Culture Film & TV

Schitt’s Creek: An Unexpected Queer Utopia

When I started binge-watching Schitt’s Creek in Oxford last term, it was mostly because I was feeling a little homesick for rural America. I missed the space and slowness of the small towns where I have spent much of my life, and I expected, if nothing else, to feel indulged. It wasn’t long before I realized this show could fill a much larger craving of mine, one that I, as a gay woman, had been wrestling with for almost two years: the presentation of casual (but central) queer narrative in a small-town setting.

For those who aren’t familiar, Schitt’s Creek is a Canadian show about an exorbitantly wealthy New York family, the Roses, who are squandered out of their fortune by a corrupt business manager. The only asset the government allows them to retain is the deed to a very small town, Schitt’s Creek (located somewhere vaguely in North America), which the father, Johnny, bought for his son David as a joke when he turned 16. The long-term plot of the show depicts the Roses’ difficulty adapting to their new life in the town, where they live out of two adjoining motel rooms and each struggle to find a new purpose. It is the juxtaposition of the metropolitan, formerly super-rich Roses and their new rural, less-moneyed acquaintances that at once creates the humour of the show and sets it up to break down social barriers. While most if not all of the show’s characters embody some commonly satirized “type”— like Roland Schitt, the town’s mullet-sporting mayor, or Moira, the highly dramatic former soap-star and Rose family matriarch— they are rarely, if ever, politically problematized. As a result, Schitt’s Creek becomes something of a utopia, where neither class, nor background, nor sexuality is an issue.

The reason this last piece is particularly important is not just because narratives of queer people living happy lives are rare to begin with, but also because this narrative is specifically envisioned in a rural town among a demographic which, especially in the Trump Era, has come to represent extreme social conservatism in the eyes of many liberal Americans. When one picture’s the media’s presentation of queer people in rural America, what primarily comes to mind are expository movies like Brokeback Mountain and Boys Don’t Cry, both of which end in deeply violent and disturbing hate crimes. More recently, Glee featured queer characters struggling to find acceptance in Lima, Ohio. Still, almost all of them only found their happy endings after they move to the city. From these examples, the idea of a queer person living happily and openly in a rural environment seems impossible. Yet in the tiny town of Schitt’s Creek, the queerness of David Rose, played by the show’s creator, Dan Levy, who is himself gay, is never much of a conversation beyond a point in the first season when he explains his pansexuality to his new best friend Stevie, using the now-famous alcohol metaphor, “I like the wine, not the label.”

In the three seasons during which David’s relationship with his business partner, Patrick, develops, not once does the couple face resistance from their community. In fact, the ecstatic emotional height of the series finale, which aired last Tuesday, is their wedding, attended exclusively by the people of Schitt’s Creek. As if that isn’t enough, in the end, David and Patrick are the only members of the again up-and-coming Rose family to remain in the town. Of course, some might say, and justifiably so, that this level of acceptance in a rural community is unrealistic, or at the very least, unlikely. But maybe that’s not the point. It is not an overstatement to say that most stories about queer people have documented their suffering, and for a long time that was important in creating a larger cultural awakening to the issues of the LGBT+ community. But in a time when one cannot deny that things are changing, and have been— dramatically— for the last twenty years, it is just as important that we start to envision the reality towards which we are moving. It is important that queer children growing up in small towns across America see that they have a place at the table and that they may not have to one day leave their homes to find it.

For this reason, I personally feel incredibly grateful to Schitt’s Creek for contributing to the cultural conversation in such a positive way. The older I get, the more I realise that while I will likely find myself in New York or Chicago once I graduate from my small midwestern college, I may always prefer the tight-knit rural communities in which I have had the privilege of spending my life. If Schitt’s Creek has reinforced anything for me, it’s that that’s okay; that I shouldn’t feel as though loving my hometown means doing myself a disservice, that I shouldn’t have to deny one piece of myself to make room for another.