“Rich people who lose all their money and have to move to a poorly-named small town they bought for a joke” is one of the more unusual comedy premises out there, but it’s worked very well for Schitt’s Creek. The Canadian series, starring comedy legends and SCTV alums Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, proved to be one of the best new shows out there in its debut season last year, and it’s looking good so far in season two.
Schitt’s Creek was initially created for the CBC and has already aired its second season north of the border, but the new run of 13 episodes just started airing in the U.S. last week on Pop. From the first two episodes to air stateside, it looks like there’s still plenty of depth to be found in this series.
The show is a real family affair, both on and off the screen. Off-camera, it was co-created by Levy and his son Daniel, and they do a great job on camera of playing bewildered father Johnny Rose and his fashionable bisexual son David Rose, respectively. Meanwhile, Eugene’s daughter Sarah is part of an impressive group of wacky locals, portraying dim waitress Twyla Sands.
Back in the on-screen Rose family, Annie Murphy is solid as spoiled daughter Alexis, and O’Hara is fantastic as zany matriarch Moira, delivering a haughty performance that feels reminiscent of past craziness such as Madeline Kahn in Clue. The central story of this show is the fish-out-of-water nature of the Roses’ time in Schitt’s Creek, and it’s something that’s still providing numerous laughs in the second season.
The key challenge for this show is making the Rose family hilariously terrible and yet somewhat sympathetic, which the producers and cast have managed to meet so far. Each of the Roses manages to create plenty of comedy from their struggles with adjusting to impoverished small-town life, from Johnny’s money-making attempts and reactions (Levy’s facial expressions are fantastic) to the locals to Moira’s shallowness to David’s disdain for the town to Alexis’ selfish and manipulative nature.
Most of their issues can be written off as first-world problems, but Schitt’s Creek has done a good job of finding some redeeming qualities in each of these characters, making it so viewers aren’t just rooting for them to trip over the many outstretched rakes in their path. (They still do that, but in entertaining and sometimes relatable ways.)
The Rose family has also shown some character growth over time, and while no one’s going to confuse them for citizens of the year (Johnny and Moira ended last season by trying to force a man dying of a heart attack to sign a contract to buy the town, while the season two premiere revolves around Alexis stringing along the guy who proposed to her and David stealing a truck, running off and annoying the Amish family he winds up with), they’re not just a one-note “everything is awful” group.
David’s decision to run away is at the corner of the first season two episode, and it illustrates the excellent balance this show has found between the Roses being awful and mildly relatable, while also showing how Daniel Levy’s performance is really at the heart of this show. It turns out that David’s wound up on an Amish farm for three days, where he’s driving his hosts mad. (“David’s stay here has taught us some very valuable lessons in compassion, patience, restraint…”.)
Meanwhile, Johnny shows some genuine concern for David (offset by arguments with the locals), while Moira seems mostly worried that her son has run off with her alligator bag (a family heirloom, handed down in case of a need for quick cash when abandoning a husband), and Alexis not only tries to push his bed together with hers for a king bed equivalent, but also doesn’t tell anyone that he’s texted her to tell them where he is. (This is more understandable when she talks about her own experience trying to get her family to care about her, saying “I was taken hostage by Somali pirates on David Geffen’s yacht for a week, and no one answered my texts!”)
It’s all funny, and none of the characters look particularly good during it, but their actions are also somewhat understandable and not hate-inspiring.
Also helping the show is a terrific cast of locals to play off the Roses. Chris Elliott is consistently funny as town mayor and local yokel Roland Schitt, with Jennifer Robertson solid as his wife Jocelyn. The Schitts are particularly great for the show, as they can be just as terrible (or more) as the Roses, but in distinctly different ways that lead to plenty of comedy without creating a real hatred for either group. (Their web-only Funny or Die show, appropriately titled “Wake Up With The Schitts,” is worth checking out.)
Beyond that, Dustin Milligan and Tim Rozon are impressive as Ted and Mutt, Alexis’ two suitors, while Sarah Levy has some very funny lines as Twyla, and Emily Hampshire might be the show’s breakout star as sardonic motel clerk Stevie Budd. The slow build of Budd’s relationship with David from dislike to grudging friendship to intimacy was one of the high points of the first season, and the challenges that his decision to run off have presented seem likely to provide plenty of good material for this season.
A question with a more concept-focused comedy like this is how long the premise can be maintained, but Schitt’s Creek has done well on that front so far. The character growth, limited as it may be, helps substantially here; Alexis in particular might have been the least-likeable Rose in season one, but she’s becoming more well-rounded over time. She even directly tells Ted she can’t marry him by the end of episode two (previously saying she would if they weren’t leaving town, only to have her plans scuppered by not actually leaving town), rather than just hoping it would all go away. (This scraps their prepaid, non-refundable couples’ vacation, but those are the breaks.)
Meanwhile, David’s character started out seeming like just a condescending snob, but his interactions with Stevie throughout the first season really helped develop his depth and make him remarkably sympathetic. Johnny’s starting to somewhat adjust to small-town life and his inability to solve everything with his checkbook, and even Moira approaches reality at times. Her cooking attempts with David in the second episode are both hilarious and humanizing.
The show also manages to vary its week-to-week plots and challenges, keeping the stories from feeling like we’ve seen them all before. There are several tricky balancing acts for the series, between Roses and locals, likeable and terrible, and maintaining the situation and advancing it in small ways, but it’s done a fine job of handling them so far. If the first two episodes of season two are anything to go by, there are still plenty of laughs to be found in Schitt’s Creek.
Schitt’s Creek airs Wednesdays at 8/7 Central on Pop. Channel listings and previous episodes, including all of Season 1, can be found at poptv.com.