‘Just Pretentious Enough.’ Why Schitt’s Creek mattered to me.

I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with this show. How often can you say that about something? And the exact moment I just knew it was going to change my life. The moment I cried more at any comedy show than I’d cried before (to that point). The moment I knew I was never coming back from my off at the deep end nerdery with it. I didn’t have the words for what it meant. For the reasons that the night I watched the finale I went to bed and cried. The next morning, I sat sobbing- actually sobbing at my desk at 11am. For everything the show had meant, did mean.

In order to get to all that, I thought I’d go through some of the ones I see talked about less, don’t worry we’ll get on to ‘the wine not the label’ and my need for a Queer happy ending. But here’s some other things that made Schitt’s Creek feel like home…

Dressing differently is ok

And that the way you dress says something about you. I’ve never been one who fit in with a ‘mainstream’ look…as a teenager I dressed ‘strangely’ by ‘fashion’ standards and as much as, like Moira I have always adhered to the idea that you can never be over-dressed for an occasion. I realised though I’d been swayed by fears of looking ‘too weird’ ‘too Queer’ and ‘too fat’ (all of which society thinks are terrible things). Subtly this show gave me back my fashion confidence. And not just in the show…Dan Levy going his own way, and truly loving fashion is something teenage me in a weird array of clothes getting beaten up for it…needs to see 30-something Dan Levy living his best fashion life.

Everyone is beautiful (but not in the usual way)

Related to the above, that people in the show look like real people.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some seriously good-looking people in this show. But not Hollywood cookie cutter beautiful. And that’s nice. Because beauty is more than one thing.

30-Somethings living with their parents

Ok so the Rose kids don’t do it by design…but then neither do my fellow Millennial 30-somethings who end up back at home. We didn’t ask to lose our jobs or be priced out of rents…or indeed for a global pandemic to force us back home. And the show always felt like a nice reflection of that, while also showing you can build something great with your parents as a grown up too.

Alexis’ ‘I’m basically his only friend’ about Johnny as a way to say she’ll miss him is important. Not everyone lives a totally separate life to their parents when they leave home. Not least only children like me which leads me on to…

Only children who aren’t a joke

Being an only child is the thing I remember being joked about as much as being ‘Gay’ as a child of the 80s/90s. While Patrick’s being an only child is probably a logistical choice over a narrative one, any other show would have jumped on the chance to make those jokes. About his competitive nature, need to take charge, confidence, even in his ‘coming out’ I can hear the lines about parents ‘disappointed in their only child’…because I’ve heard them all.

But that, just like the Queer characters are allowed to just be, Patrick is allowed to just be an only child without it being an ‘issue’…I don’t know how to express to anyone who hasn’t had ‘only child’ thrown at them to explain their ‘broken’ parts…but it matters. Even if it was coincidental and if anyone in that writer’s room did fight against making ‘only child’ jokes, I thank you.

On the flip side too, that Patrick the only child gets a new extended family in the show is nice too. Only children don’t pine for the siblings we never had…but as an only child with zero extended family and only one parent, I can’t say that the idea of finding a bigger extended family isn’t appealing. Just as long as it doesn’t come with jokes about my not being able to share.

‘You don’t care for children’   

Another set of jokes I’m used to is about not liking children. David babysits a kid like I would- from a distance, staring at Roland Jnr in his pram never touching him, and that is kind of funny. Moira’s ‘No thanks I can see it from here’ is also what I plan to say any time someone brings a baby into an office and tries to foist it on me. Moira too, reminds us not everyone is naturally maternal. She reminds me of my own Mum that way- not enamoured with children or blessed with particularly maternal images (she would likely have put the baby in a different wing given a chance and nurses a cold like Moira does) but she still loves the kid she’s got.

But for those of us, like David who ‘don’t care for children’ or like Moira, lack a natural maternal inclination, the dominant narrative is that we’re wrong, broken.

But it is like many things the way Patrick and David handle the issue of babies that felt like a revelation. The exchange where Patrick simply says ‘plans change’ it feels like a revelation on a par with David’s ‘Wine not the label speech’ because I’ve never watched a show where the character who does want kids is the one who changes their plan. It feels so small maybe to others, I imagine others were outraged- Patrick is ‘denied’ children by David surely…because that’s the dominant narrative.

I’ve been made to feel a failure and a freak for not wanting kids, by dates, by other women, I’ve even been disowned by ‘friends’ for it, made to feel I’m somehow defective for lacking maternal inclinations. Family isn’t just making babies, and I’m really grateful to Patrick (and Dan Levy) for making me feel less of a freak for not wanting them. For acknowledging that babies aren’t a condition of long-lasting love either.

It also goes back to Queer chosen families too- I can be a Mama figure to people in my chosen family, just like I’m already a ‘big sister’ despite having no blood siblings. And that our relationships- friendships and romantic ones are just as important.

Women not defined by their relationships

Something we don’t realise we lack sometimes- because romantic relationships are always the ‘endgame’. Which is why Stevie and Alexis seem so refreshing because both in their own ways, and for their own reasons, don’t end up with romance as their end ‘win. Stevie finds her purpose, and contentment in career, Alexis goes to chase after her dreams, neither of which are dependent on men.

Even Moira- especially Moira- her ‘win’ isn’t dependant on Johnny ‘giving’ her happiness again. She wins in her own right, and her husband follows her to a new chapter in life. That’s the kind of women role model I want on TV.

I love a good romcom, but ‘I got off the plane’ and ‘I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy.’ Just isn’t enough for our female characters in 2020. More Moira Rose, that’s what we could all do with being. Even if it takes us, like her, a while to get there.

Not knowing what you want to do with your life (and messing it up sometimes)

In that respect, David (and Alexis and Stevie, even Patrick) all chased the wrong dreams at some point. They’ve all messed things up career-wise (ok Patrick seems slightly more sensible but you must have messed up somewhere to end up working for Ray right?!)  And none of them really gets it together until they’re 30-something. I find myself often at the mercy of judgement of other people and myself for not having my life fully together. For chasing things that turn out to be the wrong thing. For changing my mind. Maybe I just haven’t found my ‘Rose Apothecary’ yet.

Wetting the bed

A detour into an odd one, a slightly disgustingly personal one  maybe but bear with me when I say ‘The Incident’ for me was one of the most powerful David and Patrick moments for me. Firstly, the way it deals in the love in the every day, rather than the big moments. But on a personal level, the idea of someone offering love, gross bodily functions and all, was powerful. I have a condition called Ulcerative Colitis, which is similar to Crohn’s disease. If you really want more on me talking all things erm poop, here is a blog). On a really personal level embarrassing things thanks to my body are a reality-and I don’t know it just felt like, underneath the laughs, a really sweet way to acknowledge that actually really love accepts all those kinds of things. And that the right partner in life does the same.

As with a lot of this show, what looks like a funny silly moment to some people, in a show that deals in kindness and acceptance, end up feeling like a revelation to people who see themselves in it.

‘Nobody is thinking about you the way you’re thinking about you.’

I see a lot of me in David Rose, sometimes a ball of anxiety, sometimes someone a bit too selfish, sometimes a big mouth with no filter. Quite often feeling like I’ve failed in life a fair bit, feeling like you’re just a bit much, a bit too damaged for people to stick around for. I can’t actually remember seeing a character on TV that I felt so like- plenty I’ve wanted to be like, but none who felt so familiar.

David gave me a way to explain something to myself I’d never understood too, when Alexis says, ‘David nobody is thinking about you like you’re thinking about you’ It was like a slap in the face and a bucket of cold water, and a revelation. It’s not a revelation that I’m able to take to heart and remember often enough. But the fact that someone else (David) felt like I did- that everyone was talking about, thinking about them- was also a revelation, as was who David was allowed to be in other ways.

‘The Wine Not the Label’

I knew of the ‘wine not the label’ speech long before I started watching the show. And I thought it was a cute, lovely way to talk about pansexuality, and I was glad it was ‘out there’ whatever this show was. But when I got to watching it, I realised just how much I needed David Rose. I’m the same age as David/Dan and I had never heard a character articulate my sexuality as I understood it, so clearly but also, I’d never really seen a pan/bi character just…exist on TV and just exist without it being their only personality trait and narrative, or crucially that doesn’t get erased. David’s pansexuality isn’t questioned, it doesn’t disappear when he’s in a relationship- which often happens in real life as well as on TV- he just is. And it was beautiful to see.

Coming out in your 30s (and changing your mind)

But despite the above, in a really complicated way (as such things are) a little while after rejoicing in David’s ‘the wine not the label’ moment, something shifted in hearing Patrick talk about not knowing what ‘right felt like’. I wrote more about it in another blog, but the revelation, that maybe I hadn’t realised some things about myself was a startling, but important one.  This is why we need more Queer stories, maybe I’d been resting on the narratives I had clutched at as a teenager, and it took someone else to explain something in a different way, to reflect it back on myself.

Regardless of those additional ‘complications’ though, Patrick came to mean so much because, for someone who didn’t come out first until their 20s, but really not until their 30s seeing a ‘Coming Out story’ for grown-ups, not high school kids, also changed everything. To see someone who had waited, who hadn’t perhaps had all the answers, or the language, or even maybe the circumstances. To be told it’s ok, that not everyone gets everything figured out in High School, and not everything is straightforward as announcing it at Prom or to your parents at Friday night dinner and that sometimes we mess it up a bit too. It felt strangely, like having a friend in that character who understood.

Truth be told that episode affected me so much it stayed with me for days and it’s not an episode I’ve been able to re-watch despite its beauty. For me a greatly unsettled feeling that I actually will never get that experience- to come out to one parent, because my Dad died before I could. I’ll never get to come out to one parent. And even if I had, it wouldn’t have gone like that, quite the opposite. And bizarrely that was something I never realised until watching that episode. So, it hurts, but an important kind of hurt.

Queer chosen family

While I might not have got Patrick’s coming out experience in real life, or David’s even, through the show I get to imagine a world where Johnny Rose or Clint Brewer are the kind of Dad life gave me. It might not be true, it might make me sad in a way, but also it also gives me hope. It reminds me those Dads do exist- that Eugene Levy exists in real life and talks so eloquently about supporting his gay son, that he helped his son create this story too gives hope to all of us who don’t have a Johnny or Eugene in our lives.

It gives us hope that we’ll be able to help build that world for other people. I wish I’d had this show as a teenager. But I’m glad I had it in my 30s too, because we need stories that reflect us at all points in our lives.

The family element also extends beyond that moment of escapist ‘what if’ to what it creates in the real world. My Mum shares my love of this show, but she’s also learned so much from it. Despite having read entire PhDs, articles and books I’ve written on Queer culture, she says my writing on this, the conversations we’ve had about the show are the ones she’s learned most from. I think she understands me better from lovingly mocking my similarities with David, and by understanding what Patrick goes through. My Mum is in her 70s, and this show educated her, changed her viewpoints on things, strengthened our relationship… I can’t think of anything more hopeful than that.

Telling your stories

And as a Queer person and a writer, I needed these stories to give me the hope and the confidence to tell my stories.

Because that’s not my authentic set of stories, and why should I shrink that down to make other people feel comfortable? Not to ask permission any more to take up space or mediate my writing or myself in the hope that it makes me and my work more palatable. To, forgive the cliché, write my truth because actually little else is worthwhile.

I might be nobody right now. But maybe someday those stories will get told, and someday change someone who watches or reads them. That’s all we can hope for, right?

Happy Endings…

As a scholar of Queer Culture, as someone who spent their life with their head in how we tell Queer stories, of course the actual happy ending felt huge. I wrote more about it in line with my academic work here. And on a personal level, of course having something happy as a Queer person to dive into, instead of constant grief and trauma driven stories, feels like a revelation. I love a romcom, I love comedy….I waited until my 30s to feel like I had one for me.

The ‘Happy Ending’ of the show is one that I think we all need sometimes. The moments we feel a bit lost like both David and Patrick did at some point- I’m still in my pre-Patrick David Rose phase. But that’s ok. Because what the show did was give me hope. In the moment I watched the finale I needed to let go of some things- in the midst of a pandemic, having everything taken away from me, I felt most keenly of all David’s decision to finally let his life in New York go, and stop fighting for something that wasn’t right. Sometimes you need fictional characters to teach you a lesson you already know.

This story changed me; I think it saved me a little bit too. The end of this essay (and sorry it has been one) isn’t the place for the why and wherefore of that. But I know without a doubt, this show got me through. Not just in the watching of it, the stories it told, but in having something to look forward to, to focus on, while everything fell apart. It might seem impossibly trivial, it mattered. From thinking ‘hey that interview is coming out’ to getting excited about award shows or hanging onto Noah Reid’s albums like they were a life raft it gave me that in times I needed something. I know people mock it, say it’s only TV. To which I say, part of me hopes you never needed those stories that badly, to feel seen that badly. But part of me hopes you do experience that one day, because finding something that speaks to you, whatever it is, always changes things.

The reason I cried so much for the ending of this show, was at that moment I needed it most once again, this little show told me it was ok to be who I am. To be burned and bruised by life, to be the one who doesn’t quite fit in, or who hasn’t found their path or their person yet. And that sometimes, it does work out, even for us.

It got me through the darkest of times, it excited me again as a writer and academic, and it made me feel less alone. Really, the town where everyone fits in.

Published by Emily Garside

Academic, journalist and playwright. My PhD was on theatrical responses to the AIDS epidemic, and I continue to write on Queer theatrical history. Professional nerd of all things theatre.

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