Tuesday, January 26, 2021

All in the Family: The Levys of Schitt’s Creek

 As I watch the final season of Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek (the best antidote I know for 10 months in quarantine), I continue to marvel at the show’s cozy sense of family solidarity. True, this is hardly Father Knows Best. The four Roses, who were forced to move from SoCal to a tiny Canadian hamlet because of disastrous financial reverses—are about as eccentric as you can imagine. Mom Moira Rose, a former soap opera queen, is an outrageous diva given to wearing fur and feathers on all occasions. Son David has sexually questionable tastes, as well as a wardrobe to die for. Daughter Alexis seems to have been horizontal with every hunk in Hollywood. Dad Johnny, a one-time video-store magnate, keeps desperately trying to hold the family together, with mixed results. Still, they love each other—and their eccentricities are rivaled by those of the local citizenry, who have perfected the Canadian art of tolerance as they take the Roses to their hearts.

 If the Roses are convincing as a family, it’s partly because they partly are. Star and series co-creator Eugene Levy plays the dad, and son David is portrayed by his actual son, Dan, the co-creator who also recently won Emmys for writing and directing episodes of the series. Daughter Alexis is played by the deliciously vacuous Annie Murphy, who in real life is not actually part of the Levy bloodline. But the proprietor of the local eatery is Sarah Levy, who as Twyla is charged with whirring up fruit smoothies for her dad and brother. And the role of the family mom (who often seems more juvenile than her offspring) is filled by the unforgettable Catherine O’Hara. She and Eugene Levy are NOT actually married, but the sense they convey of the push-and-pull of married life may come from the fact that they’ve often played spouses, notably in Christopher Guest’s doggone outrageous satire, Best in Show (2000), in which she is the wife who’s been around the block a time or three and he is the husband with (literally) two left feet. They also make a big impression in Guest’s 2003 follow-up, A Mighty Wind. In this spoof of the Sixties folk music scene, set at a years-later reunion of some of the era’s biggest acts, they score as Mitch and Mickey. Formerly, according to the film, they were musical sweethearts, known for their tender “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” (he on guitar, she strumming an autoharp while gazing into his eyes). Now, though, he’s a spaced-out former hippie for whom she’s still quietly pining.

 The comfort shown by Levy and O’Hara in playing these wacky roles goes back at least to their earliest Christopher Guest project, 1996’s Waiting for Guffman. Guest, who as an actor was part of This is Spinal Tap, tried his own hand at creating a mockumentary in Guffman, while also starring as a flighty (to put it kindly) theatre director determined to wring talent out of a quartet of Missouri locals putting on the sesquicentennial celebration of their town’s founding. He shared scripting duties with Eugene Levy, who also shows up onscreen as the local dentist (and would-be comedian). In this early Guest film, O’Hara is mated to another of Guest’s regulars, the late Fred Willard. They play travel agents who’d rather sing and dance. (Willard is the jolly one with a quip for every occasion, while O’Hara’s character quietly uses alcohol to drown him out.) 

 Eugene Levy helped script all these films, and it’s clear his writing (as well as his acting) talents run in the family. 


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