Canadian sitcom Schitt's Creek has long deserved a spot on your list of comfort TV -- sincere, uplifting shows that remind you of love and compassion. With the latest episode featuring the coming out story of a beloved character, you might want to move this one to the top.
For those who are just discovering the series, which has just been renewed for a sixth and final season, it centers on the wealthy Rose family who lose their fortune and have to start over in a small town named Schitt's Creek, which they once bought as a joke. Daniel Levy, producer of the show along with his father Eugene Levy, stars as David, a flamboyantly pansexual New York hipster who co-owns the town store with his straight-laced boyfriend Patrick (Noah Reid). Patrick realized he was gay after falling for David in Season 3, and their odd-couple romance has lifted the heartwarming comedy to a new level of popularity.
So when Levy announced that Season 5 would feature this "very special episode," fans were both excited and anxious for the fate of David and Patrick -- because while tragedy is unlikely in such a lighthearted show, beloved queer couples have a low survival rate on television. ("If Schitt's Creek ever breaks up David and Patrick I'll refuse to pay my taxes," one fan tweeted the publicly-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.)
This week's episode starts out in a way that feels ominously familiar: David has invited Patrick's parents to a surprise birthday party, but when they arrive in town and meet David's father (Eugene Levy), he accidentally outs Patrick, who hadn't gathered the courage to tell them yet. They retreat to their motel room looking shocked and upset, and it's all too easy to picture the tearful arguments and strained relationships that often come next.
But Daniel Levy, as a showrunner and also as David within the episode, refuses to let Patrick's story play out that way.
He is gentle and supportive when he asks Patrick about his parents, rejecting the trope of accusing his closeted boyfriend of being ashamed of him. (This shows a lot of growth from the David of Season 4, who nearly ended the relationship when he found out Patrick didn't tell him he'd been engaged to his high school girlfriend just before they met.) Keeping the accidental outing a secret, he tells Patrick to come out when he's ready, and offers to pretend to be just his business partner for the night. "What you're dealing with is very personal," he says, "and it's something you should only do on your terms."
When Patrick does decide to tell his parents at the party, David hurries back to the motel to try to smooth things over with them, only to find out that they're fine with Patrick's sexuality and are just sad that he couldn't talk to them about it. They all spend the rest of the episode making sure Patrick feels as safe and loved as possible when the moment comes.
Schitt's Creek, Season 5, Ep. 11
The episode is drawing a lot of emotional reactions and praise from Schitt's Creek fans, and Levy doesn't take that lightly. From the beginning, he created the fictional town as a kind of safe haven, where queer characters like David and Patrick can live their lives openly.
"The amount of response I got from the third season of our show where we first introduced the character of Patrick was like, 'I really hope nothing bad happens to them,'" he said in a January interview with The Advocate. "It was a very conscious effort on my part to not have that happen. In fact, it's been a conscious effort to not ever show the other side on our television program. I have made a very strong point to not ever show bigotry, homophobia, or intolerance on our show because to me, it's a celebration of love. At the root of it, [Schitt's Creek] is a celebration of love between the family and between the relationships that we build."
That decision has been a great comfort for many people, but it does raise the question of whether the show can address coming out in a meaningful way. Comedies have tackled this issue before, notably with Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) who came out as bisexual and got a painful "this is just a phase" reaction from her parents -- and for a lot of queer viewers, this experience is still much more relatable than the unquestioning support of Patrick's family. By removing the dangers of coming out from the equation, Schitt's Creek could be seen as glossing over queer struggles for the sake of a feel-good episode that's more comfortable for mainstream audiences.
But in the end, it's Levy and Reid's strong performances that drive the story home. Open bigotry may not exist in Schitt's Creek, but the actors never forget that in today's world, you can still feel it lurking just past the town limits. Patrick's fear keeps us connected with that, as does David's relief when he realizes Patrick's parents aren't rejecting him. "For a minute I thought this was going to get very dark," he laughs shakily, brushing a tear away.
There are also more subtle aspects of coming out that TV shows rarely have the time or freedom to explore: that it's a complicated process rather than a one-time event, that you can serenade your boyfriend at an open-mic night in one town and still feel afraid in another, and that even the nicest, most liberal-minded parents can struggle with the idea of their own child being LGBTQ. By looking ahead to a time when prejudice and discrimination are fading into the distance, Schitt's Creek is creating new ways for queer viewers to see themselves represented and supported -- and in its own way, that's just as important as the battles we're still fighting.
Schitt's Creek airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on Pop TV, and the first four seasons are streaming on Netflix.