In this time of hunkering, two recently departed shows — “Schitt’s Creek” and “The Good Place” — offer viewers a much-needed escape and so much more: Hope. Love. Connection. (Note: vague spoilers abound.)
Each series started out with a group of rather difficult people tossed into new, alien environments. NBC’s “The Good Place” centered on a bunch of newly deceased folks who didn’t quite belong where they ended up. On Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek,” a family of spoiled billionaires (is that redundant?) suddenly had almost everything taken from them by a treacherous business manager. Over the seasons, the respective characters slowly became the best versions of themselves. And while both shows were wonders of humor and depth when they aired, the stories they tell are even more valuable now.
“The Good Place,” which premiered in 2016, offers a rather miraculous combination of moral philosophy and goofy comedy. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) a self-described Arizona trash bag, dies and goes somewhere very wrong; her very presence starts unraveling a whole afterworld of challenges. And her only way out is up.
“Good Place” creator Mike Schur has said the show was inspired by his own search for how to be good in the world. One of the show’s reference materials, the book “On What We Owe to Each Other” by T. M. Scanlon, posits that “the job of being alive on earth is to figure out what you owe to [other people] and how you can provide it for them,” as Schur explained to Buzzfeed News in 2019. “That's the only way that there will ever be any progress.”
Eleanor first tries to improve herself so she won’t get caught in a lie, but then she, along with her cohorts (played William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil and Manny Jacinto), realize they need to grow, and help one another, for the greater good. It’s all couched in silliness, but at its core the show poses the existential question we all must face, or avoid at our peril: How can we best live together in the world?
Schur hasn’t finished wrestling with the concept. He’s now working on a book that combines philosophy and humor; “How to Be Good: A Definitive Answer for Exactly What to Do, in Every Possible Situation,” which will be released in the fall of 2021.
By contrast, the Rose family inhabiting “Schitt’s Creek” doesn't appear to be saving the world through their belated efforts at connection. But the show itself made some impressive headway. Dan Levy cocreated “Schitt’s Creek” with his father, Eugene Levy; they also star. In the first season, which premiered in 2015, the exceedingly rich and fragmented family (rounded out by Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy) are left bereft in the titular town. Each of them is more horrified than the next by their predicament, and their bad attitudes are on full display.
As the seasons progress, they start to slowly, realistically, forge deeper relationships than had existed before. Dan Levy says they worked hard to earn those character arcs, “because I think if it wasn’t done quite as carefully, it would either feel a little saccharine or people wouldn’t believe it.” While the Roses begin the show as islands, by the end of their sojourn they become a peninsula. (Please use Moira’s accent when you read that line.)
Dan Levy played David Rose, the pansexual son who had never been lucky in love before arriving in Schitt’s Creek. Levy deliberately made the family, and the town, free of homophobia, bigotry or intolerance of any kind. “I think the minute you show the other side, you give power to it, whether you intend to or not,” he says. “I wanted to show something completely different.” The town’s inhabitants were not the joke, nor did they make jokes out of David’s (delightful) wardrobe or predilections. Instead, the citizens were catalysts for the Roses’ changing behavior.
“That choice served the show so profoundly because it became a philosophy,” Levy says. “Showing a projection of our world that is kinder and gentler and more accepting really inspired people to try and seek that for themselves, and that’s where a lot of the more emotional ties that were formed between the show and the audience started to happen.”
In creating a world he wanted to see, Levy found viewers wanted to live in it as well. Thanks in part to the show’s debut on Netflix in 2017, it hit cult status. The cast even embarked on a North American tour last year and was greeted by sold-out crowds of besotted fans. They were set to embark on a farewell tour later this year when our new reality intervened. Instead, for the week before the series finale on April 7, Levy and the cast took turns entertaining viewers on Instagram Live, raising over $200,000 for food banks in Canada and the U.S. in the process.
Levy has been overwhelmed by the letters he’s received, not just from members of the LGBTQ community finding the strength to come out, but also from parents finding the wisdom to accept them, after watching David and his family on the show. “To have played a small part in repairing some of those relationships, and making people see a little more clearly, has been the biggest takeaway from this experience,” he says with emotion.
These shows may be over, but their relevance only grows. For the betterment of all.