Back in December, before the COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing started, a not-so-subtle billboard popped up in Hollywood that turned a few heads. Advertising the upcoming sixth and final season of the groundbreaking and hilarious comedy Schitt’s Creek, the billboard — multiple stories tall and prominently seen on the Sunset Strip — featured show creator, writer and star Dan Levy kissing his TV fiance, played by Noah Reid on the mouth.
It instantly became a source of inspiration and, well, pride for many in the LGBTQ community. We flocked there to take selfies in front of it, be it sharing a kiss with our partners in tandem to Dan and Noah’s kiss, or individuals just wanting to snap a photo of the monumental ad for their social media. In some cases, LGBTQ folks from out of town were stopping by the billboard on their way to or from LAX, remarking how they wished they could see something like this in their own home towns in the Midwest or South (another version of the billboard did appear in Toronto).
“The billboard was something that I knew I wanted from the minute we started talking about the season six campaign. I knew that a lot of our sixth season was going to be dedicated to this impending marriage, so it felt to me like celebrating that couple in a big way could be really special,” Levy says in a phone interview while on self-quarantine in his Los Feliz home last week. “I knew that I wanted to get a shot of us kissing, and I knew that I wanted that to be put up…I was thinking like best case scenario, we’d get a bus shelter. I did not expect a five-story billboard on Sunset Boulevard.”
While the billboard may be a huge five stories of LGBTQ visibility, it’s only the latest in a long-line of groundbreaking moments Levy and the show have provided for our community. In case you’ve been missing out on one of the funniest shows on TV, the premise centers on the wealthy Rose family — video mogul Johnny (Eugene Levy), former soap opera actress Moira (Catherine O’Hara) and their adult children David and Alexis (Dan Levy and Annie Murphy) — after they lose their fortune and are forced to rebuild their lives with their sole remaining asset: a small town named Schitt’s Creek.
Eugene Levy, of course, is one of Hollywood’s most beloved character actors since his days with Second City Television, followed by memorable roles in Christopher Guest films such as Best In Show and the American Pie franchise (as the lovable but awkward dad). Prior to Schitt’s Creek, Canadians may have caught Eugene’s son Dan hosting on MTV Canada. The father and son created Schitt’s Creek together, and the show premiered in 2015 on CBC Television in Canada, then on Pop TV in the United States. Dan Levy has nothing but praise for both of the networks, especially with regard to their support of his provocative ad campaign. However, it was streaming giant Netflix who perhaps shaped the show into the hit it has become.
The seasons usually show up for their second window of life on Netflix months after they’ve finished airing on CBC and Pop. With 167 million subscribers worldwide, the show created massive visibility for the LGBTQ community when Dan’s character, David, came out as pansexual in the first season. Levy says he “hadn’t seen [pansexuality] at all on TV, and there were friends of mine who are pansexual who didn’t necessarily have any characters representing their lives on TV.”
Not only did David provide representation for pansexuality, his character traits are not often seen in a main protagonist: a guarded and slightly selfish but caring and lovable more feminine man who loves fashion and food but isn’t super athletic or into sports. The Levys’ dry, sharp humor also speaks to LGBTQ Jews who don’t see examples on TV. The only other fictional LGBTQ Jew on TV right now might be Batwoman on the eponymous CW show. But the most notable example of realistic LGBTQ representation on Creek is the creator’s relationship with Noah Reid’s Patrick, who first appeared in season three. Over the course of the show, the couple has become engaged and will (hopefully) be getting married when the series finale airs this Tuesday night.
“I think for me the biggest choice when it came to writing the David/Patrick story was that I never wanted it to feel preachy or unnecessarily provocative,” says Levy. “People who have homophobic beliefs — not that I really care a ton about what they think — but I do feel like [people] don’t learn when they’re taught lessons…So for us, it was about just telling the story and creating a space that was safe enough for people who had all different beliefs to come together and watch people grow and thrive.”
Along the way, there were many groundbreaking LGBTQ storylines that had never really played out before on a TV comedy. In one of the most memorable episodes of the series, David is embarrassed by Patrick’s plan to sing live at their store’s open mic night, but when Patrick delivers a sweet, acoustic version of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best,” David, Moira and those of us watching couldn’t help get mushy and emotional. That kind of emotional connection is rare enough on television, but is especially rare in the case of showing LGBTQ love.
In another important episode, Patrick is about to come out to his parents, but it’s not the stereotypical coming out story we’re used to seeing. Instead, the show explores Patrick’s own self-imposed pressure about coming out to his parents, who were nothing but accepting and relieved that he was finally honest with them. “The whole coming out episode could have easily swayed into that kind of [homophobic] territory,” Levy shares. “But to me I felt like showing parents accepting their children had the potential to leave a far more lasting impact on families whose parents don’t. Because those parents then had to ask themselves, why am I making this so hard on my child?”
Another early storyline involved a modern love triangle when David and his best friend Stevie (Emily Hampshire) hook up with each other before they end up dating the same man. “The character Stevie is such an independent, funny woman who is just like bursting with potential,” Levy says. “I think David and Stevie’s relationship is so special and truthful. For me, it’s such a celebration of the closeness I have with the women in my life and how supportive they’ve been over the years, through some pretty intense times. I think the relationship between, in my case a gay man and my girlfriends, it’s like a bond that’s sort of impenetrable.”
No doubt one of the women in Dan’s life growing up was none other than the legendary Catherine O’Hara. O’Hara and Dan’s father Eugene first crossed paths on SCTV in the ’70s, and they’ve been practically inseparable ever since — at least professionally so. They’ve appeared in at least six films together including A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration before playing husband and wife on Schitt’s Creek. O’Hara of course also appeared in many iconic movies on her own that are definitely worth noting as well, including the Home Alone franchise, Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas as the voice of Sally.
On Schitt’s Creek, O’Hara cements her status as not only an icon, but specifically a gay icon. Moira has a wall of wigs, fabulous and often flamboyant outfits, an almost offensive self-confidence, a flare for the dramatics and of course a stellar vocabulary. Side note: Levy says Moira’s ridiculous vocab mostly comes from O’Hara herself, or from a book she gifted him and the other writers called Foyle’s Philavery: A Treasury of Unusual Words.
Moira’s practically a drag queen, so it’s no wonder the gays love her so much. “I mean, Moira is Catherine, that is all her. I help get her dressed, I help tell her stories but that character is all from the brain of Catherine O’Hara and we sort of sat back and took it all in,” marvels Levy. “People throw around this legendary status all too easily but I truly feel like Catherine O’Hara is the definition of a legend.”
In terms of the show’s success, we can’t overlook the man responsible not only for giving Dan life but also, for what seems like an open and accepting upbringing — his father, Eugene (his sister Sarah also appears on the show as Twyla). “My dad has always been supportive,” Levy explains. “I’ve been very lucky in the sense that my sexuality has never played a part in the way my parents loved me…I think coming from a family that was supportive and accepting really informed the writing and informs the storytelling. I wanted to tell the story of a family and a town that accepts everybody. That’s really been the philosophy from the start.”
The Levys’ open-mindedness and acceptance has definitely translated on screen to the Rose family. And while five-story billboards showing gay love are great, ultimately Schitt’s Creek is so universally appealing because it’s just a great show. LGBTQ folks love it, but so do cisgender straights. The characters are genuine, the stories are relatable and the jokes are smart and witty.
“It’s been pretty extraordinary to read the letters over the years from parents of queer kids who had not necessarily been supportive,” Levy says. “In watching the show, they were sort of given a more intimate look inside the lives of people in our community and they fell in love with the characters. And this shouldn’t be the case, but it helped inform them when it came to the lives of their own children [when] it should really be vice versa.”
The series finale of Schitt’s Creek airs on Pop TV, Comedy Central and Logo on Tuesday, April 7th at 8 p.m., followed by Best Wishes, Warmest Regards: A Schitt’s Creek Farewell, an hour-long documentary special. Check local listings or https://poptv.com for more information.
Schitt’s Creek’s cast have been performing on Instagram Live to help raise money for their “Schitt’s Creek Gives Back” Go Fund Me, which has so far raised almost $130,000 helping those affected by COVID-19 through Food Banks Canada and Feeding America.