For Dan Levy, the End Is Just the Beginning
Dan Levy is morbidly afraid of bees. Hates them. He had a terrible run in with one when it went down his sweater during a day of shooting on his breakout Canadian sitcom, Schitt’s Creek. And yet, as he prepares to moderate the first of two sold-out nights of Schitt’s Creek’s Up Close and Personal Tour in February at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, he kind of looks like a bee. Fast and buzzing and sporting thick, dark-rimmed glasses that magnify the size of his eyes. On the chance you catch him standing still, you’d notice a fist-sized bee on his blue cardigan sweater, embroidered across his heart. The sweater choice could be a coincidence, but after spending two hours at lunch with Levy a few days before, it’s hard not to believe it’s on purpose. He likes to face the things that scare him. He has a strategy for overcoming them.
I’m standing in the corner of a tiny green room with the entire cast of Schitt’s Creek. It’s so small that it looks like a miniature motel room—a perfect setting to observe the actors who play a once-wealthy family, now living out of a motel. But while Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy’s wife exchange stories, I can’t stop watching the younger Levy. The lifespan of most primetime sitcoms is a lot like a bee’s lifespan—short, frenzied, and fleeting. And whether anyone else in the room knows it yet, this sitcom is nearing its final act; a month later, on March 21, Levy will announce the next season, its sixth, would be its last. Thinking back on our lunch, I almost feel like Levy was hinting at it. “I’m excited for what’s to come, but I also care so deeply about this show, and I think so many times showrunners will set up a show and jump ship to work on something else,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine doing that with this show.”
But the reality is that Levy’s greatest creation yet is ending on his own terms. And while 3,000 people are downstairs waiting in feathered hats, screaming “Simply the best!” at nothing in particular, this tour is a way of him introducing himself to the world. They already know David Rose. They love David and Alexis and Johnny and Moira. (God, do they love Moira.) But they don’t know Dan. Not yet. And he’s the one worth knowing. After all, he’s the one who invented this world, and he’ll be the one still around after it’s over.
Of course, the world in question is that of the small town of Schitt’s Creek. The Rose family, fresh from financial ruin, has relocated to the town the family’s patriarch, Johnny, once bought for his son as a joke. Over the course of five seasons, the Rose family has not only adapted to the town and the two room motel-suite they call home, but in a way they’ve thrived. It’s in Schitt’s Creek that they’ve learned to love each other and the people around them—people they never would have interacted with otherwise. And now at the end of Season Five, two of the Roses seem to be settling down in the town, despite the desperate urge to escape a few dozen episodes ago.
The decision to say goodbye to the series is bittersweet. While other shows begin to wane around Season Five, Schitt’s Creek is an anomaly. The series garnered its first Critics Choice nomination in 2018, and its arrival on Netflix has bolstered its fanbase to cult-like status. But like in the opening scene, when the government repossessed most of the Rose family’s possessions, nothing lasts forever—neither wealth nor sitcoms. You pack up what you’ve learned (along with your best wigs), embrace your fear, and move on.
A couple of days before the Beacon Theatre show, Levy meets me for lunch in something a bit more casual: a gray sweatshirt, and the same signature dark-rimmed glasses. He’d been writing something, but he can’t say what. Actually, there’s a few things he can’t talk about when we first sit down. He hints at “A Little Bit Alexis” and big plot points to come as Season Five comes to an end, but the big thing he can’t discuss is the series finale of Schitt’s Creek ahead of its sixth and final season. “I think, in a way, I know how it ends,” Levy says. “I’ve known for a long time.” But for now, that’s all he’s ready to reveal.
In an era when there’s more television available than one person could ever digest, Levy’s perfectly podunk town managed to break out of the pack. On an emotional level, it’s likely because Schitt’s Creek feeds a craving that’s poorly served on television right now. “There needs to be some kind of correspondence between the clouds that are hanging over us over these past few years and people’s desires to find and surround themselves with joy,” Levy says. “I think what sitcoms have provided for people is consistency and a place where they can spend half an hour and just turn off.”
But Levy’s first self-made television project isn’t just a sitcom. It’s also a bit of a perfect storm. In the United States, Schitt’s Creek airs on Pop, a small but stable home for the series. Pop (and its Canadian home on CBC) allows Levy the freedom to create a microcosm in which pansexual David Rose can date and exchange affection with another man and no one bats an eye. It’s idyllic, and it features the kind of gestures that typically aren’t on display on networks like NBC or CBS. Prejudice seemingly doesn’t exist in Schitt’s Creek. “To be able to present a love story that’s without fear of consequence was something that I wanted from the very beginning,” Levy says before pausing to collect this thoughts. “Something that I never wanted to compromise on.”
Levy sees Schitt’s Creek as an opportunity to show something on television he didn’t see growing up. “Some of the time, I think bigotry comes from fear of things that people don’t see,” he says. “I think as human beings… people don’t process fear well.” Levy incorporated people of all types into the landscape of Schitt’s Creek, but instead of approaching it like shows that throw in a token black character or give another character The Gay Storyline, he folded it into the show’s core. He normalized the elephant in the room, and from his vantage point, it’s only been for the best. “Conversations are being created in the home,” Levy says with a smile, “because parents and their [children] are watching this show and loving these characters together.”
The opportunity to do something bigger has always been on Levy’s mind. He’s a theater kid at his core and has no problem working hard, but writing a television show wasn’t particularly how he thought he’d do it. As he grew up, his mother had her cards read three times and told Levy that he was going to find success in writing one day. He wasn’t convinced. “Even when I was at MTV hosting—which I hated, it never felt comfortable,” Levy admits of his time at MTV Canada, first appearing on MTV Live and then on after-shows for series like The Hills and The City. “But it was a job, and I was going to do my best. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, Writing is still not a thing that I would ever do for a living.”
Zoom forward a few years; Levy had left his job at MTV and wasn’t landing any of his auditions. At that point, he was convinced that if hosting wasn’t the right thing (even though it did lead to meeting and interviewing Kelly Clarkson), something else had to be. “I think I’ve always been someone who has worked really hard at manifesting ideas,” Levy says between bites. “Good and bad. Successful and, you know, not so.” Instead of sticking with the hustle, he changed the rules. “If I’m terrible at auditioning, at least I can write something to my own strengths and try my best at whatever that is.” Turned out he was pretty damn good at that.
That hustling comes in part from having parents who were determined not to let a privileged life go to Levy’s head. His father Eugene is the prolific comedian known for his work on SCTV and a number of Christopher Guest films along with co-star Catherine O’Hara, who plays the Rose family matriarch. But that wasn’t a world in which Levy was ingrained too deeply. While he has anecdotes about growing up with family friends Martin Short and O’Hara nearby, he also recalls his parents dropping him off in front of a GAP Kids at 15-years-old, saying, “Don’t come home until you have a job application in your hand.”
Levy took that message to heart. He credits his mom with keeping him and his sister, Sarah, grounded through the years. “I think what my mom’s big message through all of that was was, ‘I don’t want to take away the joy of earning something yourself.’” That’s why Schitt’s Creek has been so personal to Levy. Sure, he could have ridden his father’s coattails, but the CBC show is ultimately one founded in equal parts determination, love, and necessity. The connection to Eugene and his close friendship to O’Hara is a bonus, but Schitt’s Creek is fully a Levy manifestation.
Eugene says that early on he’d give feedback and even tried his hand at directing. Ultimately, he admits that his son is the lynchpin of the series. “You don’t always get to spend this much time with your adult kids in any other profession,” Eugene says, before pausing in the same fashion his son is prone to. “You see them maybe once a month? Every few weeks? So this is kind of neat. Cherish every moment because one day, it won’t be happening.”
That ending is sooner than fans hoped it would be. As we finish lunch, I suggest that perhaps Schitt’s Creek didn’t have to end, but Dan promptly noted that there is a definitive ending, arguing, “Moira will never fully feel like this is her home.” But that doesn’t mean that everyone is jetting out of Schitt’s Creek in the next season. Though the series finale announcement seems sudden, Dan isn’t the kind of showrunner who is going to make a knee-jerk decision about a series he’s invested so much in: “I stand behind the idea of never taking advantage of the audience you’ve built and putting 110 percent into the show until you’re finished.”
But Levy’s role as showrunner is a taxing one. He touches everything: the scripts, the wardrobe (Jocelyn’s iconic Season Five cat sweaters are made in-house, if you were curious), the final takes. Each season takes about thirteen months to create. “We’re editing the show longer than we’re shooting the show,” Levy explains. “And it’s because every look, every cut, every glance when you’re weeding through takes and takes and takes to get the right moment is important.”
And all of those moments are being seen by a lot of people now—a lot more than Levy anticipated when the show started. In 2017, three seasons into the show’s run, Schitt’s Creek landed on Netflix. That helped the reach of the show expand, and an unofficial word-of-mouth campaign commenced. Schitt’s Creek was suddenly the show that you didn’t know you needed to watch. And it feels perfectly timed. As the sociopolitical climate feels more splintered than ever, television viewers are gravitating toward shows that shine a more optimistic light on the world.
“I felt like there was this wave of comedy that was really mean-spirited for a while,” says Levy. “I never responded to that. It’s a lot more challenging to make well-intentioned comedy.” Over the course of five seasons, Levy has created a world where a wealthy family of four faced their lowest bottom, only to rise and thrive in the small town they once bought as a joke. At the end of this season, Alexis is in a loving relationship and David is engaged to his business partner, and there really is something that feels like the show is coming to a natural conclusion after all. When Levy started this show, the Rose family was barely human. They didn’t understand how the rest of the world worked or what it was like to fear or perhaps even love, but they’ve evolved into something greater over 62 episodes. Something that gives you hope for people around the world who don’t look or think like you.
“The audience has been with these characters now through the ups and down,” Levy explains. “We’re now able to let them in and show them the cracks in the veneer. Because we’ve all pulled through this together.” And that’s a bit what this tour was about. The cast of Schitt’s Creek hit the road to meet fans in person and give them a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.
Back upstairs in that tiny green room, Dan appears one more time. This time he notices me in the corner and talks to me a bit about how he hosted a talk a few days before with Amy Sedaris, a hero of his. The way he gets excited while recapping their time together is the core of who he is. It’s contagious. That energy is similar to how each of the cast members speak with one another. It’s the same energy that erupts from the room of 3,000 people when each actor walks out on the stage. The reaction isn’t quite fanaticism or excitement—I would say it’s more complex than that. As cliche as it sounds, I think the best word for it is love. Dan Levy has created a show about love, and it permeates in every facet.
That humanity is what drives the narrative of Schitt’s Creek and the way Levy conducts business on set. Everyone matters, and as long as you’re leading with a bit of humanity, everything will be okay. Fear and sadness and triumphs come and go. And everything that begins eventually has to end. Wearing a bee on your sweater doesn’t mean you’re magically not afraid of bees. It just means that something you love had outweighed the thing you fear. And if you have that, then the fear—the bees and the unknown and the loss of your family fortune—is just a moment in time.
The cast of Schitt’s Creek was in attendance at the 2019 Canadian Screen Awards. Check out photos and video of the cast at the event. Congrats to the series and cast for their nominations and winnings.
I’ve added HD screencaps from last night/today’s episode of Schitt’s Creek to the gallery. Enjoy!
Last night were the 2019 Canadian Screen Awards. Schitt’s Creek had many nominations. Unfortunately Dan did not win any nominations (totally snubbed!). The entire cast looked a m a z i n g at the award show last night. Dan did not take photos with them on the red carpet but you can see photos of the cast at my other fansite, Annie Murphy Fan. Enjoy!
I’ve added HD screencaps and stills of the last 3 episodes of Schitt’s Creek that were missing in the gallery bringing our gallery up to date until this week’s episode. Sorry for the delay. Big thanks to my friend Milane for her help. enjoy!
The cult comedy will air its final season in 2020.
Schitt’s Creek will have its last laugh in 2020.
Pop and the CBC have renewed the show for a sixth season, but creators Daniel and Eugene Levy say it will be the final run for the cult comedy.
The 14-episode season will begin filming in a few weeks and is set to air sometime next year. The creators said they’re happy to end the story on their terms: “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,” Daniel and Eugene Levy said.
“Schitt’s Creek is that rare zeitgeist show that creates incredible fandom, catalyzes culture and receives best-of-television critical praise for its intelligence, character development, laughter and heart,” said Brad Schwartz, president of CBS-owned Pop. “Schitt’s Creek has given all of us a joyous gift that, in my opinion, places the show among the very best. Everyone at Pop could not be more proud than to have been associated with what Dan Levy and Eugene Levy created alongside this amazing cast and crew. While we will miss this gem with all our heart, we are thrilled that the show will end its run exactly as the show’s creators intended.”
Originally commissioned by the CBC, Schitt’s Creek became a signature show for Pop. The current season, which concludes in April, draws about 200,000 viewers for initial airings, well above the cable net’s primetime average.
The show’s cast includes Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Daniel Levy, Annie Murphy, Chris Elliott, Emily Hampshire, Jennifer Robertson, Noah Reid, Dustin Milligan, Sarah Levy and Karen Robinson. Daniel and Eugene Levy executive produce with Andrew Barnsley, Fred Levy, David West Read and Ben Feigin.
The creators’ full message about the final season is below.
To Our Dear Fans,
We are very excited to announce that Schitt’s Creek is coming back for a sixth season on CBC and Pop in 2020! We also wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that we’ve decided season six will be our last. 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. 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. We could never have dreamed that our fans would grow to love and care about these characters in the ways that you have.
We are all so excited to begin shooting these last fourteen episodes and can’t thank you enough for the overwhelming love and generosity you’ve shown us. We hope you continue to enjoy the rest of our fifth season as we prepare to shoot our sixth!
Best Wishes and Warmest Regards,
Dan and Eugene Levy
I am personally super sad about this news. This series has meant SO much to me. It has helped me through some difficult times. I am personally grateful to Dan and Eugene for creating this gem and introducing a wonderful set of characters and talented cast to play them. If it were not for this series I would not have been introduced to the body of work of so many talented actors. Thank you! I’m excited to see what the future holds for the entire cast as I truly believe they are all talented and amazing. This fansite will not be closing with the ending of the series and will continue to support Dan in his future endeavors.
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.
I’ve added screencaps and stills of Dan from the last 3 episodes of Schitt’s Creek. Sorry for the delay! I’m in the middle of moving so my time online is limited.
I am loving this season of Schitt’s Creek. How about you?
A new class of writers, performers and creators is redefining comedy—rejecting tired tropes and carving out space for fresh perspectives. From millennial social-media stars who’ve brought their internet fluency into traditional television writing rooms to stand-ups pushing the boundaries of the form, these comedians working across North America are shaping what it means to be funny in 2019.
Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek arrived on America’s obscure Pop TV in 2015 with a premise as silly as its name: After losing everything, a super-rich family must move to the titular small town, which they bought as a joke in the ’90s. Five seasons later, it’s a cult hit stateside, thanks to a vocal fanbase, Netflix word-of-mouth and its leads, comedy legends Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. The cast has even been touring North America with a night of behind-the-scenes stories, music and a Schitt’s Creek trivia challenge. But the credit for the show’s warmth belongs mostly to Eugene’s 35-year-old son and co-creator Dan, who multitasks as showrunner, writer and star. His character, David — a mopey pansexual whose love life forms the show’s sweetest arc — is a fan favorite, embodying a casual fluidity that is true to millennial ideas about identity. Dan brings that same reflexive inclusivity to each episode, crafting a show whose sensibility is contemporary even as its kindness feels like the best kind of throwback.
– Source / Full List
Schitt’s Creek emerged as a quiet juggernaut, one of those rare, ultra-bingeable shows that also packs a ton of heart. How exactly did creator and star Dan Levy do it? Well, we’ll let him explain.
To say that Dan Levy sweats the small stuff is like saying the Kardashians dabble in money-making. On the set of Schitt’s Creek, he over-considers everything, from the magnets on the refrigerator to the way the motel beds are made to the degree the fibers on the carpets appear over-vacuumed.
“In my head it’s like, ‘We should all know that they don’t vacuum their carpets all the time,’ ” Levy tells me. “These are lived-in carpets. We’re in a motel. If we’re going to vacuum the carpets, which I know has to be done, we also need to scuff them up a bit after.”
And you do the scuffing yourself?
“Oh, absolutely,” he says. “That’s the prison cell that is my brain.”
We’re in the middle of lunch in Tribeca on a cloudy January day at the end of a week-long press trip for Schitt’s Creek, which airs on cable network Pop in the U.S. and is currently in its fifth season. (His reward upon completion? A visit to Las Vegas to see Lady Gaga’s Enigma residency.) Levy, 35, is the co-creator and star of the show, which follows a delusionally wealthy family that loses everything, relocates to its last remaining asset—a backwoods town it bought as a gag gift years ago—and starts life anew in a run-down motel. Levy, who plays the sarcastic, fashion-minded man-child David, created it with his father, Eugene Levy, who also plays his dad on the show. But the younger Levy wears many other hats, including showrunner, writer, occasional director, and master question-answerer. And truthfully, it can be a little overwhelming sometimes.
“It’s in the details for me, and when the details aren’t executed perfectly, I get a bit…ornery,” Levy says, which is one of the handful of things he has in common with David. (Along with a love of Mariah Carey and a fondness for karaoke. “I do a pretty mean Lorde impression,” he says.) And though David’s fashion sense is more extreme than Levy’s—most notably he sports an infinite rotation of drop-crotch sweats to create a vampire–Rick Owens hybrid—he’d probably approve of what Levy’s wearing today: a leather jacket over a cream-colored sweater with black pants that seem to have a completely different silhouette depending on what angle you look at them. His bangs are pushed up straight, like his hair just woke up from a nap with a yawn and a stretch. And then there’s those famous Levy eyebrows, which are half-obscured by thick black frames, not unlike the kind his father wears sometimes.
Yet when you ask his coworkers about whether they’ve ever seen him stressed, their answers paint a picture of…startlingly effortless competence from someone who, prior to Schitt’s Creek, had barely any acting credits to his name and was best known for recapping The Hills on air as an MTV Canada VJ. “It’s almost like he’s been doing this for years and years before we started the show, but that’s not true—this is the first time he’s ever had this kind of responsibility,” says Eugene Levy. Catherine O’Hara, who plays Rose family matriarch Moira, a former soap actress with a zany wardrobe and even zanier wig collection, says, “It’s crazy how comfortable he is doing this, how calm and confident he is running the show.”
It’s not that he doesn’t ever have his moments, Levy explains. It’s just that he tries to hide them from his coworkers to avoid being a bother. “Actors are really susceptible people—they’re spongey,” he says. “So I try my best not to bring any of my fears or anxieties onto set. I’ll leave that for behind a closed door.” His colleagues are none the wiser: “I’ve always seen him take everything in stride with a classic Dan Levy smirk,” says Noah Reid, who plays David’s teddy bear of a boyfriend, Patrick. (Fans of the show will know the one: the brow-raising, eye-squinting, teeth-baring one immortalized in many GIFS.)
Levy’s prescription of loving care and general punctiliousness has earned Schitt’s Creek immense critical acclaim and a loyal fan base, who have watched the show grow from its Grinch-comes-to-Whoville premise to something sweeter and bigger-hearted as the Roses have put down roots. But it’s also contributed to this sense among people who talk about the show that it all came out of nowhere: that Schitt’s Creek was just this little Canadian sitcom that could until it arrived on Netflix in 2017 and suddenly everyone was talking about it. That Levy just naturally followed in his father’s footsteps, the way families with parents who are doctors and lawyers beget more doctors and lawyers, without so much as a hitch. But according to Levy, that version of events skips over a lot of failure, self-doubt, and periods of total bewilderment about what he was supposed to do with his life that make him and the show what they are today. To really understand why you love Schitt’s Creek, you have to take a tour inside the prison cell that is his brain.
Of all the things Schitt’s Creek has been praised for, its portrayal of queer relationships has garnered some of its most enthusiastic, passionate feedback. This has been true from the jump: Early on, viewers assume David is gay, until he hooks up with surly motel clerk Stevie (Emily Hampshire)—to the shock of many characters, not least of all Stevie—and tells her he’s pansexual via a surprisingly helpful wine analogy: “I do drink red wine, but I also drink white wine, and I’ve been known to sample the occasional rosé, and a couple summers back I tried a Merlot that used to be a Chardonnay,” he explains. “I like the wine and not the label.”
But the letters really started coming in the third and fourth season, when David meets the teddy-bearish Patrick, whose sexuality is ambiguous in his first few episodes. They start falling for each other with the help of some swoon-worthy Tina Turner sing-alongs. Fans DM Levy on Instagram, send messages to the show’s Facebook page, and sometimes even stop him in public to tell him about how much these characters mean to them, how these characters have explained their lives to their unsupportive parents better than they could. Levy, who is gay, hears from conservative Christians who tell him they disapproved of queer people until Schitt’s Creek showed them that following their faith and having empathy for the LGBTQ community weren’t mutually exclusive. Recently, a mother wrote Levy to say that she worried coming out would make her son’s life harder, until David and Patrick showed her that it could actually make it more fulfilling. When Levy first got the message, he says he broke down. “She’s been able to feel like he’s going to be okay,” he says, his voice wobbling slightly, “because these characters are okay.”
It’s a little ironic that Schitt’s Creek is teaching so many people, because one of Levy’s mandates when it came to developing the show’s queer storylines was to avoid teachable moments rooted in struggle. “ ‘We’ll let every straight character live their lives,’ ” he says, summarizing the thinking of many TV executives, “ ‘but the gay characters are here to teach us a lesson.’ The characters were being painted with a different brush ultimately, and that to me was really boring.” From the beginning, Levy decided that homophobia would be a non-issue in the universe of Schitt’s Creek. And though he teases a coming-out storyline happening in the fifth season, it’s no accident that the show’s queer characters more often just get to be queer rather than proclaim it. (“It’s not a cross that straight people have to bear,” he says.) Levy’s trying to capture the world accurately, but he’s also trying to will a kinder, gentler one into existence.
Still, he gives these characters the same obsessive care he gives everything else. Take, for instance, the season-three finale, when Patrick and David kiss for the first time. Patrick reveals that he’s never been with a man before, and in the lead-up to filming, something about the scene kept Levy up at night. So the evening before, Levy called up a friend to talk it out. They spoke for hours about their own first gay relationships—how they unfolded, what made them special—and Levy realized the problem: In the original version of the scene, Patrick kisses David.
That just seemed too easy for someone who was new to all of it. Levy thought about how his first sorta-boyfriend made the first move in their relationship, and how liberated and grateful he felt afterward, to have someone else lift that burden. So he wrote and rewrote the scene into the wee hours, deciding that in the end, David would be the one to kiss Patrick.
Levy’s own coming out wasn’t a horror story by any means, but he wouldn’t call it easy: When he was 18-ish, his mother politely asked him about it at lunch one day, but he wonders about how long it would have taken him if she hadn’t asked. It wasn’t easy after he came out, either—he tells me about how he almost felt more insecure, second-guessing how he was supposed to look and act and find dates, how he’d look around in gay bars and wonder if he’d ever feel at home there. And it wasn’t easy during his first few years at MTV, when he avoided being out publicly because it was the time of blogs and salacious celebrity outings, and he was afraid of what might happen if someone wrote about him that way.
Over the years, though, it’s often been the little stuff that’s bothered him most: In 2017, a critic for the Canadian newspaper The Globe & Mail wrote in a review of The Great Canadian Baking Show, which Levy co-hosts, that perhaps the show’s judges were stiff because “at any moment, they know they might be swarmed by the feyness of Levy.” Levy called out the veiled homophobia in no uncertain terms on social media: “To all the ‘fey’ kids/people out there who read that and were made to question whether their ‘feyness’ is deserving of criticism, it’s not. You are loved for who you are.”
The post sparked blog posts and think pieces and garnered support from journalists and celebrities alike, but that, too, wasn’t easy. “What people didn’t see,” he explains, sitting up straighter, the volume of his voice rising, “is it took me half a day of worrying about whether that tweet was the wrong thing to do. I was still struggling with ‘Do I have any right to say this?’ And that’s fucked up, but we’re programmed that way.” They didn’t see him reading the review over and over, wondering if he was being too sensitive. They didn’t see him sending the article to friends and family asking if he was misreading it.
Being comfortable in his own skin, he says, is “a process that I think I’m still learning, and I think actually playing David has given me a sense of confidence that I never had before.”
Looking back on it now, Eugene Levy can see the signs his kids would go into showbiz: Dan and his sister, Sarah Levy, who also has a role on Schitt’s Creek as the overly friendly waitress Twyla, were always putting on shows as little kids when the Levys vacationed with Martin Short and his family. They acted in and wrote for high school productions. Dan went to film school, Sarah studied theater. It was all right there in front of him, despite what some might consider Eugene’s best efforts to prevent this: When he and his wife, Deborah Divine, decided to start a family, they moved from Los Angeles to Toronto to give their children normal childhoods—which included making them get regular jobs.
First came Gap Kids, which the then 15-year-old Levy chose so he wouldn’t have to run into anyone his own age. (“Not going to brag,” he says, “was the top sales associate of the summer.”) Then came the jobs at a bakery and a video store, which he says he draws on almost daily in the writer’s room when breaking storylines. In college, after leaving that first on-and-off relationship, which he describes as “tumultuous” and “not good for me,” he decided to take more drastic measures to get out of his shell and got an internship at a talent agency in London answering phones all day. “As someone who could barely talk to my friends, let alone a perfect stranger,” he says, “it was hell.”
But the thing about doing something that forces you out of your comfort zone is that, eventually, it stops being uncomfortable. So when he got back to Toronto and learned that MTV Canada was casting new on-air talent, he put himself up for that job, too, in the name of self-improvement. At the time, the network was considering a Wanna Be a VJ–style reality show, so they gave Levy and the other applicants $100 dollars each to spend as a test. Some people bought CDs to showcase their music taste, others bought yoga mats and prayer beads to demonstrate their spiritual side. Levy just paid his cable bill and came back with the receipt. He was eventually the first one hired.
He settled in as the co-host of an aftershow for The Hills, which he credits with helping inspire the idea of Schitt’s Creek, and enjoyed the perks—the free clothes, getting into any club or restaurant he wanted. (At least in Canada.) Still, he realized something was missing. He’d interview celebrities who’d talk about how singing or acting was what they were meant to do, how everything snapped into place when they discovered it. “I remember thinking, Well, that must be nice!” Levy says, laughing. He also knew that the longer he stayed at MTV, the more his next act would be governed by ego: What happens when the glamour disappears? What if nothing I do ever tops this?
So after almost eight years at the network, he quit and got to work on finding his next thing. At the time, creating something from scratch seemed like the only option: He tried out for acting gigs but kept bombing auditions because he was so anxious about the process, and he struggled to get representation as a writer because of his MTV background. “I was turned down by, like, every agency in the States,” he says. “They wouldn’t even take a meeting.”
He downloaded the screenwriting software Final Draft and just started typing. Mostly he just wrote dialogue, because he didn’t really know how to write scenes yet—this was before podcasts and MasterClass lessons proliferated, before he realized you could study scripts of famous TV shows online—and tried to find his voice.
“A lot of people have tremendous fear about What if it’s not good? or What if I realize I’m not talented? But knowing what you don’t want to do—what you’re bad at—is just as important. That’s a door you can close in the journey of your life. And I think closing doors is just as important as opening them.”
Six months into the process, he had the idea for Schitt’s Creek.
During his tenure at MTV, Levy avoided making references to his father out of concern that he’d be criticized for nepotism. “There was a time when you could’ve asked me if he was my dad, and I’d have been like, ‘Next question, please,’ ” he says. But after coming up with the premise for Schitt’s Creek, he realized two things: (1) He needed some help executing the idea. (2) He also wanted to avoid a broad, slapstick-y sitcom sensibility that would turn the town or its inhabitants into cartoon characters. So he turned to his dad, who just so happens to be really good at executing ideas with that quirky, observational-comedy sensibility after starring in and co-writing the outlines for Christopher Guest mockumentaries like Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman.
Eugene’s first reaction was elation: “I said, ‘Absolutely,’ and it really wouldn’t have mattered what the idea was.” Then fear: “The very first couple of days of of brainstorming, I would wake up at night in a cold sweat thinking, What if he doesn’t have it?” Then, at last, relief: “In the beginning I just felt that I had to mentor him,” he says, “but over the first season, I found myself going ‘Wait a minute, I don’t have to be here, he’s got a pretty strong handle on what he’s doing.’”
O’Hara, who’s worked alongside the elder Levy since their SCTV days in the ‘70s, says the family’s relationship during working hours is deceptively formal: “Except for looking at them,” she says, “I don’t know if a stranger [who] visited the set would know they were related.”
Levy splits his time between Toronto and Los Angeles, but he works and travels so much that turning either abode into his dream home is just a fantasy. At one point during our lunch, he pulls up his phone to show me Chairish, one of the handful of decor apps he’s gotten into recently, and scrolls through a list of his “aspirational stuff.” There’s some Rothko-esque wall art, a chair that costs about $5,000 and looks more like a sculpture than a comfortable place to sit, and what appears to be a life-size replica of a sheep that is either a bench or an ottoman. He’s not really sure. “Until I find a place to settle down,” he says, “it’s all living through the app.”
It was always the plan that, after learning the ropes, Levy would take over as sole showrunner for the second season. I ask him if this was another case of putting himself in an uncomfortable situation to better himself. Quite the opposite, really.
“At MTV, I was scared,” says Levy. “I was uncomfortable in a bad way. [But] as soon as I started this job, all my fears were based in excitement—in showing up at work the next day… I have an answer to everything on set. Whether it’s the right answer or not, I have the confidence to answer the question. That just comes when you’ve found your groove.”
Before Schitt’s Creek officially began production, Levy thought a lot about his own job history and the kind of culture he wanted to foster. “The common thread was that every time I felt seen and respected in the workplace, I felt the desire to impress,” he says. “Anytime I felt like what I was doing wasn’t a necessary part of the process, I thought, ‘Well, if you don’t care, then I don’t care.’” Of course, a lot can go wrong when you’re a first-time showrunner. Having some TV experience doesn’t necessarily prepare you to be in charge of hundreds of people; it’s why you hear about troubling working environments on other TV shows. But it’s also why hearing Levy describe a leadership philosophy based in love and care sounds so refreshing. Maybe even a little radical.
The thinking goes: If costume designers and production designers don’t feel inspired, you’ll see it on screen. If staffers in the writer’s room don’t feel comfortable sharing their experiences, you’re not going to get the best stories about the tumultuous no-good relationships and random jobs they’ve had. If actors don’t feel safe and supported, how can they possibly make themselves vulnerable enough to do their best work? (“Initially I had a lot of nerves,” Reid says of joining the show, “But Dan, after every day that we would shoot, would text me like, ‘Great stuff today, really excited about where this is going.’”) And while Levy credits Eugene and O’Hara with leading by example, O’Hara says the warm gooey center of Schitt’s Creek is Levy’s doing: “The tone on any set, or any workplace,” she says, “comes from the top.”
Levy acknowledges this process in his own way. “Whether it’s subliminal or not, you feel people’s passion, I have to believe that,” he says. “What has drawn people to this show is this intangible spirit that is loving, and I have to say it comes from more than just people’s work, it has to come from good vibes. You have to send them through the TV.”
Accepting what comes back the other way—the letters, the attention, the acclaim—is harder from him to accept sometimes. Some of the reviews of season five have brought him to tears, but part of him also worries about things going too well, of hitting some kind of Schitt’s Creek saturation point that will cause the the scales to tip out of his favor. It was so much easier to do his job, to labor over scripts and answer questions about magnets and rugs, when it felt like he was toiling in obscurity, and he jokes that perfect world is one in which everyone watches Schitt’s Creek but nobody talks about it.
He’s working on fighting that instinct, though, because to shrug off the good vibes coming back his way would downplay the work he put in to get here, the way he would hit dead ends and keep going, the way he took every bad idea and bad job and bad relationship and used it as a stepping stone toward the next thing, until he was finally where he thought he was supposed to be. He’s earned the right to post that tweet, to have that opinion, to have that confidence to answer whatever question comes up on set. “I do feel like the last thing I would want coming out of this experience is to turn around and say I never allowed to be proud of myself,” he says.
But if he doesn’t, at least there is Eugene Levy, who at the end of interview can’t help but slip out of his facade of collegial professionalism and slide right into dad mode, someone who is just “extremely proud” of how far his son has come.
“I’m really glad this article’s being done,” says Eugene with a slight stammer. “He deserves it.”