBC, 9 p.m.), opinion is divided.
The comedy show, a big deal in CBC's plan for this TV season (and it has just been greenlit for a second season next year), has received some enthusiastic reviews in Canada, and here in the United States, where it will air on the teensy cable channel Pop (used to be the TV Guide Channel), a small number of critics think it's hilarious. Others are utterly, eye-rolling indifferent.
I'm with the eye-rollers. It's droll, sporadically, but dead on arrival.
The head of the Pop channel, Canadian Brad Schwartz, introduced it here (he never acknowledged that it is a CBC show) by calling it "a brilliant pop-culture commentary on the 1 per cent." That's clever but it's a major stretch. It's dead on arrival because there's a smugness to it, a grating self-satisfaction. "Commentary," my posterior.
The gist of the show is this – a superrich family headed by video-store magnate Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), his former soap-star wife Moira (Catherine O'Hara), and their two kids, David (Dan Levy) and daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy) go broke. Their money's been scammed by a financial adviser. Their only option is to move to a tiny town that Johnny bought years before as a joke. That's Schitt's Creek.
Broke and bewildered, they anchor down in a grubby motel. Mom and the kids are devastated. Dad tries to soldier on, but finds a foe in the mayor of Schitt's Creek, one Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott), whose aim in life is to be annoying. The first few minutes, involving the family's ejection from their mansion, are very funny. After that, it's a long, long wait for the next instance of something funny. Most of what unfolds – the show is the creation of Dan Levy – is relentlessly juvenile.
If you are to believe the enthusiasts, Schitt's Creek is in the tradition of Christopher Guest's droll, deadpan improvisational "mockumentary" movies such as Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara have starred in several. That's the only connection, lazily made by some.
Here, at a lacklustre presentation, Eugene Levy pointed out that it's not improvised, and is much more scripted than those Christopher Guest productions. "We are a totally written show, and we take the script down to the rehearsal floor and there are usually changes, things that we thought worked on the page, but not in the reality of doing the scene with the other actors on the set."
Mostly, the presentation was anodyne remarks. Levy and O'Hara are old allies, of course, going back to SCTV days and, well, Dan Levy is Eugene's son. O'Hara said Eugene Levy is just great, "the sweetest man." The elder Levy said, "There's only one Catherine O'Hara. She makes the character funny without trying to be funny." He also said, "We have enormous creative freedom doing our show. We've been left to the show the way we wanted to do it and thanks to my brilliant son here, we've been able to deliver the product they like."
The elder Levy also mentioned his delight in finally working with his "brilliant" son, who had previously insisted on not needing help from his dad. "Whenever I asked if he needed help with anything, he would always say 'I got it.' I asked, 'Do you wanna run lines?' He would say, 'I got it.' So, when he came to me to work on the show, my heart was palpitating over it, being a father-and-son project." About Annie Murphy, Eugene Levy said, "Annie was the find of the century. She's just incredible, she's funny and so charismatic onscreen." Catherine O'Hara agreed, naturally.
This went over well. It's nice to see people express such appreciation for each other and the affection is genuine. It's just peachy.
It's also the problem, I think. There is no edge to Schitt's Creek. It's cozy comedy and perhaps the tightness of the ensemble – bound by family, old alliances – blinds then to the lack of hilarity in what they're doing. Comedy is hard and the show is soft-core comedy. The core premise is mined repetitively – Moira shrieks and brays in outrage at her reduced circumstance; daughter Alexis talks on the phone constantly and clings to the belief that some rich friend or boyfriend will arrive to sweep her back to a comfortable life; son David whines and whines, and Roland Schitt sets out to annoy and annoy.
Many viewers will approach Schitt's Creek with advance affection. They will relish seeing Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara working together again. They will savour the father/son dynamic between Eugene and Dan Levy. That's peachy too. But it will camouflage the fact that the show is as anodyne and polite as the feel-good remarks made by its stars when asked about it. It's nice and it's droll, but it fails.