And all without a paddle.
Fresh to the CBC in early 2015 is Schitt’s Creek, a 13-episode half-hour comedy series that stars Emmy winner Eugene Levy (the dad in American Pie), fellow SCTV alum Catherine O’Hara (the mom in Home Alone), Chris Elliott (How I Met Your Mother) and Dan Levy (MTV’s The After Show).
After losing their fortune, the Rose family is forced to give up their mansion and relocate to their last remaining asset – a small, depressing town Johnny (Eugene Levy) once bought as a joke, Schitt’s Creek. Johnny, his former soap star wife Moira (O’Hara), his hipster son David (Dan Levy), and socialite daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy) are forced to confront their new poverty-ridden life in the town they once made fun of.
Stuck living in a rundown motel, the family must now discover what it means to be poor and to be a family. And that’s not an easy combo for them.
We sat down with the cast at the CBC to find out more about it. And here’s why we think you should check it out:
The Name’s Fun to Say
Admit it; it’ll be fun to drop in a casual water cooler convo. “The premise was kind of a dinner table joke with friends – and my wife may have had a hand in it – but it was the idea of a town called Schitt’s Creek and all its happenings. We’d just go off in different runs; Schitt Hardware, Schitt Foods, you know,” said Eugene. “When we came up with the concept of a family who loses their money, Daniel read an article about how Kim Basinger bought a town. That’s how the hook developed.”
As for the title, “It’s all him,” says Dan.
It Avoids Clichés
As opposed to traditional sitcoms, the LOL factor comes not from scripted jokes, but from characters rooted in real situations that are comical. The actors avoid falling too far into the predictable “wealthy character” stereotypes. “The part of Moira was written straighter, more as your typical high society, charity gala-going wealthy woman for the pilot,” says Eugene. “Catherine came up with this fantastic brainwave for the character that had more to do with Moira’s struggles as a former actress and everything ungrounded about her. It was a beautiful breakthrough in the character, which just made her blossom in a way never written in the pilot.”
“I just love playing people who have no idea the impression they’re making; I don’t think you can lose playing that way,” said O’Hara. “If you look at the history of comedy, the combo of stupid and cocky is there so often. It’s someone who has no idea how wrong they can be in the moment. Deep down, there’s such low self-esteem. That’s the root of any addiction: low self-esteem and a giant ego. It’s a horrible combination, but I like to play it.”
Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara were practically our own parents for a while there thanks to roles in beloved films of times past. And we all shamelessly watched Dan for years on MTV. “Catherine was our first choice from the beginning,” said Eugene. “And Chris was as well. I’ve been a fan since I first saw him on Letterman. He has such an off-centre vibe to his comedy.”
As for Dan, he proves he’s inherited his dad’s acting chops.
“I had seen him on MTV and knew how great he was doing live, unscripted television, but in a scripted capacity, I honestly didn’t know how Daniel was going to do,” admits Eugene. “But he was confident and, from the time we did the pilot, had a great handle on the character. I learned how talented he is. When he was doing plays in school or whatever and I would ask him if he wanted any help or to run lines, he’d always say ‘No, I’m good; I’ve got it’.”
Eugene’s daughter, Sarah – currently a Notable Award nominee – also has a role in the show.
The show works because of the undeniable chemistry of the cast. “Chemistry is something that’s hard to do in the first season of any show and I think we put together a great cast,” said Eugene. His cast agrees. “When we shot the first scene with the four of us, I thought I was going to have to gracefully bow out because I was so nervous,” said Murphy. “But after we got that first scene out of the way, the chemistry we’ve found has been incredible.”
“Because of that intangible chemistry we had from the beginning, it didn’t take anything to banter with each other on the show,” adds Dan.
The on-set environment is collaborative, experimental, and loose. “At SCTV, we shared and expressed ideas. We all contributed to what everybody was doing, to make something funnier, or to point something out that wasn’t working,” says Eugene.
“It’s the only way to work that makes sense. No one person has it all.”