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 I was bothered by the way the episodes unfolded. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly felt off, 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 turned out to be an amazing show that I binge-watched over the course of a few days. Still, I kept feeling like something about it was different, so I decided to explore what was causing this strange feeling.
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 take this to the next level. It feels like there are large gaps, not necessarily in the plot, but in the conversations and mindsets of the characters. Though the story is still easy to piece together, these larger gaps make things feel a bit off, especially since situational comedies all tend to follow the same models, so the slightest difference is easily felt by the audience. There will be times when the audience enters a room in the middle of an important conversation, or, if the audience does see the beginning of a conversation, it takes time to piece together the reasoning behind having the conversation. There are minimal, “we need to talk to the kids about this issue because it’s something we are worried about,” scenes. Instead, it goes straight to the conversation with the kids. It doesn’t necessarily take away from the show, but it does cause the audience to play catch-up.
Another aspect of writing that makes the show feel different is how trivial most of the plots play out. Though it is normal for the characteristics of each person to drive the plots in comedies, and this show has amazing characters, the conundrums within the plots remain mundane. It could be the juxtaposition of the plots containing amazing characters versus the average setting, but the conflicts in each episode are never over the top. Instead, they feel like things that happen on a day-to-day basis for real people. For example, there is an episode where the mother runs for town council. So many crazy things could go wrong, especially with these characters, but the actions that occur remain well within the realm of possibility for the average person. This makes it a show that has out of the box characters who are forced to work within the box. That’s just not usually the case in comedy writing, but it’s an amazing combination because it almost forces these characters to do their one main objective, which is change. They must reel in certain aspects of their personalities in order to fit into this box, but still retain what makes them great. In Modern Family, the characters are out of the box with all of their ridiculous arguments, but the plots are usually out of the box too with the poorly-planned schemes that no one would ever do in real life. But that’s a normal comedy setup. The fact that Schitts Creeks breaks from the norm by not having those crazy schemes and circumstances to match the characters makes it feel a bit strange in comparison, but overtime that becomes part of its charm.
This show took some getting used to, but with the elaborate characters juxtaposed with average conflicts, hilariousness ensues and viewers are left wanting more of the charm that comes with this show.