Turns out it doesn’t become more endurable, though it does continue to unfold: the only option for the characters, once they’re stripped of the commodities that gave them their sense of invincibility and forced off the edge of their McMount Olympus, is to move to the middle-of-nowhere town Johnny once bought his son as a joke. The town is called Schitt’s Creek, named after its mayoral dynasty, the Schitt family (the current Mayor of Schitt is played by comedian Chris Elliott). Here, the Roses are subjected to a parade of petty annoyances (a leak! bad diner food! a man with a potbelly — Mayor Schitt himself — schitting in their under-aerated motel room!) that would surely make any stereotypically wealthy family’s 2D skin crawl. Moira finds herself teaching a classroom of elementary school students her sadistic form of method acting; Johnny has to negotiate with Schitt to get the town’s incestuous, anal sex-suggestive “Welcome” sign taken down so he can sell and abandon Schitt’s Creek; their son David attempts a job as a supermarket clerk and gears up to sell his high fashion to the Salvation Army; and their daughter, Alexis (Annie Murphy) finds herself painfully attracted to a young Schitt.
The show has the framework for what could have been a meticulous magnifier of the growing divide between the classes (a problem in Canada, where the show is shot, as well as the States). It’s even been mentioned that it revives the formats of shows like Green Acres and, inversely, The Beverly Hillbillies (again, The Simple Life also comes to mind). But the wealth gap has grown since any of those shows existed, so this could have been an even greater chance at underscoring dysfunctional dichotomies. Almost to its credit, Schitt’s Creek does clearly attempt to critique the upper class: with the exception of Schitt, the rural characters are portrayed as relatively grounded, realistic individuals who could exist in any single-camera series. The focal characters (the wealthy Roses), however, are written and portrayed so broadly and tritely as to beg for a multi-cam format. Though this is where the writers try to pin their social criticism, it’s actually what torpedoes the show’s political aims.
It’s one thing to depict characters coming from two different worlds, rendering communication difficult. And the idea for the future of the show is likely that, with time, the Roses will adapt to some extent and grudgingly put down roots. But the urban and rural characters seem to also belong to two different television traditions entirely, and that seems a harder gap to bridge. And instead of catalyzing an interesting reaction in one another, the two performance styles — as well as the characters — merely seem to repel each other.
It isn’t until the fourth episode, when Alexis, for a very brief moment, genuinely self-deprecates about how spoiled she is to the Schitt she’s falling for that we remember the Roses are supposed to be humans with desires apart from expensive skin creams and roomfuls of wigs. This rare moment of self-awareness is utterly jarring: I’d gotten so used to these characters’ lack of interiority that it was as strange as watching a Rodeo Drive mannequin come to life and earnestly profess its privilege, only to quickly sink back into its Balenciaga-or-whatever-bedecked nothingness.
The show could, and might, improve itself by going in one of two directions: the urbanite snobs could follow the rural characters into a realm of subtlety and depth, or, like 30 Rock after its identity-confused first season, it could fully embrace the absurdity of its premise and get a whole lot weirder. I just hope, for everyone’s sake, that it doesn’t stay where it is, stuck as it seems in two fast-congealing dung plashets.