It’s official: Everyone is watching Schitt’s Creek except for you. OK, maybe not everyone, but you wouldn’t know that judging by the number of adoring think pieces about the show that have cropped up over the past few months. The Canadian sitcom isn’t exactly new—in fact, it recently wrapped up its fifth season—but like another good-hearted CBC comedy, it’s a sleeper hit that has benefited from its availability on Netflix in the U.S. (New episodes also air on Pop, the network formerly known as TV Guide Channel.) If you’re not already a devoted fan, you’ve probably at least come across clips of Catherine O’Hara laughing without moving her mouth or swoony gifs of Daniel Levy with a handsome beau and wondered what you’re missing.
Created by real-life father-son team Eugene and Dan Levy, Schitt’s Creek has an Arrested Development–like premise: A wealthy family loses everything and takes refuge in their only remaining asset, in this case a run-down podunk town that they bought as a joke. Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) is a video rental store magnate married to Moira (O’Hara), a former soap opera star possessed of a flair for the dramatic, an absurd Mid-Atlantic accent, and a menagerie of wigs. After being cheated by their business manager, they go from living in a mansion to a tiny motel room with their two adult children, misanthropic David (Dan Levy) and flighty Alexis (Annie Murphy), in tow. Most of the first season is comprised of exactly the kind of fish-out-of-water antics you’d expect from the premise as the Roses are distressed not only by their new lot in life but their run-ins with the town’s residents, including the mayor, Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott), and their close quarters.
If you start watching Schitt’s Creek from the very beginning, you might find yourself wondering if you’re even watching the right show, the same one critics have since praised as “sincere and uplifting” and “rooted in genuine emotion.” Much like its protagonists, Schitt’s Creek was once meaner, cruder, and cringe-ier than it is now. In Season 1, for instance, Roland punishes the Roses by removing the doors to their rooms, Moira and Johnny are caught in an awkward tryst by some townies, and David goes turkey hunting to prove himself to the motel’s sole employee, Stevie (Emily Hampshire). We’re meant to laugh at the out-of-touch, self-absorbed Roses for trying to navigate perfectly ordinary circumstances, or at the rinky-dink small-town attitudes of the locals, or both.
That’s not a criticism of the first season, by the way. Many of these gags are genuinely funny, like the episode in which Johnny is guilted into delivering a eulogy for a resident he can’t even remember, and Levy teaches a masterclass in eye-bulging mortification. More importantly, those episodes create a baseline for what’s to come. Schitt’s Creek never fully loses its bite in the later seasons, but its characters have been allowed to grow into kinder, more loving people, and those early episodes are crucial to establishing that they were not always so kind or loving. This also means that if you want an accurate taste of the Schitt’s Creek everyone seems to adore, you’ll have to dive in much later, and there’s perhaps no episode that better exemplifies its extraordinary heart than the Season 2 finale, “Happy Anniversary.”
By the end of the second season, the Roses have more or less settled into their new lives, if reluctantly. Moira has just won a seat on the town council, David has experienced a windfall while working retail, and Alexis has ended not one but two relationships in town, an engagement to earnest veterinarian Ted (Dustin Milligan), for whom she now works as a receptionist, and a fling with taciturn townie Mutt (Tim Rozon). It’s Johnny who’s most adrift in Schitt’s Creek, trying to maintain his position as family patriarch while failing to come up with any new businesses after the demise of his old one.
In “Happy Anniversary,” Johnny and Moira celebrate their marriage despite their less-than-extravagant circumstances, narrowly dodging a dinner invitation from Roland and his wife Jocelyn (Jennifer Robertson) by insisting that they’d rather dine alone as a couple. But at a restaurant in the nearby, marginally more glamorous Elmdale, the Roses run into two friends from their former life whom they haven’t seen since they went broke. And while they’re all reminiscing and keeping up appearances, Roland and Jocelyn also show up. So much of Schitt’s Creek is about the balance between who the Roses were and who they are, and here we see both of their lives, new and old, jostling elbows at the same table.
Meanwhile in Schitt’s Creek, the rest of the characters are—conveniently!—at a party, where Alexis is dealing with the fallout from both her romantic entanglements with her usual combination of fluttering frivolity and genuine sweetness. (So powerful is her sometimes-thoughtless charm that there are multiple compilations of her just saying the word “David.”) Stevie and David—once an item themselves—are competing for the attentions of a handsome local whose sexual preference has not yet been determined. Schitt’s Creek is remarkably and deliberately free of storylines about homophobia, making room instead to explore love in all its forms fully and without fear.
That’s how “Happy Anniversary” ends, with all of Schitt’s Creek’s couples, siblings, parents, children, crushes, and friends in one location, dancing exuberantly to James Morrison’s “Precious Love”—with only a little bit of eye-rolling from David. This is a show about love, and I hope you love it. In fact, I’m a little bit jealous that you get to experience it for the first time.