During a benefit for the Trevor Project last year, Dan Levy was approached by a total stranger. She opened up to him (in a crowd of over 800 people) about her upbringing as a queer person in a very religious family, alluding to difficulties with her mother, in particular. But then, she finished her story by thanking him. His show, Schitt’s Creek, which has its season 5 premiere tomorrow, was a favorite of her mom’s. And when the pansexual character David (portrayed by Levy) finally found love with Patrick (played by Noah Reid) in season four, it changed something in their mother-daughter dynamic. Her mom finally understood a little something about the distance between them.
This is a story Levy has heard, in one version or another, over and over again since the show premiered almost four years ago. “The most vulnerable place you can be is in front of your television screen,” he says. “To change conversations in people’s households about the beauty of gay love is an unbelievable thing
Still, it’s unexpected that a show premised on, in Levy’s words, “what it would look like if very wealthy people suddenly had nothing,” would end up stealing the hearts of audiences all over the world. Schitt’s Creek — which plops a Rich Kids of Beverly Hills kind of family in the middle of a “hick town” after financial ruin — could have relied on easy comedy in the tensions between out-of-touch elites and their new, “simple-minded” rural peers. Instead, the show treats all of its characters with dignity and respect.
Schitt’s is at its peak whenever Moira Rose, portrayed by a luminous Catherine O’Hara, appears onscreen. Moira, a former soap opera star with a penchant for Alexander McQueen, somehow makes diva behavior (affected accent and all) utterly charming. She may be the most compelling heterosexual gay icon on a sitcom since Megan Mullally introduced us to Karen Walker on Will & Grace. Her “wig wall” (exactly as it reads) has been screenshotted and spread over all the corners of the internet, and Levy notes she’s been the subject of “strange GIFs, memes, and Halloween costumes.”
If Moira Rose ever manages to be upstaged, it’s only by David’s storyline, one that made the show’s audience — usually accustomed to bursts of laughter — experience a phenomenon not often delivered by comedy: true, ugly crying. In a scene from season four that went viral in 2018, Patrick, David’s boyfriend, serenades him at an open mic night. When Moira sees Patrick onstage with his guitar, she immediately gives her son an apologetic look, as if she knows exactly the embarrassment he’s about to experience. But Noah Reid is actually an experienced and gifted singer — a reveal that was a key factor in Levy’s calculations.
The performance montage, complete with long, adoring looks between Patrick and David, had the audience in tears. But we weren’t the only ones in our feelings: “Catherine was crying uncontrollably,” Levy says with a laugh. “We sort of had to cut around her a little bit.”
To be clear, the romance on Schitt’s Creek isn’t revolutionary on its face. We’ve seen gay couples onscreen, and certainly gay white men in love. But Patrick and David’s dynamic feels different, and much of that has to do with who’s calling the shots: Levy himself. “Writers’ rooms and television studios paint gay love stories with a different brush than they do straight love stories,” he says. “There’s more caution as to how intimate you can be. It was my intention with this relationship to never once question whether we were taking it too far.”
Luckily for the legions of fans supporting Patrick and David’s relationship, Levy promises Out that the couple “has nothing to worry about” as far as staying together. “It’s amazing to think that our show, which is ultimately just a comedy — 21 minutes and 53 seconds of humor — has the ability to change how people see the world.”
The fifth season of Schitt’s Creek returns January 16 on Pop TV.
To read more, grab your own copy of Out's February issue featuring Hari Nef and and Tommy Dorfman as the cover on Kindle, Nook and Zinio today, and on newsstands January 22. Preview more of the issue here. Get a year's subscription for $19.95.