Around the turn of the millennia I was in Boston with my Mother. It was her first visit so my friends spent a day showing us both the usual and unusual attractions. By evening we were exhausted and plopped down in a nice Italian restaurant in North Beach. Or maybe it’s the North End. It was somewhere in Boston’s tony Northern Corridor.
The others discussed an odd topic: Christmas. My Mother liked the holiday because it was a chance for a family party. It held no religious significance to her, there was no creche in sight.
Her formula was take care of the young ones first, mainly through gifts. Their happiness bubbled up to the parents to help them relax. Once in that calmed state they were more susceptible to her potent libations.
Dale and David, on the other hand, were polar opposites. They detested the holiday. Their Christmas habit was to hike in the New England backwoods. They’d find a remote spot, bury themselves in dead leaves, and hibernate until Boxing Day.
It felt strange they would be grilling Mother about our traditions. I quietly listened for several minutes. Realizing I should contribute and not appear rude, I finally blurted out, “don’t forget our live Nativity scene, Mother. You know, the one where I play all the parts.”
Individually these three were a tough audience. I was surprised they all laughed in unison. It just reinforced the concept that believable characterizations are the foundation to good theatre. Which is why I enjoyed watching Schitt’s Creek so much this summer. I could have easily been any one of the four main characters in that production.
The show’s premise is a nouveau riche Beverly Hills family becomes suddenly destitute. Their accountant, “who was like family,” embezzled hundreds of millions then went into hiding off-shore. After federal agents confiscate everything, an advisor sits down with them to explain they really were left with nothing. Except for one asset nobody wanted.
Once on a lark with money being no object, the father gag-gifted his son the deed to a town called Schitt’s Creek. Ha, ha, ha, then everyone forgot about it. Now, it was their only hope to rebuild.
The parents along with their 20-something son and daughter arrive at this rural cross roads to find it’s worth nothing. The towns folk are generous in making them welcome and set them up in a sleazy dive that makes Motel Six look lavish. The next six seasons are about the Rose family trying to assimilate and maintain.
The plot is similar to Green Acres except in that series Lisa and Oliver were pursuing an ideal. They consciously made the choice to live like the other half. The Roses had these draconian circumstances unexpectedly thrust upon them. Schitt’s Creek was the perfect fodder for pandemic binge watching: learning to play by new rules in a world turned upside down.
Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara do an exceptional job as parents with very few clues. The real breakouts in the cast, however, are their children.
The daughter, Alexis, was the hardest character to like. She’s so superficial and offensive. Her behavior does not change much over six seasons. But over time the writers create a story line that shows what a thoughtful, caring and somewhat intelligent person she is. Her manner is just a product of socialization. It’s how you turn out when you’re brought up in a mileu of Paris Hiltons and Kardashian girls.
Annie Murphy who played Alexis admitted as much when she said she studied hours of film of these girls. One gesture in particular stood out: a limp wrist, weak extended forearm move that preceded their bodies into every scene. It was designed to accentuate $20K designer bags they were swinging.
Ms. Murphy only carried a purse in about 10% of her scenes. That she used the spastic motion all the time was pure artistry.
She also brought a confusing Gracie Allen charm to the role. In one of her early scenes she shows up to fulfill her community service requirement transferred from Beverly Hills. Her offense was running a car through a plate glass Prada store front. Her defense was she thought it was a parking garage. And that she was high.
The gruff council woman issues garbage pick up instructions then hands her tools and an orange safety vest. Alexis momentarily studies the garment then demurely poo-poos it. “Oh, no thank you, I’m fine… But it’s so sweet of you.” The woman shoots back, “this isn’t say yes to the dress, sister, wear it.”
Alexis was accustomed to having things handed to her on a silver platter. When she confides to the town Vet how broke they are, he has a bright idea. “My receptionist just quit, I could give her pay to you.” Alexis graciously refuses. “I wouldn’t feel right taking money like that.” The Vet clarifies, “you’d be doing her job, that would be your salary.”
Then, on one of her first days at work she has a benefits question. “Now you said the first year’s vacation was two weeks, how many of those two week vacations do I get? Like once a month? Every six weeks?”
Alexis’ brother David is just as preciously eccentric. His background includes owning a Manhattan Art Gallery. A curatorial highlight was the performance artist who breastfed audience members as a statement on income inequality. David’s importance will be the topic of a future post.
For now, suffice it to say that Dan Levy’s David is the glue that holds all the performances together. And he seems to have played the same role in the production itself. His hand is in everything.
The result is a ton of Emmy nominations tomorrow evening. They deserve to take home a Schitt load.