Why Schitt’s Creek is the perfect TV show

I have a confession. I came very late to the Schitt’s Creek party, but in doing so, it has proven to be the perfect isolation viewing―and I consumed all six seasons in a matter of months. It was like molten chocolate for my brain.

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But that’s not what this blog post is about.

Schitt’s Creek is the perfect TV show for a romantic comedy author, and here’s why…

[SPOILER ALERT: I will be as judicious with spoilers as possible, but if you hate them entirely, stop reading now.]

Character arcs

Having devoured the entire series over a short period of time―seriously, how did early adopters wait out those long periods of no new episodes for the past 6 years?―the character arcs were heightened for me.

When we meet the Roses, they have just lost their billion-dollar empire to a Ponzi scheme and when they realise they ‘bought’ a town in the middle of nowhere on a lark―just because the name was funny―Schitt’s Creek―they move there. They take up residence in two adjacent motel rooms, parents in one and adult children in the other, as though they are not in their late-20s and early-30s.

The Roses are spoilt, entitled, vacuous, and completely unlikeable―fish out of water in the most perfect, beautiful way.

What ensues over the course of 6 seasons is an unveiling of humility, humanity, and tight familial bonds. And, as a viewer, you come to love them all.

I posted recently about ‘Writing the Unlikeable Character‘ and there are two factors that are key in winning over the reader or viewer.

First, the character―initially repellent―must transform. They must self-reflect, learn lessons, and decide they want to be a better person.

Second, we must see the character’s vulnerabilities, their motivations and objectives, the backstory that explains why they are the way they are. It’s the chinks in the armour that that endear these characters to us as readers or viewers.

Schitt’s Creek accomplishes this perfectly.

I cried so many times watching this show, but here are some fave moments of vulnerability.

  • Moira and the Jazzagals singing unexpectedly at Alexis graduation
  • Johnny seeing how hurt Stevie is by the travelling Lothario and treating her just like he’d treat his own daughter
  • Patrick singing ‘You’re Simply the Best’ to David and tears streaming down David’s face
  • Alexis and Ted’s ‘I love you’ dinner at the cafe in Season 6

The final episode of the series had me weeping. I loved these characters entirely and I championed their happiness.

Character arcs―booyah! This show is like a masterclass.

Comedy

I love a good ensemble, character-driven comedy (Brooklyn 99 is a fave) but (for me) what sets this show apart from others is that all four lead actors―and many of the supporting actors―are, quite simply, comic geniuses.

Their skills as actors lead to authentic comedy. There aren’t snazzy rim-shot one-liners, there’s no need for a laugh track. It is just hilarious. I laughed aloud―like a proper, throw my head back laugh―every episode.

The comedy in Schitt’s Creek comes from the whole (character) self―the vocal tones and intonations, the facial expressions, the gestures and postures, the pauses―as much as it comes from the lines.

Though the lines are brilliant.

David to Moira after she is insensitive to Alexis’ break-up: “I have never heard someone say so many wrong things one after the other, [pause] consecutively, [pause] in a row.” You can get that quote on a T-shirt. But what makes the line is the pause Daniel Levy (as David) incredulously takes before he says it, the pauses in the line to drive home David’s meaning, and the horror on his face. Genius.

Catherine O’Hara’s Moira is incredibly funnyher appearance, her dialogue, her gait, the intonation of her bizarre affected accent. There’s a whole compilation on YouTube of every time she says ‘baby‘. I laugh when she appears on screen, girding my comic loins for whatever is to come.

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And Alexis’ posture, gestures and facial expressions, Johnny’s raised eyebrows and confused smileall of these comic nuggets is a masterclass in developing a fully-fleshed-out comedic character.

As a writer of romcoms, I aim to pepper my stories with authentic comedy―the humour coming from the ridiculous real-life situations that make us laugh at ourselves, either in the moment or in retrospect. And I can enhance comedic moments by hitting on all the details that make them up, not just the dialogue―just like in Schitt’s Creek.

Romance

Romantic love is one of the dominant themes in Schitt’s Creek.

At the heart of the show is the great love affair of Johnny and Moira―forty years and counting―and every time Moira mentions how they met, or remembers a romantic interlude, her eyes sparkle.

And, surely, only someone who is completely in love with Moira would be as patient and loving towards her as Johnny is. Moira tells Alexis, when she’s facing a love conundrum, that she and Johnny work so well despite their differences, because they want the best for each other and they love and respect each other. Swoon.

[Major spoiler]Patrick is the perfect love interest for David. Their love story is so romantic, so genuine, that when David doubted he was worthy of Patrick’s love, I wanted to reach into the TV and shake him. These are two people who truly see each other, and they are both better people for the love they share. Swoon.

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[Major spoiler]Watching Alexis fall in love was like watching a toddler take their first steps. Her relationship with Ted begins superficially―he’s the hottest guy in town, so ‘obvs’ she is going to pair up with him. It’s only when she loses him that she realises how kind, thoughtful, generous and incredible he is. When she gets a second chance, she does everything she can not to screw it up―including agreeing to live overseas in a tent―and ultimately realises that she loves him enough to let him go. Selfless, real, and heartbreaking love. Swoon and sob.

Even Roland and Jocelyn are madly in love, which provides it’s own comedy, because, really, Jocelyn? Roland???

At some point (probably soon, as we have just gone into our second lockdown here in Melbourne) I will start at the beginning and watch it all again―this time with fresh eyes as a masterclass in the romantic comedy genre.

 

 

 

Writing the “unlikeable” character

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Initially unlikable, but utterly loveable―Elle from Legally Blonde

I’m currently writing my fifth book and my sixth main character―the maths doesn’t add up, because one book has three main characters and two books have the same main character. Anyway …

I am hyper aware that my current main character is, based on her role as a supporting character in another book, “unlikeable”―so much so, that when I mentioned to a friend who I was writing about, she cringed.

So, why write this character? Why give her a whole book?

In short, it’s because I love her.

I love the hard, prickly exterior she uses to mask a lifetime of being terrified of vulnerability. I love that, once she does care about someone, she is fiercely loyal and generous. I love that she is feisty and bold, independent and resourceful.

I love that, just like the rest of us, she is complex and a mass of contradictions, and that there are clear reasons why she is like she is.

I am about 80% into the book, and I’m enjoying watching her grow. There are moments she has, where she realises something about herself, or where her heart fills, and I am proud of her―this imaginary person.

And I’m realising as I write, that the through-line of this book is compassion―for oneself, for others. She may not be likeable to every reader right away, but as the layers strip away, she is/becomes a beautiful human being. How many times have we met someone who irked us, and through compassion, we’ve realised that there is more going on than their exterior, that we could love them or let them into our lives?

I’ve said before that I know my books won’t be for every reader. My first three books are about the Parsons sisters, Sarah and Cat. For some readers, these characters read as “immature”―”how can these women be in their thirties?”―and for those readers, Sarah and Cat are unlikeable because of their immaturity. But I stand by them as believable, because in many ways, Sarah is a lot like a thirty-something Sandy―sometimes whiny, often witty, confused about love, and trying to find her way.

But what’s important to me as a writer, is that these realistic, perhaps unlikeable women, transform. I want my books to be about growing, learning, opening the heart, and transformation.

And in real life, imagine how dull it would be if every person we met was instantly likeable, if no one rubbed us up the wrong way, or disagreed with us, or challenged us to see ourselves in a new light. How would we grow? How would we develop compassion and understanding? I posit that we wouldn’t.

So, even if you initially find a character unlikeable, give them a chance to reveal themselves, to become their true, loveable selves―just like Elle.

 

 

What’s in a (character) name?

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As an author, choosing names can be one of the most fun aspects of writing or one of the trickiest.

An author can spend hours on baby name generators, or genealogy and history sites to come up with the perfect names―not only for their main characters, but every supporting character, the names of towns, and even fabricated company names. As an author, I’ve even ‘borrowed’ names from my friends, family and former students.

But why is naming so hard? For me, there are a few reasons.

Names are subjective and (often) have personal connotations for the reader

As a former schoolteacher, there are some names that I won’t touch with a barge pole, simply because they elicit memories of difficult students. Those names may be completely innocuous to most readers, but as I’ll spend the most time with my characters, they make the ‘no go’ list.

The same goes for names with varying ‘heat levels’. If I’m naming a sexy love interest, are some names off limits? Is Milo a hot guy’s name or a hot drink from Australia? Where will my readers land on Rupert (no for me) or Henry (yes for me―but only because of Cavill)?

And while I am a huge Keanu fan―and of course there are quite a few Keanu’s out there in the world, especially ones born after The Matrix came out in ‘99―it’s just too evocative of the Keanu that it’s on the ‘no go’ list too.

Names are ‘fashionable’ and ‘unfashionable’

As we know, names go in and out of fashion, with some names circling back onto the ‘fashionable’ list every other decade or so.

After the film, Splash, came out in the mid-80s, the most popular girls’ name for years was ‘Madison’―simply because a mermaid named herself after Madison Avenue in New York. Until then it was just a last name, but it might be perfect for a character born in the 80s.

And writers of historical fiction are limited even further. There probably weren’t (m)any Kylies or Kylos in the 1800s. As an aside, I have so much respect for historical fiction authors―all that research!

Names have to ‘fit’ the character

I’ve heard this from other authors, so I know I’m not the only one to do it, but sometimes I will choose a name for a character and as I am writing, I realise it doesn’t ‘fit’―that they are not an ‘Eleanor’, but more of a ‘Susan’. Of course, this ties back to my first point about names having connotations, but the name must suit the personality of the character, as it is one of the tools an author uses to evoke their characteristics.

In my 4th book, one of the characters is an actor and I’ve given him a stage name―his mother’s maiden name as his first name. And I got her maiden name from researching last names from Oxfordshire. I tried combinations of last names until I got one that just evoked ‘international film star’.

And many authors I know will name the villain or the antagonist after someone they’ve encountered in real life. It makes me wonder if there really was a ‘Hannibal’ in Thomas Harris’s life, when he penned The Silence of the Lambs.

When naming comes easily

Sometimes naming isn’t hard, like when a character arrives in my head (almost) fully formed, including their name. And some names are an homage to someone special.

In my 4th book, there are three main characters―best friends―and all their names begin with ‘L’, Lauren, Lisa, and Lucy. I have special friends with those names and writing their names into a book is a lovely way of honouring them. Even naming minor characters after people I know can a fun way to include them in my work.

So, next time a character’s name lands with you perfectly, or rubs you the wrong way, just know that the author may have agonised over that choice. And ask yourself if it hit or missed the mark because one of the reasons I’ve mentioned here.

Originally posted on Portable Magic as a stop on my blog tour for That Night in Paris.