Does Schitt$ Creek spell the end of the reality television family?


“Would the Kardashians still be the Kardashians without their money?”, Dan Levy said when discussing the inspiration for his Emmy winning comedy which just last year finished its sixth and final season, and with it seemed to close the curtain on an era. Just months later the long-running reality TV impetus for Schitt$ Creek, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, also announced it would also be coming to an end.

The premiere of Schitt$ Creek in 2015 seems like a completely different planet; aside from obvious pre-COVID-19 luxuries, the landscape of television was dominated by luxuries of a different kind. Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Vanderpump Rules, and a bazillion different Real Housewives franchises ruled reality TV and presented extravagantly wealthy families living decidedly unrealistic lives. The recent rise of Instagram had allowed a new generation of reality stars to amass even more fortune and followers. This culture morbidly fascinated with extreme wealth was prime material for satire.

Dan Levy, then known primarily as a presenter for MTV Canada and as the son of comic actor, writer, producer, and director, Eugene Levy, conceived Schitt$ Creek as not only a satire of these reality TV families but also as a story of how such a family would adapt to losing their fortune and influence. Paris Hilton’s 2000s reality series The Simple Life had a similar concept, revolving around Hilton attempting manual, low-income jobs. But the sinister conceit of The Simple Life was that Paris Hilton remained an obscenely wealthy socialite who merely had to act as a poverty tourist because people found it entertaining.

Schitt$ Creek’s six seasons spent following the fictional riches-to-rags Rose family establishes early on that the Roses have no easy route back to their former lifestyles, lending actual stakes and consequences to its premise. So, aside from sharp humour and vibrant characters, what does the show actually have to say about the people behind the designer clothes?

Eugene Levy’s former video store mogul Johnny Rose, the type that wouldn’t be out of place on The Apprentice or Dragon’s Den, starts the series adjusting to his diminished social status, often clashing with town mayor Roland Schitt before finally realising that the titular Canadian town and its inhabitants are indeed his equals. His role in later seasons shows him returning to his entrepreneurial roots in helping Stevie, the owner of his motel room, streamline her business and rapidly expand into a nationwide chain.

Similarly, Dan Levy’s ultra-privileged David Rose finds success through the entrepreneurial route, putting his impossibly high standards to good use in launching an artisanal apothecary. Unlike Johnny, David’s new business required no assistance from his prior contacts and only proved possible because he was stripped of his trust fund and directionless socialite lifestyle. Like her brother, Alexis improves herself in a way she wouldn’t have without having lost all her fortune and social contacts, and like Paris Hilton, she had to experience a normal job, albeit in designer shoes, as well as completing her education and learning to become independent for the first time in her life.

The incomparable Catherine O’Hara’s former soap opera star Moira Rose, clad in an armour of custom couture and a warehouse of wigs, actually manages to end the show starring in a reboot of her star-making soap. Ultimately, Schitt$ Creek presided over a six-year period in which the once inescapable genre it parodied began to dwindle in popularity. Now, when the rich and famous like Gal Gadot assemble a team of celebrities to (poorly) sing ‘Imagine’ while quarantined in their mansions, most people’s response is no longer to hit the like button but to question why they would ever lend them further support. If there’s one thing Schitt$ Creek taught us, it’s that the reality TV family, in its current form at least, needs to change.

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