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 turned out to be an amazing show that I binge-watched. 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 do it a little differently. It feels like there are larger gaps, not necessarily in the plot, but in the conversations. 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. For example, 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 one is used to and thus requires some adjusting.
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. 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 so it’s something we’re used to and thus easily accept. 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 it’s a brillient meneuver because, in the end, it allows these crazy characters to be more relatable to the audience.
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.