The Endearing Jewishness of ‘Schitt’s Creek’

Admittedly, I was a few years late to this glorious party as Schitt’s Creek, created by the Canadian father and son Eugene and Daniel Levy, premiered back in 2015, but that did not get in the way of me devouring all 80 episodes in 10 days.

The show’s from riches to rags theme focuses on the wealthy family of Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), owner of a video store chain, his wife Moira (Catherine O’Hara), a former soap opera diva whose star has somewhat faded over the years, and their adult son David (Daniel Levy) and daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy).  The family loses their wealth and is forced to move to a little town in the middle of nowhere that Johnny once bought as a joke gift for David.  The six critically acclaimed (9 Emmy wins this year alone!) seasons follow the family through their ups and downs as they struggle, with delightful and often deliciously sarcastic humor, to find their place under the Schitt’s Creek sun.

A lot has been written about this funniest and heartwarming television gem.  Several components of the show resonated with me the most.  The lighthearted “Jewishness” of the show is number one.  Numerous references, some explicit, others more subtle, related to Judaism and Jewish culture are generously sprinkled throughout the season.

From the hilarious exchange about Johnny being supposedly an expert on bagels because he is Jewish to him reminiscing about playing baseball for his Hebrew school team named “The Flying Latkes,” the show has both a refreshing and comforting feel. We see Alexis wear a tiny hamsa necklace and her opulent Bat Mitzvah tiara makes an appearance, too.

There are references to the “mildly Hebraic looking” David’s Bar Mitzvah and a Birthright trip.  David describes himself as a “delightful half-half situation,” as Johnny is Jewish and Moira is not, a nod to Daniel Levy’s own interfaith family. The Roses put up a Menorah next to a Christmas tree, and Moira makes a reference to a Passover Seder. There is even an episode titled “Sunrise, Sunset” in the show’s last season!

The focus on family and family relationships is, of course, a central element in the Jewish tradition.  The show itself is very much a family affair, Sarah Levy, Daniel’s real-life sister, is playing a sunny-yet-flighty waitress at the local cafe.

Not to mention that Jews have had the theme of losing everything and starting from scratch in a new place as penniless outsiders trending since the Assyrian exile.

Another fascinating and psychologically brilliantly navigated theme is the Roses’ growth and development in circumstances that are less than ideal. Both David and Alexis who are in their late 20s-early 30s initially impress as charming and funny, but also spoiled, superficial, cynical, lacking direction in life, and incapable of genuine human connection. At one point, David admits that he has never had a romantic relationship last longer than three months. Later in the show, we get an idea why when he comments, “I’ve been burnt so many times I’m basically a human equivalent of the inside of a roasted marshmallow.”

Alexis has a similar pattern of empty and meaningless friendships and romantic relationships. Johnny is presented as a perpetually absent father and Moira a distant and self-absorbed mother. Therefore, it is incredibly satisfying to watch the characters’ meticulously crafted journey, as they at first reluctantly and randomly and then more deliberately and courageously, seek out deeper emotional connections, develop genuine relationships, and establish authentic attachments both with the town residents and with each other. We learn they are loving, empathic, and deeply caring individuals, who strive to improve themselves and their relationship with the world.

The final piece that makes the show so appealing is that Schitt’s Creek follows through on its promise displayed on the billboard at the entrance to the town: “Schitt’s Creek. Where everyone fits in.” This is fully and truly a town without prejudice, bigotry, homophobia, or hatred. Naturally, there are disagreements, misunderstandings, and heartbreak, and there is also a complete, honest, and unconditional acceptance of everyone and anyone. The most prominent example of which is the romantic relationship between two men, the plotline crafted by Daniel Levy in a manner that is respectful, normalizing, and heartwarmingly beautiful. It is hardly surprising that the show enjoys a passionate following in the LGBTQ+ community.

I could go on and on, raving about the show’s impeccable style and aesthetics, spot-on casting, powerful acting performances, great music choices (guess what my ringtone now is), and every little detail that makes Schitt’s Creek work so well. Let me just say that this show will make you laugh a lot, and quite possibly cry a little. It shines with so much light and kindness, it will make your heart sing.  Just what we need in these times of division and intolerance.

All six seasons are now streaming on Netflix, don’t walk, run to see it.