Opinion | Television’s most romantic relationship
'Schitt's Creek', doesn't sound like the place you'll find the most tender romance on television
I care about lovers in comedies. Perhaps it’s the fondness with which they’re written, perhaps it’s the pithy dialogue, perhaps it’s the way they take familiar cliché and wear it lightly, perhaps it is simply that I’ve laughed with and at them already. The act of rooting for fictional characters, in ongoing books and television, to get together is called “shipping", short for “relationship-ping", and I often find myself cheering for daft and delightful pairs against all odds and even, at times, against narrative logic. The heart wants what it wants, and television has trained it to frequently long for the least plausible.
Schitt’s Creek—a Canadian sitcom, streaming in India on Netflix—doesn’t sound like the place you’ll find the most tender romance on television. With a crude name and exaggerated premise, about a once-wealthy family now marooned in a dingy backwoods town, it seems an unlikely home for something sensitive and special. Yet the show’s consistent writing and performances see it through, as does its extraordinary self-awareness, especially when it comes to eventual and improbable hero, David Rose.
David, our man of perpetual sighs, seems exhausted by how snide the world forces him to be. Bedecked in monochrome jumpers, he showers all around him with condescension, his eyebrows barely holstered in their need to express disapproval. Played by (the show’s co-creator) Daniel Levy in unforgettably whiny fashion, David appears merely comic until it is revealed that he is pansexual.
David’s only friend, Stevie, assumes—rather understandably—that David is gay. She is, therefore, naturally bewildered when they sleep together in season two. In a liquor store the next day, she stammers, “I only drink red wine. And up until last night, I was under the impression that you, too, only drank red wine." David’s response is gold: “I like the wine and not the label. Does that make sense?"
It does, and David Rose starts taking shape as the atypical hero who makes the most sense. With India finally, belatedly decriminalizing homosexuality, our audiences would do well to look to David for his boundlessness, and the way the show celebrates his self-awareness.
In season three, David meets the sensible (and somewhat square) Patrick, played by Noah Reid, and they become business partners. At the end of the season, they kiss. Patrick has never dared to kiss a man before. David has never dared fall this hard before. Through season four, we watch these two men slip, step by loving step, into a warm, even swoon-worthy romance. This is, in many ways, an entirely non-traditional screen relationship, with the gender dynamic fluid, alpha roles far from delineated, and physicality both unstressed and unrestrained. I haven’t seen anything quite like it, yet it feels like a classic.
In one sensational scene, Patrick steps up to sing at an open-mic night. David recoils, immediately mortified, but Patrick holds his ground and belts out an acoustic guitar rendition of Tina Turner’s Simply The Best, dedicating the song to David and looking unflinchingly at him as he sings every word. Before the song begins, David’s mother, Moira—played by the magnificent Catherine O’Hara—is standing by him in support of her son’s embarrassing ordeal, but moved by Patrick’s passion, she wells up, ignores the rest of the world and touches David’s arm. The serenade really is a television moment, made more potent by the way that Moira, an utterly self-obsessed narcissist, thaws to it.
I have written about Schitt’s Creek before. Comic legend Eugene Levy—remembered for his shaggy eyebrows, and unforgettable roles in Christopher Guest films like Best In Show—made this show with his son Daniel, and it starts off droll but soon grows into something quite masterful. The characters eagerly grow out of types and labels, and as a viewer, it is hard not to feel some kinship for these flawed and underprepared characters. Moira, a former prime-time soap actress, is a particular delight—asked her favourite season, she breathily says, “Awards"—but the show takes this Castafiore caricature and lets her gradually care about community and children, and shows us how she builds her husband’s confidence. All while she makes sure her plumage remains beautiful.
Relationships are about approach. It would have been easy for the writers to express affection by showing that Patrick, the straightforward rational one, is not judgemental of David, the easily-flattered fragile one. In Schitt’s Creek, Patrick judges David constantly, calling him out frequently, but he doesn’t allow that judgement to cloud his feelings for this man. Sometimes Patrick is the fragile one who needs a bit of flattery, or a song and dance. It is believable, intimate and feels like the first flush. As obvious and unlikely as any real-life romance, this is the love story we need today. They’re simply the best.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.
He tweets at @RajaSen