Tuesday, November 24, 2020

From Buckingham Palace to Schitt’s Creek

Call me quirky . . . I’ve been watching season four of The Crown, the starry Netflix series that delves into the public and private lives of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and her family. Once I’m done with each episode, I’ve been flipping to the amiable Canadian Schitt’s Creek, which swept up all the sitcom prizes at the recent Emmy celebration. The two series have not much in common, you say? True enough: one is a serious take on recent royal history, and the other is a comedic look at some fish-out-of-water Hollywood types who—having lost all their money—are forced to settle in a humble little burg full of outlandish characters. Different, right? And yet. . .

What The Crown teaches us about British royals is that they value the institution of monarchy above all. Love and family feelings are constantly being sacrificed to what’s seen as the good of the nation. This is particularly true in season four in which the Prince of Wales, deeply in love with the married Camilla Parker Bowles, is inexorably led into a marriage with the very young, very naive Diana Spencer. Still, the Windsors are none of them heartless, and they do feel concern about the personal happiness of family members. Moreover, no matter how much they disagree on matters great and small, they still feel a strong bond of kinship. This really shines forth in the “Fairytale” episode, in which both Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and (separately) Diana try to negotiate the tight family circle that gathers at Scotland’s Balmoral Castle to stalk elk and play silly parlor games. Whatever these royal folks think of one another, they’re kin, and always will be. And outsiders are not exactly welcome.

 The newly impoverished members of the Rose family, trying to carve out their own niche in Schitt’s Creek, are hardly royals, whatever they may think of themselves. But like the  British royal family, these former-zillionaires-in-exile are  usually oblivious to the wants and needs of the downhome folks around them. An air of condescension comes to them naturally, particularly in the case of family matriarch Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara), a faded soap opera star still convinced of her own grandeur. For me Moira bears comparison to the hyper-snooty Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter), in that she dislikes pretty much everything in her new home. By contrast, Moira’s husband Johnny (Eugene Levy, he of the highly expressive eyebrows) reminds me of the Queen herself. Like Elizabeth, he’s the glue that holds the family together, trying desperately to turn chaos into order and reassure the others of his love.  

 One of my favorite recent Crown episodes is “Fagan,” covering the real-life episode in which a troubled man broke into the Queen’s Buckingham Palace bedchamber for a heart-to-heart chat about the state of the nation. We don’t know what was actually said, but writer Peter Morgan  has given Olivia Colman, as Elizabeth, a marvelous degree of composure as she contends, from her bed, with the late-night intrusion of  unemployed house painter Michael Fagan, who uses her bathroom and asks for a cigarette. (“Filthy habit,” she mutters.) The episode is played off against Thatcher sending British troops off to war in the Falkland Islands. But I can imagine a similarly weird intrusion occurring on Schitt’s Creek, with some local Canadian derelict breaking into the shabby motel room that’s become home to the Rose family. Moira, I’m certain, would succumb to hysteria. Offspring David and Alexis would fight over who gets to sleep with the newcomer. And poor Johnny would just try to keep the peace. 



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