The co-creator of one of the best shows broadcasting today is rewriting the rules of queerness on television.
Few TV shows have arrived as confidently as Schitt’s Creek did when it premiered four years ago; after all, the pilot took under two minutes to introduce its four main characters in instantly striking ways. We open in a palatial estate, where members of the filthy rich Rose family are reacting to news they’ve been defrauded by their business manager and left with nothing. Well, except the titular town, which Rose patriarch Johnny bought for his son as a joke birthday present years before. Immediately, there’s Moira (standout Catherina O’Hara), wailing to her husband about how she’s been “stripped of every morsel of pleasure I earned in this life.” In reply, her husband Johnny (Eugene Levy) complains about the shady business manager that landed his family in this mess. Nearby, their daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy) alights from a stately staircase while desperately trying to get the boyfriend she’s on the phone with to step out of the club he’s in and listen to her problems. And by the door, her brother David boldly berates a government official, calling him a “sick person” that “wants to get paid to destroy another person’s life.”
Dan Levy, who plays David and co-created the show alongside his father and co-star Eugene, is far less confrontational than his character, but no less animated. When I meet him in January for a late lunch at a sparsely populated restaurant in Rockefeller Center, the 35-year-old is upbeat and personable, despite the packed schedule he’d been navigating for the previous few days while doing press for the show’s fifth season.
The entire process is somewhat new to the actor, since Schitt’s Creek kept a relatively low profile in its earlier seasons. But as the show’s popularity has grown — with critics now hailing it as “the funniest show on TV right now,” a “gem of a sitcom,” and an “amiable and deliriously funny series” — so has Levy’s. After serving as the official showrunner for four seasons, he’s become a celebrity in his own right. Yet in midtown, as he makes his way through a grilled chicken caesar salad and a Diet Coke, Levy doesn’t appear to exhibit any of those expected pretenses; he’s quite laid-back and surprisingly gregarious, eager to talk about the little show he made which blossomed into something much bigger than he could have ever imagined.
Before Schitt’s Creek, Levy says he spent some time “figuring it out.” Growing up as the son of a comedy legend, it was nearly a given that he would do theater in high school. But when he graduated and actually tried to pursue acting as a career, Levy was held back by the nervousness he routinely felt at auditions. “As you can imagine, that was quite awkward for me as an actor,” he jokes. Instead, he landed at MTV Canada, where he cut his teeth recapping The Hills on the popular The After Show. That experience, he says, was where the idea for Schitt’s Creek was planted. “I was fascinated by these people who were raised around so much wealth,” he tells me. “And I wanted to know what it would be like if someone like that were to lose everything.”
He eventually took that inkling of an idea to his dad, and together, they fleshed it out into the show it is today. In the earliest stages, Levy recalls looking at “sexy and stylish” series like Sex and the City for inspiration, which ultimately lead to his decision to build each character around a distinct style that mirrors their personality type. Artsy David would be into neutral tones and architectural Rick Owens; business-minded Johnny would always wear classic tailored suits; histrionic former soap star Moira would have a flair for the dramatic silhouettes of McQueen; and boho-chic Alexis would be ready to jet off to Coachella at a moment’s notice.
o this day, Dan still takes the lead on much of the show’s wardrobe. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of his job, he tells me, and it’s a good excuse to indulge his shameless shopping addiction. He sources most of the garments seen on the show online, perusing for new duds on designer resale apps like The RealReal and Grailed, but it’s clear that his sartorial eye is just as keen in person. Upon arriving to the restaurant, the first thing Dan does is compliment my sunglasses, which were sitting on the corner of the table. “Congratulations on those boots,” he told me as we left, pointing down at my footwear. The only apparent downside to his side gig as a personal shopper is that it can be difficult to stop himself from getting too out of control. “I just keep buying for future seasons,” he jokes. “If the show ends, I’m just going to have all these random Alexander McQueen pieces in my room! I’ll have to call up some of my friends and ask if they want to come buy some.”
Hopefully, we’ll never reach that point — at least not for a while, now that the show is finally getting the respect it deserves. Days before our lunch, Levy and his fellow cast members had experienced their first A-List red carpet event when they attended the Critics’ Choice Awards, where they were nominated for Best Comedy Series. “It’s so crazy to think that this little show was there amongst all these real celebrities,” he says, emphasizing the word real in a way that lets you know he still doesn’t understand just how famous he actually is — or does a good job pretending not to, at least. The performer says he was most excited to meet Jodie Comer, but in retrospect, he wonders if he maybe went overboard when he approached the Killing Eve actress to “fan out” and enthusiastically tell her how much he loved her.
Schitt’s Creek didn’t win that night. But it’s not difficult to imagine the show becoming a serious awards contender in the future, especially now that it’s established a real audience. Levy and the entire team are rooting particularly hard for Catherine O’Hara, whose indelible, no-holds-barred performance as Moira has rightfully inspired a few internet campaigns to get The Television Academy’s attention.
Yet it’s probably Levy himself who has galvanized the most fervent response from audiences. His character is one of the only pansexual men on TV today, and in the show’s currently-airing fifth season, his same-sex relationship with newly-out Patrick (Noah Reid) is one of the biggest ongoing plot points. As a gay man, he says it was always important to him to bring positive queer representation to his show — which is ironically why he had David sleep with a woman (sardonic motel owner Stevie) before he ever got with a man. “I did want to play with people’s expectations a bit,” he admits. “David is flamboyant and I knew people would assume he was gay, so I wanted to subvert that and show that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.”
Nevertheless, Levy is now fully invested in exploring the much-beloved relationship between David and Patrick, which he’s made a deliberate effort to ensure is not met with any homophobia in the titular small town. It’s what he would’ve done anyway, but it doesn’t hurt that he’s seen firsthand just how much their relationship means to the fans at home watching. When I ask about the response he’s received from the queer community, it’s the first time during our meal that he seems to get really emotional. “I got a letter recently that made me cry,” he begins, tearing up ever so slightly. “This woman wrote to me and told me that her son had just come out. She didn’t have a problem with it, but she was scared about what other people would think. She told me that my show made her feel a little more comfortable.”
It’s surprising how novel it seems to create a show where homophobia is just… not allowed to exist, but it’s comforting to see how normal it actually looks in practice. Just people being themselves without judgment: It’s all part of this world that Dan Levy was inspired to create after watching too many reruns of The Hills. Back then, he set out to create a show that uncovered what would happen when the self-obsessed wealthy wake up to find themselves penniless. If the series’ first five seasons have offered us any sort of answer, it’s that they will learn and grow, facing truths about themselves and their privilege that will only benefit them in the long run. They will form stronger bonds with themselves and with each other. Hell, they might even find true life-fulfilling happiness.
That is, as long as they find their way to Schitt’s Creek.
Schitt’s Creek airs Wednesdays at 10:00pm on Pop.