A few years ago, my roommate’s parents told us about a show they found on the channel Pop called Schitt’s Creek. We had no idea what it was — and had never even heard of the channel — but the title was funny and the episodes were all on demand so we gave it a shot.
Earlier this month, the show entered its fourth season, and we’re right there with it.
The opening season introduces the Rose family — Johnny (Eugene Levy and his iconic eyebrows in a decidedly more straight-laced role than his usual ones), a businessman; Moira (Catherine O’Hara), a former soap opera star with an incredible collection of wigs; and their adult children David (Dan Levy, Eugene’s real-life son with equally iconic eyebrows), a pansexual fashion and art enthusiast; and Alexis (Annie Murphy), a narcissist who’s trying her best.
A wealthy family, the Roses lose their home and their fortune in a tax lien. All they have left is a town called Schitt’s Creek they bought as a joke — they were that kind of rich — for David’s 16th birthday.
But with nothing left, the Roses head to this town with the hopes of selling their ownership and getting a little money back to re-establish themselves. No such luck there, as they end up moving into the town’s one motel and running into all the colorful characters the audience has come to love, like town Mayor Roland Schitt (Chris Elliot).
As the seasons have gone on, the Roses have more or less become proud citizens of Schitt’s Creek — though they would never admit it — and while they’re still looking for a way out, they’ve also busied themselves with helping spruce up and run the motel, becoming involved in town council, opening businesses and going to school.
Oh, and they’re Jewish.
They aren’t outwardly Jewish in that they talk about being Jewish or celebrate holidays. David refers to himself as a “mildly Hebraic-looking elf” at one point. But rather, the way Judaism factors into the show is typical of the sitcom itself: It’s awkward and familiar.
In one episode, Johnny, while brainstorming new businesses to open in the town, throws out the idea of a bagel shop. Bob, an auto repairman with whom Johnny shares an office — Johnny, who still wears a nicely tailored suit every day, comes to the shop to do some kind of work that remains unclear — takes the opportunity to explicitly expose Johnny’s religion.
“You’d want to make sure you’re making good bagels the real way,” Johnny says while explaining how the business would run.
“Well,” Bob starts with an awkward chuckle, “you’d certainly know how to make them the real way, because you’re, uh…”
“… Jewish?” Johnny finishes.
“I didn’t know if I could say it,” Bob says with a laugh, “but, boy, do you all love your bagels. I mean I do, too, and I’m not even, uh …”
“… Jewish,” Johnny says again. “You can say it, Bob.” Bob later asks, “What’s the one you can’t say?”
To be fair, Jews do love bagels. But the sort of prejudiced behavior Bob exhibits by relying on stereotype — though of course a bagel-loving Jew is a much tamer stereotype than could be seen on other shows — is probably something we’re all familiar with.
“Any Jew who’s been to a small town that has no Jews (which is, I believe, most small towns) knows the feeling of being some gentile’s ‘first,’” Michael Fraiman wrote for the Canadian Jewish News. “They are sometimes surprised and, in my experience, often excited to finally meet a real-life Jew. They wonder if the stereotypes are true.”
Of note, though, the finger pointing to Johnny’s Judaism isn’t done with malice but rather just the general cluelessness the townies exhibit about literally everything else.
“The narrative of Schitt’s Creek … doesn’t attempt to break down any of these stereotypes,” Fraiman wrote. “Indeed, it leans hard into them, drawing out the idiotic nature of every character equally.”
Sure, it’s not the laugh-out-loud funniest show on TV right now — or on Netflix, where you can catch up on the last three seasons — and some of the more inappropriate bits (there are plenty) may make you squirm in an “Oh God, what are they doing?” kind of way. But it certainly has its moments.
The performances are excellent, and it’s especially nice that the father-son duo Eugene and Dan Levy are the co-creators. Adding to the family affair is Sarah Levy, daughter and sister who plays quirky and kind waitress, Twyla, a character Eugene Levy called “just a ray of sunshine.”
“I mean, I’m constantly amazed at just being on national television, sitting here with my son,” Eugene Levy gushed in an interview with Hoda Kotb ahead of this season’s premiere. “This is my son, and here we are talking about our show.”
“It’s a surreal experience,” Dan Levy agreed.
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