Happily ever after: How Schitt's Creek found its grand finale
"And then they get married."
Noah Reid is gamely summarizing the relationship his Schitt's Creek character — staid, sturdy Patrick Brewer — has developed over nearly four seasons with David Rose, played by Dan Levy, Schitt's co-creator and showrunner. That's where their love story ends, of course — in a series two-part finale wedding next month, in the grand tradition of sitcoms.
It's just not where anyone involved — especially Levy — expected this show to go when it premiered five years ago. It was hard to imagine then that a family passion project would inspire a legion of heavily invested viewers with so many feelings about how the show should never end — or, if it had to, exactly how it should.
"The big challenge was how can you reconcile what the fans expect — which is for us all to live happily ever after in a motel for the rest of time — with what the characters really want," Levy tells EW. "For me, a series finale should just be a really fun, great episode of your show."
A mid-series twist of fate delivered Reid to Schitt's Creek in what was originally conceived as a short-lived role, until he melted everyone's hearts and led the show down a completely different path. Since Patrick proposed to David last season, the two have marched steadily toward the altar, slowed only by typical wedding planning drama — sky-high venue and catering costs, tragic spray tans that threaten to ruin engagement photos — but never any artificial, will-they-or-won't-they obstacles.
"That is one of the things that I always have found troubling about certain TV tropes," Levy says. "It does provide an instant tension, but people watching know how solid this relationship is. It's a little harder to tell the story of a successful relationship. Knowing that it was a gay relationship, wanting to show the stability and the security of these two people just getting each other and having it be nothing but love and encouragement… Obviously, there's bumps along the road, which we explored, but that the relationship itself would never be put into question, that these two people were in it to win it."
And though Levy insists the show is "a four-hander through and through," it's David and Patrick's relatively subdued relationship to which Schitt's already ardent viewers are most devoted. Every actor gets a hefty round of applause when they come onstage at one of the show's live events, 29 in total so far. But when this last season's promotional campaign featured Levy and Reid kissing — in tuxedos, no less — fans passed GIFs around like they were a golden ticket. Queer couples even posted selfies beneath a giant billboard version on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip.
As they planned for the show's final bow, Levy says, "We knew that it was going to be a wedding — and that the stakes were high.
So many unlikely stars in showbiz had to align to give Schitt's the chance it needed.
First, it was always a family show. Levy had no serious onscreen acting credits before and was best known as a host of an MTV Canada after-show about The Hills. He created Schitt's with the man whose title for Hollywood's Most Famous Eyebrows he's now arguably snatched — his father, Eugene Levy. His long career includes co-writing four Christopher Guest movies, playing the dad in American Pie, and being part of the legendary Second City comedy troupe's founding cast.
Schitt's is set up as an offbeat comedy about the once-rich Rose family who, after losing everything in a bad business deal, temporarily resettle from New York to the titular tiny town, which they previously bought for David as a gag gift. It doesn't seem to have occurred to either Levy that they would look far beyond their family and most familiar collaborators to cast most of the characters.
Eugene plays onetime VHS rental king Johnny Rose, cowed by failure but still donning crisp suits every day. His archly theatrical wife, Moira, is portrayed by Catherine O'Hara, Eugene's frequent onscreen partner since their Second City days. As David, their high-strung and higher maintenance grown son, Dan Levy channels an extreme version of himself. ("David is a 10, 11, 12, 13 — and Daniel is a three or four," says yet another Levy — Sarah, Dan's younger sister, who has a recurring role as the town's guileless waitress, Twyla. "But their sense of humor is exactly the same.") Rounding out the family foursome is a total unknown-turned-newfound comedy genius, Annie Murphy, as Alexis, David's Kardashian-esque globe-'gramming sister.
The Roses begin Schitt's Creek universally flummoxed by small-town life. For most of the first two seasons, they're all selfishly obsessed simply with getting out of the shabby motel where they now live and getting back to their superficial high-society past. Underneath the melodramatic maladjustment dilemmas, however, were always the bones of a smarter than average family sitcom.
And it did something, well, damned unlikely, especially for a comedy TV series: very slowly Schitt's became more nuanced, at times even profound. Under all that pomp, the Rose family proved to be vulnerable and empathetic, if deeply unaccustomed to such feelings. "It's about [taking time] to really deprogram everything that you thought was important and valuable and send[ing] you back into the world as better people," Levy says.
On the CBC, Schitt's found a steady audience from the start, buoyed by its locally grown cast, but most Americans didn't even know they had Pop, or that the CBS-owned cable channel that once ran TV Guide listings was now airing original scripted series. (Pop TV is now officially part of ViacomCBS, and the finale will also air on Comedy Central and Logo.) Though the show is set non-specifically somewhere in North America, that low-key, long Canadian incubation period was almost certainly Schitt's saving grace. "On any other network, this show would have been canceled after season one," Levy says.
"A lot of shows are really under the gun of ratings. We were fortunate to not have that kind of pressure, which allowed us to tell stories in really meaningful ways over a long period of time. Everyone is [usually] under the watchful eye of, 'Is this benefiting us financially?' You end up putting everything on the table all at once in hopes of creating something so electric that people can't turn away."
Instead, Levy held a lot back. The Rose family kept slowly stepping closer to being self-actualized people you might even want as friends, but not without frequent backslides. And the audience — especially its growing core of passionate online fans — began to swell. When the first two seasons hit Netflix in early 2017, followed with the third by end of year, Schitt's went from being a cult favorite to a sleeper critical darling — just as David and Patrick's romance began in earnest, and Levy stepped up to become showrunner.
"By the time that I was put in a situation where I really had the weight of the show exclusively on my shoulders, obviously with the collective of a writers' room, I was no longer second-in-command," Levy says. "At that point, we were introducing Patrick. With Patrick came this whole other conversation."
When Reid was cast to play a potential love interest for David, he was best known for starring in a movie called Score — a Canadian musical...about hockey. He and Levy, who knew each other a little socially, didn't even have a chemistry test. "We didn't have time," Levy says. "We cast him halfway through the season. David needed a relationship because he's so fragile when it comes to love. We thought, if it works, great. "
Patrick doesn't start out as obvious boyfriend material, except that unlike so much of their small town he seems neither impressed nor particularly fazed by David. "Noah could have come into the show and we could've gotten along, but there wouldn't have been the same spark," Levy says. "Then we would have probably, inevitably either written him out or had it die off at some point." Instead, Levy says, as Patrick, Reid brought "a stability and a sense of calm."
Their characters first meet because David has a third of an idea for how to transform a recently shuttered general store into an immersive experience, a stylish and "very specific store"; Patrick helps put together a coherent business license application out of a series of stoned voicemails. "What originally attracted Patrick to David was the intrigue of, 'Who is this strange unicorn person that I've never seen?'" Levy says.
Reid was also feeling things out. "It's strange to walk into a show that's already going. I came in for my first table read, and Eugene came over and said, 'Noah, how are you?' And I was like, 'Okay, sure, I guess this is where I am.' But that's true of human relationships, too, right? You meet somebody, you have no idea. You know that you're interested. Maybe there could be something there — and I think that's what we were playing out in that first scene. Then, you see where it goes."
It didn't take long for everyone involved to know — on screen and off — that the chemistry experiment was working. In the third season finale, David finally makes his move, and they kiss for the first time. Patrick says thank you — because he's never done that before, and was worried he wouldn't have the nerve. "I had always intended for the character to not really have a firm grasp on his sexual orientation," Levy says. "But there was a curiosity [to] slowly reveal that side to himself, or at least have him be put in touch with those impulses."
Reid says simply, "The moment where we kiss in the car opens a compartment in Patrick that hasn't been opened."
What was very clear is that Patrick wouldn't be leaving. "That's when I was like, 'Yeah, all right,' Levy says, with David-esque understatement. "Let's give him another season, see what happens.'"
Unlike pretty much every TV show ever, no one on Schitt's Creek ever has an overt crisis of sexuality. The newness of Patrick dating a guy is presented matter-of-factly and with far less room for dramatics than David's reluctance to become a guy who celebrates four-month anniversaries. "Their relationship happened pretty fast," Reid admits. And one song during their courtship gained hall of fame status among fans along the way.
Reid, who is also a singer-songwriter of exactly the kind of earnest folk-rock you might expect, was thrilled when a script called for Patrick to play guitar at an open mic night, over David's mortified protestations. "I find it incredibly cringey, people singing generally," Levy says. "But I knew that [Reid] had such a confidence and a conviction to that side of his artistry that I wanted to use it." Levy picked Tina Turner's "The Best," a personal favorite, and Reid asked for a chance to try his hand at an acoustic arrangement.
"In the middle of the night I got this text message, and it was him singing it at home," Levy says. "As a single person receiving that, that's not good for anybody — but for me, to have just watched an episode of Downton Abbey and said good night to my dog and tucked myself into bed and then receive that... It was like, this is both very sweet and so dark. What he had done with that song was extraordinary."
(The version released to Spotify has well over 5 million listens; Reid often performs the cover as part of the Schitt's Creek live tour. And on the strength of the show's popularity and an upcoming album, Reid sold out a 23-city tour, about 50 percent of which he got through before having to postpone due to coronavirus shutdowns.)
David returns the musical grand gesture in the form of a lip-sync to Turner's original recording. On a premium cable show, it might have been a lapdance, but despite being technically pretty PG, it's emotionally vulnerable and unexpectedly sexy. "We are aware that it's a family show, which is why I think a lot of it is implied," Levy says of how Schitt's has tackled more mature storylines. "I think you want to be inclusive of all of your viewers, while at the same time not betraying really truthful storytelling."
The scene — which Levy performed in a leather Givenchy sweatshirt on a scorching early summer day — is a perfect example of how Levy leads Schitt's storytelling decisions as a writer first, then as a performer. "David's not a particularly romantic person," Levy says. "You're scripting it like, isn't this hysterical? And then you get up to the day and it's like — I'm not a dancer. I'm not really a performer. The night before I was just learning the lyrics to the song."
He and Reid shot most of what ended up in the show on their first take — after downing a bottle of Prosecco at lunch. "As an actor, it was the most unsafe I've ever felt, in the sense that I'm going to do something that's so outside of my own personal comfort zone, that level of unabashed lack of consideration for how this is going to appear on film. But you get those moments so rarely. So I was like, ah, screw it. Let's try this."
When they finished the scene, the director came over — crying. "I had always pictured that moment to be quite funny," Levy says. "The rest of our team behind the cameras were crying. I thought I had done it wrong."
"More people should drink at lunch," Reid jokes, but he acknowledges that for David's character, it was a risk not unlike Levy's own. "That's the furthest out on a limb he's ever gone for anybody."
The episode marked another social-media turning point for the show. "There are moments that come out of when you're making TV that are unexpected," Levy says. "As I was performing it, and even when I wrote it — I don't think I knew how emotional it would be for people who were invested in the storyline. Once it aired, people were like, 'I was sobbing through your performance.' I'm glad that it carried a deeper significance."
The confidence Levy had in working with Reid began to take on a deeper significance, too. "I knew that things were working with Noah," he says. "I knew that what we were doing was something I hadn't seen before on TV."
The show's critical acclaim began to translate into awards; at the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards, the country's equivalent to the Emmys and Oscars, Schitt's won nine times, including for Best Comedy Series. But it was still, despite the surge of media attention, more of a local darling.
Its creators felt lucky to have been making work they loved with people they loved for so long. They decided, as they began to consider their fifth season, that they should commit to two more years, 14 episodes each, and then be done. The CBC and Pop TV agreed.
They planned out the big plot points. "I knew that the [David and Patrick] relationship was impactful," Levy says, "not just for me as a writer but for our viewers, and that I wanted to give these characters a happy ending that I had not seen or that is very rarely given out [to gay characters]."
"You plan your seasons around these big moments," Reid says. "To know where you're going in that way feels pretty good." Patrick emotionally comes out to his family — who in keeping with Schitt's Creek no-homophobia-here rules were mostly worried about why he hadn't felt comfortable telling them sooner — and the couple decides to cohabitate.
And then the big penultimate reveal, sharply scripted by Levy to take place in the midst of a contentious hike up a local mountain: Patrick proposes. David incredulously asks, "Are you sure?" And Patrick answers, "Easiest decision of my life."
But Levy still hadn't told fans they'd decided on a stopping point for the series. "We are so grateful to have been given the time and creative freedom to tell this story in its totality, concluding with a final chapter that we had envisioned from the very beginning," Dan and Eugene wrote on Twitter last May. "It's not lost on us what a rare privilege it is in this industry to get to decide when your show should take its final bow."
A motley crew of famous fans were now proud and vocal late adoptees. Will Ferrell called it his favorite show, and Paul Rudd, Tony Hale, Anjelica Huston, and even Steph Curry all gushed about how good it was. Paula Abdul posted photos of herself fangirling with the cast backstage after a live event. Keith Urban swore he'd never binged two seasons in a row of anything before. After Patrick declared his love for David in a language he knew couldn't be misunderstood — "You're my Mariah Carey" — the singer tweeted out a GIF of the moment and told her followers to watch the show. (A very calm Levy replied, "OH. MY. F*CKING. GOD.")
And so suddenly all that carefully cultivated momentum they'd acquired hit the States, and big time: four Emmy nominations — the first ever for Pop TV — including, most remarkably, Outstanding Comedy Series. That was followed by two SAG Awards nominations (including for a comedy series ensemble), and even the MTV Movie & TV Awards, where Levy took home the prize for Best Comedic Performance.
That's a lot of pressure for a grand finale — and a wedding. And life in the Schitt's Creek bubble was starting to feel a little less secure, as all of the cast were asked (by EW and everyone else) how they were going to say goodbye. Table reads got more emotional. Levy began making what Reid jokingly calls "the noise" — a particular blend of crying and hiccuping that would manifest during read-throughs.
"I'm the least emotional of the cast, I would say probably," Reid says. "That's probably partially because I've lived in the house that is Schitt's Creek for less time, but also because I think I exist in a Patrick world, where you're sort of just holding it all together, being the glue of the situation. So I felt like my job was just to put a hand on Dan's shoulder and try to get him through it."
Levy, who can cry on command a dozen takes in a row, says all the right sentimental things about the show ending, but manages to do so with a dry eye. "The boldness with which these characters lived their lives is so opposite to how so many of us were as people going into this show, myself included," Levy says. "Even in the early days where people were like, 'I love David.' I'm like, 'I love David.' [But] he was slightly more prickly. He has a bit of a shell that you need to crack open in order to get there.
"I'm still an incredibly sort of trepidatious person. I'm very insecure and have a lot of social anxiety. That's something that I have to deal with on the day-to-day, to play a character that lives their life so unabashedly out loud and is so unapologetic in their beliefs in what they want and what they don't want. David does have very clear boundaries for himself, and he walks with confidence, and believes his own worth, which I think is a really wonderful thing."
Ensemble or not, it's Levy who's now unquestionably the face of the show. Every creative question on set and during production seems to lead back to a version of "let's ask Dan about it," but in a way that doesn't sound fearful so much as deeply respectful of his vision. (Victor Garber, who has known the Levy family since a decade before Dan was born, admitted after a recent guest-star appearance that "Daniel's intelligence is daunting.")
"The first two seasons, I was taking a backseat to some more senior writers, which was really formative for me to see how a room is run," Levy says. "But the minute that I had that control, something clicked. I think my approach to the storytelling shifted a little bit."
For Levy, who'd built himself an idyllic environment for show-making — surrounded by his father and sister, a surrogate mother he'd grown up around, and a bevy of new best friends he liked so much he'd spend weeks on vacation abroad with them after the show wrapped — it has also brought the inevitable question: What's next?
He signed an overall three-year deal with ABC Studios to develop and produce new projects. "I really was happy to say no to everybody if it wasn't right," Levy says, but he felt confident ABC understood his approach. "What is it worth if you're signing yourself up to be compromised? I don't want that. I want to do special things, and they might not be huge money-making things. They might be smaller, quieter projects that move a dial for people in a slightly more intimate way, and that's great.
"I don't have any patience for ego unless it's people being confident about what they're doing and saying, 'Yes, let's keep making more of this.' To have Catherine and my dad lead a show and for the only conversations that have come out of those two to be about, 'How do we make this scene better?' Giving suggestions as opposed to just criticism. It has been such a constructive world to live in for six years. I don't want to do anything but that. If that means I won't be working with actors who come with really terrible reputations but have really huge star power, then so be it. I have no interest in it."
Despite 80 episodes starring as a now-legendary character, Levy's own acting experience is still otherwise admittedly thin. When cast this year in his first-ever feature film — a Kristen Stewart-Mackenzie Davis rom-com called Happiest Season — he was full of self-doubt. "I had this fear of, what if it's not the safe space that has been created for me and that I helped create for myself? How will I be? I don't work very well under pressure when I'm not the person putting the pressure on."
But director Clea DuVall ended up reassuring Levy there were more queer creative leaders in Hollywood who shared his value system. "There are other people out there who want to tell meaningful stories and on a big scale. I feel like I've been able to give the performance that I wanted to give as opposed to coming home at the end of the day and being like, 'I was too nervous, and I fucked up, and I couldn't deal with it. It wasn't how I rehearsed it in my room,' which is so much of the case as an actor."
Where he once expected to spend April making the rounds of talk shows to promote Schitt's finale, now he's spending his self-quarantine attempting to recreate his father's egg salad recipe on Instagram. A 16-show upcoming live tour they had planned as a swan song may get delayed, and the impact of coronavirus could also make it challenging to stage Emmy campaign events, especially since they're still working at an awards budget disadvantage compared to shows on bigger networks. (Last year they lost to Fleabag; at SAG it was The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.)
But he still knows that what he wants to make next has to be nurtured and developed the same slow way Schitt's was. Had it been canceled after its first season, as Levy admits was likely, "We would never have been able to tell the stories we were telling — what a shame that would have been. And now the show's doing great. Now we're of great benefit to our network. It took a minute, but what a wonderful thing to leave with."
And what a legacy to build on. "I'm developing a show right now that is very different, conceptually speaking, but similar in tone," Levy says. Just as Schitt's Creek has become a safe space for many fans during a time of political turmoil, Levy sees, in the connective tissue of his past and future work, a warm hug.
"Television with heart," he says, in summary. "I think you can have heart and still have an edge, still have unlikeable characters, have a lot of conflict and be divisive in terms of politics. The heart is what clearly has tied us all together in terms of Schitt's Creek. It is what has brought in people from all different belief backgrounds, and economic backgrounds, and age differences. They've come together because they've all experienced the heart of the show, and they're rooting for these people, good or bad. That is an area that I'm not finished exploring yet."
He's also fascinated by satires such as JoJo Rabbit, for which he professes no real skill but great appreciation as a viewer. "I have ideas for hour-long thrillers," he says. "That'll come down the line, I think. For right now, I'm feeling so satiated by putting goodness out into the world and contributing to this era of joyful television, seeing just how transformative positive stories about people growing for the better and changing, how the ripple effect of that is so great — and how much people need it."
EW has been following the sixth and final season of Schitt's Creek in a weekly podcast, EW On Set, featuring exclusive cast interviews taped on location. Watch Dan Levy break down previous seasons as part of our BINGE series on YouTube.
Still and motion photography by Brooke Nipar for EW
Additional reporting by Patrick Gomez
Video produced by Kristen Harding and edited by Tara Reid
Cover design and editing by Chuck Kerr and Ethan Bellows
Photo Director: Michelle Stark
Photo Editor: Alison Wild
Assistant Photo Editor: Ava Selbach
Set design by Abraham Latham/Art Department
Grooming by Lucky Bromhead, Ana Sorys
Wardrobe by Erica Cloud/The Only Agency
Tailoring by Lauren Bradley