[Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for the “Schitt’s Creek” series finale, “Happy Ending.”]
Since 2015, “Schitt’s Creek” has been one of the most charming shows on television. While that may not sound like strong praise in terms of genuine quality humor — instead, perhaps, it sounds like acknowledgment that the show is just as Canadian as its creators and cast — it absolutely is, because the series’ ability to be effortlessly charming also revealed that a show can be warm and good-hearted without being sappy or lacking edge in its humor.
When “Schitt’s Creek” first premiered, it certainly had something to draw viewers in: the sophisticated ignorance that defined — and then continued to define — the newly broke Rose family. But its potential was mostly predicated on just how much unexpected charm it had. That and the established comedic talents of Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara (a living legend who I had the distinct pleasure of buying a drink for a couple of months ago and deserves all the free drinks she can get), and Chris Elliott.
Like a similarly charming, critically-acclaimed series from around the same time called “Scrotal Recall” (later renamed “Lovesick”), “Schitt’s Creek” came into the television world with expectations of crass and lowbrow humor that it ended up subverting. Instead, it proved itself to be one of the most thoughtful, comforting, and, again, charming comedies on television of the past five years.
Of course, the series did somewhat play up those expectations of crass and lowbrow humor at first. Naturally, the series’ title comes to mind, along with the Schitt family led by the crude and oblivious Roland Schitt (Elliott). The lewd “Welcome to Schitt’s Creek” town sign is overt, which is why it’s impressive just how affecting it ends up being as a genuine emotional beat in the final scene of the entire series. Plus, the townsfolk of the titular Schitt’s Creek were portrayed less like quirky smalltown citizens (a la “Gilmore Girls”) and more like a parade of (also) oblivious weirdos, partially a result of the fish-out-of-water Rose family’s perspective on the whole situation and partially just a bit of early series growing pains.
In all honesty, “Schitt’s Creek” could’ve been — and was expected to be, given all the pieces presented at first — a far less warm and accepting show, one that simply played to the lowest common denominator and meanness for as long as it lasted. Leading the charge in those expectations were the cold matriarch Moira Rose (O’Hara) and the shallow Alexis Rose (Annie Murphy), with the over-the-top David Rose having the fact that he was played by the series’ co-creator somewhat hang over him as a character. (As Johnny Rose, series co-creator Eugene Levy has always been the closest to the Rose family’s “straight man,” despite having his own quirks and shortcomings to grow from as the businessman who lost his empire.)
But then a funny thing happened: “Schitt’s Creek” ended up being a (somewhat) aspirational series. The bite from its main characters never waned and neither did their more snobby characteristics, but they managed to exhibit an emotional growth that no one could’ve expected at first, even with the obvious premise that would come from the reality check that was the Rose family’s fall from grace.
Which brings us to the series finale of “Schitt’s Creek,” “Happy Ending.” This appropriately-titled episode of television focuses on David and Patrick’s (Noah Reid) wedding day, and it wraps up a season of a series that has been all about getting the perfect, happy ending for all of its characters, whatever that is ultimately supposed to look like. Going into this season with the knowledge that this is the end, “Schitt’s Creek” has provided its stellar cast with equally stellar moments — both comedic and emotional — throughout. (This season even gave Elliott’s Roland a powerful, earnest scene just a couple of episodes ago, and he has always been the hardest character to really parse throughout the series.) But particularly with this episode, O’Hara and Murphy end the series as the MVPs of both the over-the-top comedy beats and, surprisingly, the serious, while Daniel Levy cements his status as one of the great creator-actors.
“Happy Ending” doesn’t throw in some last-minute change of life-altering plans, other than in the case of Mother Nature intervening to change the wedding venue; it sticks to the plan for all of these characters, throwing in some odd wrenches in David’s plan for a perfect wedding but still giving him a perfect (especially by “Schitt’s Creek” standards) wedding. When all is said and done, Johnny and Moira are still going to Los Angeles, Alexis is still heading to New York City eventually, and David, Patrick, and Stevie (Emily Hampshire) are all still staying in Schitt’s Creek. In fact, those odd wrenches — a storm destroying the original wedding venue, David accidentally getting a happy ending during his massage (and not stopping it), the wedding ending up at Town Hall instead, Alexis wearing a wedding dress to David’s wedding, Moira Rose dressing as the Pope at David’s wedding — are exactly what makes it perfect by “Schitt’s Creek” standards. It’s all part of the town and the show’s charm.
“Happy Ending” definitely leaves the audience wanting more of the episode, but that’s simply because it’s hard to say goodbye to these characters at this point, especially after this season. Wanting to know what the future holds for the Roses and Patrick and Stevie and everyone in Schitt’s Creek after “Happy Ending” makes all the sense in the world. But that’s also a different chapter in a different story.
When it comes to this particular story, though, “Schitt’s Creek” ends with an episode (and a final season) that truly highlights one of its greatest strengths of a show: its ability to make its characters grow without fundamentally changing them. For example, one of the most striking differences between the Rose family in the pilot and the series finale is how much they all openly admit that they love each other and actually mean it when they say it. Which frames things like Alexis wearing a wedding dress to David’s wedding and Moira arriving in what can only be described as “Pope couture” in a much different way from how they’d be if they attempted to do something like that back in the first season. Because both of those character choices could totally have existed in the first season… but they wouldn’t have come from a place where you’ve got to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re not trying to hurt David or steal his thunder.
Instead, by series’ end, they’re walking David down the aisle and officiating his wedding, respectively, ultimately providing two of the episodes’ most integral emotional beats in the process. The same goes for Johnny taking over to make sure the wedding goes on perfectly, as the evolution of the Johnny/David father-son relationship over the course of the series has perhaps not been as heavily praised as all things Moira and Alexis (who have also had a terrific mother-daughter dynamic evolution) but has still been an integral part of the story Daniel (who wrote this episode and co-directed with Andrew Cividino) has been telling over the years.
As for David, as much as he’s still the same high-strung person who needs everything to be a certain way as he was in the pilot, by the end of the series, he’s a content person who’s found love for someone else, as well as himself. And all of the mishaps in this episode, while it’s refreshing that they don’t actually get in the way of anything, it’s also evidence of how much David has grown — as that would not be the case if any of this were to happen in the first season.
Watching these characters’ evolve into people who are truly capable of love for each other, others, and even themselves has been one of the silent joys of this series, and this season has highlighted that even more than before. So it’s hard to watch this episode and not cry along with its characters as David and Patrick recite their vows. Or even before that, when the town a capella troupe is singing David and Patrick’s definitive song, “Simply the Best.” Or even before that, when Alexis tells Moira she’s “almost glad” they lost all their money and ended up living this life. Or at the very end, when these characters say goodbye and the audience has to say goodbye for good as well. Happy tears are definitely an intended side effect of “Happy Ending,” though at no point does the episode feel emotionally manipulative. Instead, it represents all the efforts Daniel Levy and “Schitt’s Creek” have made to make these characters and this world feel real, to feel worth caring about — and just how successful those efforts ended up being.
“Happy Ending” is the final punctuation on the surprising sentence — or the big bow on the back of the wedding dress — that is “Schitt’s Creek.” Like the series ultimately proved itself to be over the years, the episode is funny, it’s emotional, it’s a little absurd yet comforting. It’s also simultaneously just as into crass and lowbrow humor as you always thought it would be. After all, the title of the final episode of the entire series is a handjob pun. Because there’s nothing in the rulebook that says one of the most charming shows on TV can’t love a really childish joke.