The Canadian sitcom graciously extends its queer sensibility to every character
There's nowhere to hide in a town the size of Schitt's Creek. In the Canadian sitcom of the same name, the rural community turns its spotlight on the Rose family, who relocate to the town after losing their extravagant fortune thanks to a fraudulent business manager. The Roses — Moira (Catherine O'Hara), Johnny (Eugene Levy), and their adult children, David (Dan Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy) — are a damaged brood, and not just because they've been forced to uproot their lives and start over in a small town they once bought as a joke. After a lifetime spent using wealth as a substitute for intimacy, they're suddenly shoved together in adjoining rooms in a run-down motel, only to find the attention more comfortable than any of them would have expected. As Dan Levy, who co-created the show with his father, Eugene, explained it, Schitt's Creek is about "people who didn't know what love was slowly learning season after season what it means to love each other."
It isn't just incidental, then, that David, a pansexual character played and created by an out gay man, isn't met with any homophobia in the town of Schitt's Creek. In a community where the nearest "high-end boutique" is a shop one town over called the Blouse Barn, David is only remarkable for his sharp fashion sense, which makes him a beacon to locals — like the schlubby mayor, Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott), and his wife, Jocelyn (Jennifer Robertson) — who look to him for advice. The show acknowledges, sometimes, that homophobia is still a threat, and that it can be especially dangerous to exist out in the open in rural towns like this one; in the second episode, when motel receptionist Stevie (Emily Hampshire) invites David to a tailgate, he protests, "I'm not really in the mood to be a victim of a hate crime tonight." Schitt's Creek doesn't pretend there's no risk to being vulnerable. It just defiantly chooses to reward that risk.
The core impulse of the series is to build a space for people to be open with one another. Late in Season 3 David meets his future business partner and eventual fiancé, Patrick (Noah Reid). Patrick, like the town, doesn't fit David's idea of what home will look like for him. "He's a business manager who wears straight-leg, mid-range denim," David summarizes. "He's not into me." But Patrick — again like the town — surprises him. There's no distinction on Schitt's Creek between romantic relationships and a broader sense of community: Both begin with unexpected acceptance.
In that sense, Schitt's Creek approaches vulnerability from a queer sensibility, even as it applies that sensibility to every character. Every emotion around acceptance is heightened because it's treated as less of a guarantee. After David kisses him for the first time, Patrick thanks him: "I've never done that before with a guy, and I was getting a little scared that I was gonna let you leave here without us having done that, so thank you for making that happen for us." There's an undercurrent of relief to their relationship, in a way that there generally doesn't need to be for straight couples. Both David and Patrick are on new ground — Patrick because he's never dated a man before, David because all of his previous relationships have been flings with people who were unkind — but their relationship isn't so much a giddy crush as it is a comfortable exhale.
A turning point in David and Patrick's romance comes when Patrick decides to hold an open mic night in their newly opened general store. David frets that it will be "scary [and] embarrassing" to be "sung at" in front of a crowd by the man he is dating, but Patrick — who is patient with David's foibles but knows when to push him — goes ahead with his plan. In one of the show's most intimate scenes, Patrick sings a stripped-down, "butter-voiced" cover of Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" as the camera gradually pulls focus away from the crowd. By the end, it's as if there's no one in the room but Patrick, David, and Moira, whose support for her son loads the romantic scene with David's long history of insecurities. As good as Patrick sounds, what really seems to stun David is how nice it is to be appreciated. The moment encapsulates the way Schitt's Creek pierces its characters' armor and lets them know that they are safe — that the mortifying ordeal of being seen can actually be sweet.
The importance of being seen is a recurring thread in David and Patrick's story. David, who carries the trauma of an emotionally unavailable family and a string of bad relationships, is hesitant to reveal too much of himself, preferring to present a curated image. Reassuring her skittish son, Moira tells him, "[Patrick] sees you. For all that you are." So when David needs to extend an olive branch to Patrick, the clearest way to tell his boyfriend how much he trusts him is to make a public spectacle of himself — to let himself be seen. He echoes Patrick's song back to him, performing a lip sync to "Simply the Best" in the middle of the store. "You know people can see you, right?" Patrick teases, winking at the fact that the audience is the point. This is a queer experience that Schitt's Creek makes universal: If you want to be loved, you cannot hide.
And yet even in a TV universe that insistently advocates for being seen, the show isn't cavalier about coming out. Schitt's Creek comes closest to dealing with homophobia directly when David invites Patrick's parents to town for a surprise party, not realizing that they don't yet know that his partnership with their son goes beyond business. Patrick expects David to be hurt that he's been keeping their relationship a secret, but David fully supports Patrick's right to tell his parents on his terms and regrets robbing his boyfriend of that choice. "I know my parents are good people," Patrick says. "I just can't shake this fear that there is a small chance that this could change everything. That they might see me differently, or treat me differently." Schitt's Creek understands that being seen doesn't always lead to being accepted. But Patrick's parents are fine with the fact that he's gay; they just wish he'd felt comfortable telling them sooner.
Dan Levy has referred to the decision not to give a voice to homophobia as "the only political stand [he's] taken as a showrunner." Speaking at a cast roundtable, Levy said, "We learn by what we watch. And even if you're presenting someone who puts out that energy, there is someone who will watch that and side with it." As long as homophobia persists, there will still be TV shows dismantling it, but too many shows don't know any other way to find drama in LGBTQ stories. In relegating bigotry to the shadows, Schitt's Creek leaves room to focus on the interior lives of all its characters, regardless of their sexuality, which does more to humanize those characters and make their experiences real. "If you take the hate out," Levy said, "if you take the rules that are dictating who you can love, how you can love them, what kind of people are good people, what kind of people are bad people, you're only left with joy, which can only have an enlightening effect on whoever's watching it."
Every obstacle to happiness is ultimately internal on Schitt's Creek, and every solution is found in trusting others. Alexis goes back to high school to finish her degree and worries the kids are passing notes about her; they are, but the notes are full of compliments. Stevie fears that she's watching the world pass her by from behind a desk, only to own the stage in a triumphant local production of Cabaret. And it's that production, not the movie Moira films as her comeback vehicle, that becomes Moira's passion project in the fifth season because she's already grown to care about the town more than she knows. The show doesn't just radiate joy in queer relationships; it graciously extends that energy to every character, presenting a world where everyone who takes a leap lands on their feet, often with a round of applause. Late in Season 5, Patrick proposes to David by looking back on a time when he wasn't sure if he'd ever have the courage to tell him how he felt. He gives him a set of four gold rings, exact replicas of David's own silver rings. Acceptance is like that on Schitt's Creek: being seen as you already are, but gold.