Schitt’s Creek has a Jewish sen­si­bil­ity

Once you re­al­ize the show is about Jews, you’ll never watch it the same way again.

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - Front Page - Michael Fraiman

Cana­di­ans love our mul­ti­cul­tural fishout-of-wa­ter sto­ries. For Mus­lims, it was Lit­tle Mosque on the Prairie; for Kore­ans, it’s Kim’s Con­ve­nience.

For Jews – right now, any­way – it’s Schitt’s Creek.

Yes, the show is about Jews. No, it’s not overly ex­plicit. But once you re­al­ize Schitt’s Creek – which de­buted its third sea­son on Jan. 10 – is about Jews, you’ll never watch Schitt’s Creek the same way again.

While the CBC com­edy is os­ten­si­bly about a fam­ily of for­mer one per­centers, the Roses, who lost ev­ery­thing ex­cept a town they bought as a joke and now have to live in called Schitt’s Creek – which seems eye-rollingly im­prob­a­ble un­til you re­mem­ber Saskatchewan’s own “Land of Rape and Honey” – it feels, at times, as much about the Jewish-goy­ish di­vide as the chasms be­tween the ur­ban and ru­ral, or rich and poor.

If it wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear that the fam­ily is Jewish be­cause it stars Eu­gene Levy and his equally-well-en­dowed-with­eye­brows son, Daniel (who is also the pro­gram’s hip mil­len­nial showrun­ner), the writ­ers made the good call of qui­etly point­ing it out in a sec­ond-sea­son episode about bagels.

Eu­gene Levy’s Mr. Rose, you see, is look­ing to kick­start a new busi­ness in this small town and needs an idea. He flip­pantly uses a bagel shop as an ex­am­ple, and an en­dear­ingly earnest neigh­bour takes him se­ri­ously, urg­ing him to open the bak­ery.

“You’d still have con­sid­er­able over­head,” Rose says, ex­plain­ing why it’s a bad idea. “I mean, you’d want to make sure you’re mak­ing good bagels the real way.”

“Well,” his friend laughs, “you’d cer­tainly know how to make them the real way, be­cause you’re, uh…” Rose fin­ishes his sen­tence: “Jewish?” “I didn’t know if I could say it,” the friend laughs. He later asks, “What’s the one you can’t say?”

Any Jew who’s been to a small town that has no Jews (which is, I be­lieve, most small towns) knows the feel­ing of be­ing some gen­tile’s “first.” They are some­times sur­prised and, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, of­ten ex­cited to fi­nally meet a real-life Jew. They won­der if the stereo­types are true. They as­sume we’re re­li­gious.

Schitt’s Creek’s treat­ment of Jews works be­cause it’s fun­da­men­tally about two types of peo­ple who are un­com­fort­able around each other: Jews and gen­tiles, ur­ban and ru­ral, rich and poor. None of those castes are mu­tu­ally exclusive. We live in a so­ci­ety where one of those stereo­types bleeds into the other.

The nar­ra­tive of Schitt’s Creek – which is, I would ar­gue, more mod­ern and in­tel­li­gent than many crit­ics give it credit for be­ing – doesn’t at­tempt to break down any of these stereo­types. In­deed, it leans hard into them, draw­ing out the id­i­otic na­ture of ev­ery char­ac­ter equally.

Rather, the show em­braces ev­ery­one’s idiocy and cre­ates a world where ev­ery idiot has to live to­gether. The Roses don’t get more ru­ral or any­thing. They just find a way to be them­selves while adapt­ing to a new en­vi­ron­ment. (Re­mem­ber how they’re Jewish?)

To be clear, Schitt’s Creek is not great TV. I gen­er­ally watch it when I’m cook­ing. I once tried to sit down and watch it when I wasn’t cook­ing and did not en­joy it nearly as much. The jokes are over­long and the writ­ers bank on awk­ward cringe com­edy, par­tic­u­larly with Catherine O’hara’s haughty ma­tri­arch, that only some­times tracks.

But the act­ing is de­lec­ta­ble, par­tic­u­larly by the younger Levy and Annie Mur­phy, who plays his sis­ter. (Levy’s real-life sis­ter, Sarah Levy, plays a wait­ress, which sounds like a snub un­til you see that she is also very well cast.) The comedic tim­ing is gen­er­ally there, and the sub­tle mu­sic cues and sparse open­ing shots help es­tab­lish the show’s unique dead­pan style, which is a relief in the CBC uni­verse.

But more than any of that, it’s fun­nier than a lot of CBC come­dies. Then again, maybe I’m only say­ing that be­cause, in this case, I’m see­ing my­self as the lit­tle one on the prairie.

Daniel Levy, left and Eu­gene Levy star in Schitt’s Creek

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