The following will contain spoilers for Schitt’s Creek. Reader discretion is advised.
I know Schitt’s Creek means well. But I haven’t been able to get the conclusion to one character’s story out of my head since finishing the show last week. (Yes, I’m late. I know. Leave me alone.)
As a gay man stranded in a conservative small town for most of his life, the very premise of the Pop TV sitcom was enough to set off my fight or flight response: following an embezzlement scandal with their family’s business, the Rose family moves from New York City to the small town of Schitt’s Creek in Ontario. Between the socialite daughter Alexis and former soap star matriarch Moira, the Rose family is already incredibly ill-equipped for the culture shock that comes from living in a rural area. This is a family that has lived in a bubble of wealth, privilege, and status for decades. The very prospect of cohabitating with people of the working class is horrifying to them. This isn’t just a matter of rich people having to do their own housework and find real jobs, there’s an uneasy sense of overfamiliarity that comes from living in a town of only a few hundred people.
But there’s another layer added to what it means to be in a small town for son David Rose. At least, there should be. David is pansexual, and as many queer people who live in small towns can tell you, marginalized identities in rural, very insular and monolithic communities are often scrutinized. Sometimes to dangerous, tragic ends.
That’s not the case in Schitt’s Creek. Which, in theory, is good. Queer stories don’t have to dive into the ramifications of real world prejudice, and if this series at some point became and issue of the week show it would have likely felt like a hamfisted shift. Co-creator Dan Levy and actor behind David explained this omission is largely because he felt it antithetical to the ethos of Schitt’s Creek, and he just generally doesn’t have a tolerance for it.
“I have no patience for homophobia,” Levy said at the 2018 Vulture Festival. “As a result, it’s been amazing to take that into the show. We show love and tolerance. If you put something like that out of the equation, you’re saying that doesn’t exist and shouldn’t exist.”
It’s an admirable bit of optimism. And for the most part, the show follows through on it. The closest Schitt’s Creek ever gets to touching these things is in Season 5, Episode 11 “Meet the Parents.” The episode involves Patrick, David’s boyfriend and eventual husband, coming out to his mother and father. Through a bit of wacky shenanigans, Patrick’s parents are made aware of this beforehand, and were only upset with themselves for fear of creating an environment where Patrick felt he couldn’t tell them in the first place. It plays with common coming out tropes in a way that is delightfully subversive. Who doesn’t love a wholesome, happy ending?
But beyond that? No one bats an eye at David’s sexuality. It’s progressive, and even has a really great scene where he uses wine bottles to explain his identity to his (at the time) friend with benefits Stevie.
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But watching this show as a gay man who was born and raised in the Bible Belt chipped away at the idyllic wall of safety Schitt’s Creek put up. As commendable as Levy’s intentions are, it was hard to reconcile that Schitt’s Creek was so devoid of those divides as my kneejerk anxieties repeatedly surfaced. Episode by episode I found myself uneasy watching characters like Roland Schitt, the mayor and man’s man, be overfamiliar in ways that are played for laughs, but signaled danger to me growing up as relative strangers casually pried into my personal life. More often than not it was due to the closeness of the community in Bumfuck Nowhere, Georgia, which meant people who knew my parents felt they knew me by extension.
Things that are played up as charming in Schitt’s Creek, from social gatherings of the same 10-15 people, to local productions and events, can carry a different connotation for queer people on the outskirts of these communities often rife with gossip, judgement, and prejudice. So even when there’s a sense of community in towns like Schitt’s Creek, it’s near impossible to not feel othered within them when queer.
Throughout all six seasons, seeing the Rose family learn to put their preconceived notions of people who weren’t as rich as they were was heartwarming, but watching the family slowly seem content to stay in Schitt’s Creek was disconcerting to me. Like watching someone become so complacent in a situation they wanted to escape that resistance was no longer worth the effort.
This dissonance came to a head in Schitt’s Creek’s penultimate episode. In Season 6, Episode 13 “Start Spreading the News,” the Rose family landed a business deal that would allow them all to return to their luxurious lives in New York City. When David goes to tell Patrick the good news, his husband-to-be is less than thrilled. And you know what? Fair. It’s a huge change and would uproot their lives and their business in Schitt’s Creek. Stevie accidentally reveals to David that Patrick was planning on buying them a house. Emotions are running high. Patrick envisioned their life together in Schitt’s Creek while David wanted them to move everything to the city that never sleeps. Eventually, Patrick agrees to go to New York. But he’s clearly not that into the idea.
All of this culminates in a scene that is probably going to stick with me forever. David and Stevie sit outside the house Patrick wanted the two of them to spend their lives in. Then Stevie asks “what is it about New York?” David tries to brush the question off by insisting he has dreams and friends there, friends that have since abandoned him. Then he admits that it’s pride.
“I want those people to know that I’m not a joke. And that I’ve won.”
I think about a line from The Weeknd’s “Professional” a lot, and it sums up my feelings watching David in this moment:
“So you’re somebody now? But what’s a somebody in a nobody town?”
Stevie points at the house, but is really just generally gesturing at the life he’s made for himself and his fiancé. Thematically, it’s appropriate. Has David learned that a glamorous city life means nothing if it’s not filled with the people who made his life meaningful? After six seasons of “slumming it” in a small town, has he realized what actually matters. Stevie even asks, can’t David “have those dreams here” when he says he has dreams bigger than Schitt’s Creek?
To which my immediate reaction is: absolutely the fuck not.
Schitt’s Creek frames David’s hesitance to stay as an issue of pride. As if he is somehow “better” than the people of this town. In the fantasy the show portrays of small town life? That’s valid. But that framework omits the realities of existing as a queer person in an environment that is either outright hostile to you or suffocates parts of you until you’re blue in the face. Schitt’s Creek wants David’s journey to be about geography, as if that’s what he’s choosing between, but choosing between being queer in a city and being queer in Bumfuck Nowhere is about culture and what is allowed to survive there.
This scene was the most I’d ever seen myself represented in Schitt’s Creek and in David as a queer man, but it also felt like something was drilling into my brain as I shouted at the screen for him to get out. Like watching a frog in boiling water, only I hadn’t realized the water was hot until it was too late.
Perhaps I’m just envious that David was able to find fulfillment in a place like Schitt’s Creek. Or maybe I’m envious of Levy’s idealism that led to this story’s conclusion. I’d like to believe that more queer people can find something that resembles a home in small towns. But believing in that requires me to forget everything I’ve seen and experienced.