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[This story contains spoilers from the series finale episode of Schitt’s Creek, “Happy Ending.”]
Schitt’s Creek was never mysterious; there were no huge twists. Which is why it’s unsurprising that Tuesday’s series finale on Pop TV gave the fallen-from-grace Rose family what it promised in the title of the episode: a happy ending.
Businessman patriarch Johnny (Eugene Levy) and actress matriarch Moira (Catherine O’Hara) headed off to California for the revival of Moira’s ’90s soap, with Johnny set to run his new roadside motel conglomerate from the West Coast. Daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy) was ready to move to New York City by herself for a PR job at streaming service Interflix. Son David (Daniel Levy) decided to stay in Schitt’s Creek, the town Johnny once bought on a whim because it had a funny name.
But everyone was present when David finally tied the knot with fiancé Patrick (Noah Reid), including the rest of the eccentric residents of Schitt’s Creek — sarcastic hotel clerk turned business partner Stevie (Emily Hampshire), clueless mayor Roland and his patient wife Jocelyn (Chris Elliott and Jennifer Robertson), waitress/lottery winner turned diner owner Twyla (Sarah Levy), and the rest.
Co-created by father-son duo Eugene and Dan Levy, the series was the first scripted project for the newly launched Pop TV, and the comedy would come to define the network. It gained popularity thanks to its worldwide reach on Netflix, and its billboards showcasing David and Patrick’s sweet romance — and a kiss between the couple — amplified the series’ rallying cry for love and acceptance.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Dan Levy about why there was no question that the Roses would have their happy ending, whether he’s begun to consider spinoffs or reunions down the road, what he’s been working on as part of his overall deal with ABC Studios, and what he hopes the legacy of Schitt’s Creek will be.
Everyone got a happy ending. Why was that important to you? There was no other option, right?
No, it was built into the entire premise of the show — support and love only make people better, healthier, happier, more joyful people. I think in the same way that we chose not to show prejudice or bigotry or homophobia in the show, it was really important for us that we show that the growth that these characters went through, that the the level of acceptance and love that was shown to our characters throughout these six seasons by the townspeople and vice versa, be really celebrated and rewarded with a happy ending. It felt like any other option would have really undermined the intention of the show. It’s always more difficult to write comedy about happy things, but I do feel in the case of this show that that hard work paid off, I have to hope.
The Roses were never mean. That seems like an important part of the DNA of the show too.
It was always our intention that it not be meanness. That if people are acting slightly insensitively, that it was rooted in something deeper than just being a mean person. Being mean isn’t very interesting to me. Having dimension as a character is interesting. Exposing how people react under fear and under pressure and under anxiety and under trauma, that’s really interesting to me. For us in terms of revealing who these characters were, it was important to really be aware of the humanity behind them as well, as silly as they might be at times. These are people who had experienced a tremendous amount of trauma. They did not lose their money because they were bad people. They lost their money because someone took advantage of them. And that was really important from the very beginning, to show that these weren’t criminals. Johnny Rose was someone who made his money from the ground up, and it got taken away from him. Their trauma is real and justified. How much empathy people have toward millionaires is a whole other story. But I think that’s what the whole show was playing on, too — was showing the 1 percent realizing that money only goes so far when it comes to love, and when it comes to family, and what that actually means. So yeah, it was always intentional that there be a glimmer of inherent likability to these people, that they not be mean, that they’d be scared or upset or sad. And that’s why they’re expressing themselves in these ways.
You played with the idea of what it means to have money with the Twyla twist in this season, where she’d actually won millions of dollars in the lottery.
It’s funny because people were like, “why wouldn’t she pay for this?” and “why wouldn’t she pay for that?” I’m like, “Did you watch the episode?” I think it was important to show that money was of very little importance to her to the point where Alexis had to actually just say, like, “you can spend it.” In researching lottery winners, a lot of them wish they never had won the lottery a lot of the time. And this was important to that plot twist — Twyla was aware that everything changes when people become privy to having come into that kind of money. So for her, she chose to separate who she was financially from who she was as a person, which was the message of the show, really. It was probably the biggest twist we’ve ever had in the show and then to see Twyla trending across North America warms my cold, dead heart.
When you were deciding the endings for each character, did you have other options? Like, did you consider David and Patrick moving somewhere else too?
We talked about everything. We talked at length in our writers room about every possible scenario. We spent so much time. I think it took us, like, a month longer than we had intended to actually write this show, because every episode involved decisions that we had to make that were permanent. So in doing so, you have to really come at it from all sides. What was most important for me was that we make a list of things that we think the fans are going to want, and then, in a way, kind of forget about that list. Write the stories from the perspective of the characters. What do the characters want and need? How can we respect the characters and the stories? And then see how much of that overlaps with the audience’s expectations. Because to me, in researching the great series finales that I’ve come to know and love and revisit over the years, the common thread was always that they proposed something that you never saw coming but that felt totally right and left you feeling content. That was something that I wanted from this show. I didn’t necessarily want to spoon feed the audience everything they wanted from these characters. Because if it was up to the audience, the family would never leave town. But I don’t think that would be servicing some of our characters. I don’t think Moira would be happy if she were to stay there. She is a woman who loves the big city. She loves glamour. That’s just who she is. And she’s learned so much from this brief hiatus that she’s had from her life in the same way that Alexis has too.
I think the underlying ideology here is that we should all be so lucky to have the opportunity to take a step outside of ourselves for a period of time to evaluate what has made us happy and what will make us happy. That concept was what we were playing with particularly as we wrapped up these characters’ lives. What do they actually need? So it felt right to have Johnny and Moira and Alexis leave and it felt right for David to stay. I mean, he had been chasing a dream for so long that was so not who he was, that the comfort and the safety and the security of staying in this town was exactly what he needed. So in a way, we got to tie our family to the town permanently. There was an ease for the audience to know that they’ll always be coming back because David lives there, while at the same time giving Johnny and Moira and Alexis what they want as well. So it just felt quite natural.
The extended universe of all the townspeople is baked into the show so you didn’t have to shoehorn a bunch of cameos and character returns into the finale — everyone’s just been there the whole time.
The biggest thing that we didn’t want was to backload our season in terms of, you know, holding on, holding on, holding on, and then in the last few episodes explaining 1,001 characters and wrapping up 1,001 ideas. I think that’s why we made the decision to end Alexis and Ted’s relationship halfway through the season — because it gave it time and you respected those characters in that process and allowed them to have an episode where we just explored their relationship and where it ended up. I really was fearful about backloading our entire season with exposition and explaining where everyone was going to go. Even in part one of the two-part finale, getting to say goodbye to the Jazzigals in that scene was really important, and I knew we weren’t necessarily going to have real estate for it in that last episode. So a lot of the process was thinking about how do we scatter the larger moments throughout the last season so that we weren’t just left with a big, heavy bundle of things to tie up.
You’ve said that the show was really about a family realizing the importance of loving each other. What have you learned from working on the show with your own family?
It’s been amazing. I think the reason I’ve been so emotional over this past year has been that I’m overwhelmed with pride in everyone that has just resulted in tears. To be given the opportunity to work with my dad, who has had such an amazing career and has taught all of us so much in the process, to get to watch him work, to get to watch my sister work and see her grow and shine. I think that’s why when I saw the #Twyla trending across North America, I couldn’t help but be quite moved by that because it’s my sister. It’s something that my sister has made that a continent is celebrating. That’s pretty incredible. So yeah, it’s taught me a lot and we’re all very grateful to have had this chapter of our lives documented. We can always return to anytime we want to revisit, not that I necessarily will.
It’s been very special, but at the same time I think what’s been so special about the entire process is that our whole cast and crew have become a family. The intimacy that we have with each other as a cast and crew is so special. I took the cast to Italy as a wrap gift last year because I wanted to see them. I have friends that have walked away from shows after many more seasons than mine who were like, “yeah, it was time.” I remember thinking, OK, well, I have to savor the fact that I really love my cast and crew, and that we’ve had that rare opportunity where everyone has gotten along. I think that’s also why everyone is so hyper-emotional about all of this, because we didn’t want to end. It was just time.
Have you entertained the idea of spinoffs or a movie or anything?
I haven’t yet. I find it very flattering that people want to know about this. I think that’s a sign that we’ve done something good. The reason we ended the show in the first place was because I never wanted it to get stale. I never wanted to overstay our welcome. I wanted this show to have a legacy that people return to. I wanted it to be included in conversations about great series and not just a great season. And that requires making tough decisions about saying goodbye. So the idea of reopening anything anytime soon is not necessarily going to happen because I think we need time and space. I think the audience needs to take a breath in order to really want to see these characters again, and more importantly, I need to take a breath, do some other things in order to hopefully get an idea that is special enough to bring everyone back together. Because the last thing anyone would want is for us to just do something in haste, have it not be good, and have that be the legacy of the show.
Speaking of other projects, what have you been working on in your overall deal with ABC Studios?
I think it’s so inspiring to work with people that you really respect. And for me, in those early meetings that I had with them, I went in and said, I’m not a comic. I happen to write a comedy show. But I’m not a stand-up. This isn’t all that I want to do. I have ideas for dramas, I have ideas for thrillers. I have ideas for other comedies. I don’t want to be limited to just a specific genre because that’s what I’ve become known for. I love comedy. I love writing comedy. In a way, we always considered Schitt’s Creek to be a drama that just involved funny things and people and circumstances. That kind of comedy is something that I think I’ll always be interested in, and I’m trying to write something right now that I’m really excited about that’s very different from Schitt’s Creek. All we can really do at this point is just focus and then try and make another show that means something to people and that’s that. I’m very excited about what’s coming next.
I think it was important for me to not jump ship as I know some showrunners do. It’s kind of commonplace at this point for people to start a show and then a couple seasons in jump off and start something else, but I think I was aware of my inexperience. It was important for me to stay, obviously, because I created it and also have such a personal attachment to it, but more than that, to be able to show people that this is what I can do from start to finish. That I’m not an idea starter— I really enjoy the whole process of seeing that idea from start to finish. It’s really taught me a lot about storytelling and I can only hope that I’m afforded another opportunity to continue to tell stories that mean something to me.
This is a lofty question, but what do you want the show to be remembered for?
I hope that it’s the same thing that people will remember the show for, which is just standing for something. Standing for something positive; standing for acceptance; standing for love; standing for the power of empathy and kindness; standing for the transformative effects that opening yourself up and being vulnerable and supported, what that can do to a person. I think that’s why it was important to us in this last week to take the kind of attention that’s being put on our show and use it for good to do the Schitt’s Creek Gives Back initiative, and we’ve already raised over $140,000 for Food Banks Canada and Feeding America. That is what I hope the show will leave people with — this idea that it hopefully made them feel good and inspired them to do good in their lives.