During the early weeks of the pandemic (remember those days, when quarantine felt like at-home camp and we had no plans to still be talking about COVID two years later?) and then as the 2020 election went off the rails, my wife and I turned to “Schitt’s Creek” to get our minds off the apocalypse.
So did a lot of folks. That year’s virtual Emmys experienced a winning streak like no other for “Schitt’s Creek,” which won outstanding comedy, as well as trophies for stars Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Annie Murphy and Dan Levy (not to mention wins for writing, directing and more).
It was the right show at the right time, and TV Academy voters clearly agreed. The show was funny, well-crafted and of course, boasted some comedy all-stars (throw Chris Elliott into that mix as well). But there was also something about the show’s idyllic setting that felt like a salve for fans.
The Rose family bought the Canadian town of Schitt’s Creek as a joke, and when they lost everything, they were forced to move into the town’s dumpy motel. But as the series and its episodes progressed, it turned out Schitt’s Creek wasn’t so schitty after all. It was a welcoming small town of eccentrics, who all filtered through the town diner and participated in the area’s quirky traditions.
The pandemic taught us that we have the technology now to do a lot of our work virtually anywhere. I know several of you spent months working remotely from other parts of the country, including Hawai’i, and no one was the wiser on Zoom. That’s starting to change, but the dream of that simpler, small-town life remains.
There’s a great tradition of small towns on TV, in both comedy and drama. Of course, you can go way back to Mayberry on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Small towns are big in creepy TV, including “Twin Peaks,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “True Blood.” Other comedies in recent decades included “My Name Is Earl” and, of course, Pawnee in “Parks and Recreation.”
“Schitt’s Creek” is over, but a number of series are picking up the tradition. In “Life and Beth,” Amy Schumer’s character finds new life in her small Long Island hometown, while in “Ghosts,” a New York couple inherits a haunted mansion in the Hudson Valley. “Young Sheldon” takes place in a fictional East Texas town, while “The Conners” continues in Lanford, Ill., the setting for “Roseanne.”
Other shows exploring different aspects of small-town life include FX’s “Reservation Dogs,” which breaks new ground on the depiction of Indigenous American teens in rural Oklahoma; and Fox’s “Welcome to Flatch,” about the off-center residents in a small Ohio town with an unpleasant name — much like, yes, “Schitt’s Creek.”
But I was particularly charmed this year by Bridget Everett’s HBO series “Somebody Somewhere,” which is inspired by Everett’s hometown of Manhattan, Kan. It’s a bit of wish fulfillment, an America that seems to be out of reach right now: Blue and red, co-existing in the same town and accepting of all. The real Manhattan, Kan., is similarly unique, Everett reports: It’s a college town, but also close to an army base.
“They voted Biden for president, but everybody else was red on the ticket,” she says. “It’s conservative, but there are liberals, so it’s a nice balance. You have the military and the university. Football is huge, as are family and community. My brother Brad still lives there, and he’s always out doing something for somebody. It’s good people.”
And good TV.