If one is anxious and struggling amid the dark uncertainty of a global pandemic, it is highly recommended they hop on the phone with Catherine O’Hara and cry about love.
After six seasons, the final episode of Schitt’s Creek airs Tuesday night on Pop TV. The comedy legend, who plays Moira Rose on the show, is mourning not only the end of what may rank as the most emotional, meaningful project of her career, but that circumstances are preventing a proper send-off.
She remembers how lovely it was when the series first premiered in 2015 and she hosted a dinner party for the cast, including her Rose family co-stars Eugene Levy, Daniel Levy, and Annie Murphy. The hope was to throw a similar shindig to celebrate the end of the series on Tuesday, but dutiful social distancing has canceled such arrangements.
O’Hara is crying with us—over her thwarted party plans, about the father-and-son relationship between co-creators and stars Eugene and Daniel Levy, about the power of love, about that “Simply the Best” café scene—from her Los Angeles home, where she is self-isolating with her husband.
“You staying inside?” she asks, more like implores, adopting that Moira Rose cadence that escalates until vowel sounds morph into something whimsically unrecognizable. “You’re not touching your face!?”
Her eldest son is there, too, she explains, earning some money by working in her garden. “Because of course no one has a job right now.” Her signature pursed, bemused smile somehow comes through the telephone. “I’m glad you do, though! That’s good.” She giggles her way through the next bit: “And I get to still talk about myself! I’m kidding. I don’t love it.” The humble Canadian comes out. “Sorry…”
There’s some gratitude to be had with regard to the circumstances of Schitt’s Creek’s final episodes.
For one, had there been one more season, it would have been shooting now in Toronto, production would have been shut down, and who knows if they would have gotten to wrap things up. But there’s also something unplanned and, as with all things Schitt’s Creek, even rather touching about the state of the world in which the finale will air.
“It’s serendipitous that we are stuck at home now and this show happens to be about people learning to be the best they can be while stuck together,” she says, punctuating the thought, as she so often does, with a lilting chuckle.
In other words, may all of our families end up bonding like the Roses did when they were trapped living together in that roadside hotel room. “Yes,” she says. “Though they say that divorce rates are also going to go up, too.” The comedic timing lands like a sonic boom. Of course it does. That’s the Catherine O’Hara way.
Suffice it to say, there has never been a TV character quite like Catherine O’Hara’s Moira Rose.
For the show’s fifth season, O’Hara was nominated for the Emmy, Critics Choice Award, Television Critics Association Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award. Recent weeks have seen countless .GIFs of her from the series used to satirize life in quarantine. In a BuzzFeed video, Paul Rudd ruled that her performance is “quite possibly the greatest creation since the Mars Rover.”
Now it’s time to say goodbye.
“I don’t expect to ever experience anything like this again…”
In the pilot of Schitt’s Creek, the Rose family’s world is upended when their fortune disappears after being defrauded by their business manager.
Patriarch and video store magnate Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), Paris Hilton-esque socialite-daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy), pretentious son David (Daniel Levy), and Moira, a former soap-opera actress, have no recourse but to move to the dusty rural town of Schitt’s Creek. Fifteen years earlier, Johnny bought the town for David as a joke birthday gift. (The premise was inspired in part by Kim Basinger’s own headline-making purchase of a Georgia town in 1989.)
Suddenly this family, typically sprawled across the globe in private yachts, pied-à-terres, and luxury penthouses, is piled on top of each other in adjoining rooms at a roadside motel. Stripped of their wealth and possessions, they’re forced to get to know each other... and, more frighteningly, themselves.
Moira was this bon vivant who is now trapped in a dusty cage alongside her human children and her wig children. (O’Hara came up with the idea of Moira wearing a different wig in each scene.) Adding to the situational comedy was some of the most delightfully unusual elocution of any character on TV. Variety described O’Hara’s character’s accent as “slightly British, slightly Mid-Atlantic, with a pinch of Katharine Hepburn’s classic Hollywood cadence.” As O’Hara explained, “What you’re getting when you hear her speak are oral mementos of her world travels.”
Another indelible contribution to the sui generis confection was an abstruse, euphonic vocabulary. “I think Daniel will vouch for me on this, but I found probably most of those words,” O’Hara says.
She’d routinely do passes of Moira’s dialogue and inject arcane words she’d find in Foyle’s Philavery: A Treasury of Unusual Words and Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous. There are entire Instagram accounts now devoted to the Moira Rose Word of the Day. O’Hara’s personal favorite: “Unasinous, which means ‘equally stupid.’”
Joining fan odes to Moira’s vocabulary were listicles celebrating her wigs and wardrobe. It’s a tenet of what’s become one of the most intense fandoms for any show on television. What was initially a slow-burn interest in Schitt’s Creek ignited into a conflagration thanks to binge-watches on Netflix. According to Nielsen metrics, it’s the streaming service’s second-most-watched acquired show (so excluding original series), behind only The Office.
A Schitt’s Creek live tour has taken the cast around North America, putting O’Hara face to face with people who enjoy her work with more frequency and intensity than at any other time in her career. It’s the most she’s ever been recognized.
“I keep saying, people are giving us so much love it’s hard not to take it personally,” she says, letting out that robust, piercing laugh she’s become famous for. “As opposed to the awful stuff you can read online. The people who watch our show are so kind.”
O’Hara admits, “I’ve been lucky people generally have been pretty nice to me in my working life.” That’s included a breakout with Toronto’s Second City Television, where she first met Eugene Levy, and a fireworks show of a film career: Beetlejuice, Home Alone, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and her collaborations with Levy in Christopher Guest’s mockumentary masterpieces: Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration.
Still, with regard to the Schitt’s Creek phenomenon, she says, “I don’t expect to ever experience anything like this again. And I feel really lucky that I got to be part of the show.”
“I could cry every time…”
“I cried so much. All of us were crying so much.” The biggest cry, O’Hara estimates, was at the last read-through.
“There was so much weeping going on in the room,” she says. Even Daniel Levy, who had written the scenes and knew exactly what was coming, was crying just anticipating everyone else’s reactions. (Annie Murphy described Levy’s moaning sobs as “some kind of swamp creature noise, like you were eating your own face.”)
The tears haven’t stopped just because production has wrapped. O’Hara is still watching the episodes as they air live each week, and is as moved as the show’s fans by the ways in which the Rose family has learned to love and support each other, even if that means parting ways.
“Eugene as Johnny is killing me this season,” she declares. “As if I need to be more emotional,” she keeps watching the scenes and thinking about how her friend of over four decades has worked with his two children so intimately these last six years (Levy’s daughter, Sarah, plays diner waitress Twyla on the show), and gets even more worked up.
“The same way we were forced as a Rose family to be together, they have self-inflicted themselves to be with each other, to spend this much beautiful intense creative time together,” she says. “Now that’s over. I watch Eugene playing this sweet, loving father, then in my mind I add, ‘Oh my God, it’s Eugene working with Sarah,’ and ‘It’s Eugene working with Daniel.’ They’re never going to get to do this again.”
As emotional as wrapping up the show has been, it ranks alongside the carnival of tears that was prepping for and shooting what may, when all is said and done, be the most famous and impactful scene Schitt’s Creek has produced.
David, who identifies as pansexual, meets and begins to fall in love with Patrick (Noah Reid), slightly mortified by how straight-laced his paramour is. When Patrick announces he is going to perform at an open-mic night, the Rose family braces for a fatal bout of secondhand embarrassment. But Patrick uses the platform to deliver a grand gesture of love, performing a stripped-down, acoustic rendition of Tina Turner’s song “Simply the Best,” tenderly dedicated to David.
People were losing it before the scene was even filmed. Daniel Levy basically melted down after receiving a recording of Reid singing the arrangement, which he created himself, late one night when about to go to bed after bingeing Downton Abbey. O’Hara was on her way to set when she was sent the recording. She burst into tears in the car.
When it came time to shoot the performance, they had to shoot around O’Hara because she was too emotional. (If you look closely at the scene, you can see one shot of Moira from behind that slightly breaks continuity as O’Hara dabs her eyes with Kleenex.)
“I watched it as Moira,” she says. “I’d look at David, my son who, what little I know about his life from before when money separated us, is that he had a rough time in romance, if there even was romance in his life. I could cry now.”
Through the phone there’s a slight yelp. O’Hara chokes up. “I am crying. Shit.” She takes a heavy breath and lets a long silence linger. “To watch him have somebody love him so openly like that was just... I could cry every time.”
The scene was emblematic of what had made Schitt’s Creek more than an entertaining sitcom, but something that viscerally meant something to those who watched it. David and Patrick’s journey of love has been profound on personal levels—there are fans who have found it easier to come out because of it—and practically seismic on an industry level. Case in point: A two-story billboard in Los Angeles that was erected showing David and Patrick kissing to promote the final season.
Schitt’s Creek depicts a world where there is no bigotry, no judgment of or hurdles to the couple’s romance. Even grander, outright cruelty seems not to exist. But the true awakening over the years was the way audiences internalized that. The world of the show doesn’t have to be a fictional utopia. The reason our world isn’t like that is because we’re choosing to make it that way.
The scale of the show’s resonance has caught O’Hara a bit by surprise, she admits, because these things were never part of a mission statement. There was no agenda mapped out, or lessons preached as twinkly music played at the end of each episode.
“That’s just the world Daniel and most decent, compassionate, loving people want to live in,” she says. “That I want to live in. It’s so sad that we even have to celebrate it. It just should be.”
To that end, it would be hard to dismiss the idea that Schitt’s Creek arrived at just the right time.
“There’s a lot of negativity about a lot of things around the world, it’s good to just see people being kind to each other,” O’Hara says. “And having laughed! We talk a lot about how profound some of the episodes can be. What’s great, I think, is that we never lost sight of being funny. It shows you can be as sweet as you want. You don’t have to be angry to get laughs.”
They’re words to live by. Even as just a thought, it’s cathartic. Things are scary. Things are bleak. What if we let ourselves be emotional? What if we celebrated love? What if things were just allowed to be nice? What if we ended it all with a laugh? Both O’Hara and I let out a sigh of relief. A much-needed release.
She says goodbye: “God bless ya. And don’t touch your face.”