This past week I have been enamored by the television show Schitt’s Creek, which is written and produced by the dynamic duo Eugene and Dan Levy. For the first three episodes, I found the characters to be hilarious and engaging, but something about the episodes felt different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it definitely didn’t seem like the normal structure of a situational comedy. This discomfort led me to turn the show off and not return to it until I was coerced by a number of amazing reviews. I’m thrilled that I picked it back up because it is truly an amazing show that I ended up binge-watching all week. Still, I kept feeling like something about it was different than the normal situational comedy setup, so I decided to explore what was causing this strange feeling.
The first aspect I inspected was the timing. When developing a comedy episode, the aim is to write as if the audience is glimpsing into the characters’ lives, and give the appearance that their lives continue after we leave the scene. This is usually done by leaving out obvious actions. For example, when characters talk about going somewhere in plot A, and then the show cuts to plot B (containing different characters), then cuts back to plot A and the characters are in the car driving, you figure that they got in the car and pulled out of their driveway while the audience focused on plot B. It’s subtle because your mind naturally fills in the blanks. In Schitt’s Creek, they do it a little differently. It feels like they do the audience the favor of leaving out more obvious actions/conversations than usual. Though the story is still easy to piece together, this changes the timing, which gives the show a different feel because most situational comedies tend to follow the same models, so the slightest difference is easily felt by the audience. There are minimal, “we need to talk to the kids about this issue because it’s something we are worried about,” scenes and instead the story goes straight to the conversation with the kids. This keeps the show moving at a quicker pace than normal, and thus requires some adjusting, but in the end allows it to cut out unnecessary exposition, which in turn prevents it from talking down to the audience.
Another aspect of the writing that makes the show feel different is the fact that it has out-of-the-box characters who are forced to work within the box. It’s usually the opposite in comedy writing, but this switch creates an amazing combination because it almost forces these characters to do their one main objective, which is to change. They must reel in certain aspects of their personalities in order to fit into this box, which is created by the normality of the town they’re forced to live in. In Modern Family, the characters are pretty in-the-box suburban middle to upper class families who have ridiculous arguments, but the plots are usually out of the box with the poorly-planned schemes that no one would ever do in real life. That’s the average comedy setup, so it’s something we’re used to seeing and thus it feels normal to watch. The fact that Schitt’s Creek breaks from that norm by not having those crazy schemes and circumstances to match the characters makes it feel a bit different in comparison, but it’s a brilliant maneuver because, in the end, it allows these over-the-top characters to be more relatable to the audience.
This show took some getting used to, but with the elaborate characters juxtaposed with relatable conflicts and a down-to-Earth town, hilariousness ensues and viewers are left wanting more of the charm that comes with this show.