ARTS & CULTURE
Schitt’s Creek: Why Patrick’s and David’s love story is so important
Queer representation in mainstream media, especially the portrayal of queer relationships, is limited but growing. Since the 1990s, with the coming-out of Ellen DeGeneres, television producers have included queer narrative in their stories, but have struggled to do the LGBTQ+ community justice in the portrayal of their love and relationships. Although many shows have included same-sex relationships as part of a major storyline, no show, in my opinion, has shown the normality of queer relations like Schitt’s Creek.
Schitt’s Creek is a Canadian sitcom, created in 2015, which quickly rose to fame in recent months, following the winning of a whopping nine Emmy awards in 2020. The series follows the Rose family and their rapid transition from wealthy socialites to bankruptcy – their only asset being the town of Schitt’s Creek, which was bought as a joke. As the family comes to terms with middle-class, small-town life, they come into various, hilarious conflicts. By overcoming these various hardships, the Rose family are all well-respected, active members in their new community by the final seasons of the show. The two adult children, David and Alexis, brilliantly played by Dan Levy and Annie Murphy, both go on to achieve their own successes, as they learn the true value of work, money, and the relationships around them. David, who is openly pansexual from the offset, blossoms from a spoiled man-child to an entrepreneur and a husband in an adoring relationship. David’s relationship with Patrick grows organically in front of the viewers and is one of the most genuinely real queer relationships on television.
In the third season of the show, David is given the lease agreement to the recently closed-down General Store, which he transforms into Rose Apothecary. Although he has an eye for design, he relies on his business partner, Patrick Brewer (played by Noah Reid), for the administration and legality of the business’s endeavours. This business relationship develops into a romantic one in a way that is heart-warming but carefully thought-out. The writers of the show successfully maintained a teenage-innocence to their story, despite both men being in their 30s. Following their first kiss, Patrick reveals that he had never kissed a man before, and was nervous due to his lack of experience. Although David was publicly out as pansexual, and has had relations with men in the past, he never belittles or judges Patrick. Research by the Pew Research Centre has shown that LGBTQ+ adults are coming out earlier in life, but Patrick’s coming-out story in his 30s is embraced by both the Schitt’s Creek residents, and the viewers. We see all aspects of Patrick coming to terms with his sexuality, including coming out to his parents, which only serves to deepen the viewers’ affection for him.
The two men never shy away from intimacy. Affection between heterosexual couples on television is nothing new, but Schitt’s Creek is slowly changing the way in which homosexual relationships are portrayed on television. A kiss between a man and woman is expected and accepted on television, regardless of the genre of the show, but LGBTQ+ characters are not given the same opportunities to express their love openly and comfortably on the big screen. David and Patrick are not reluctant when it comes to displaying their fondness for one another, regularly holding hands, or sharing a kiss. The most tender of these moments being when Patrick sings “Simply the Best” – an absolute classic – at the Rose Apothecary Open Mic Night. Although singing to a room full of Schitt’s Creek residents, Patrick is undoubtedly singing to David, moving both David and his mother, Moira (played by actress Catherine O’Hara) to unscripted tears.
Patrick and David in a recent scene, from Twitter
The most stable and loving gay relationships on TV, like Mitch and Cam in Modern Family or Captain Holt and Kevin in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, are rarely seen holding hands, kissing, or displaying any sort of physical closeness to each other. Although these shows are normalising the airing of LGBTQ+ couples on television, they fail to feature this vital element of their relationship. On the other side of the spectrum, Orange is the New Black portrays raw, uncensored lesbian relationships. These relationships are fleeting though, with the surviving couples having to tolerate high levels of toxicity in the relationship. Dan Levy told Out Magazine:
“Writers’ rooms and television studios paint gay love stories with a different brush than they do straight love stories. There’s more caution as to how intimate you can be. It was my intention with this relationship to never once question whether we were taking it too far.”
The writers of Schitt’s Creek strike a perfect balance between love and struggle. Their relationship, like all relationships, have their ups and downs – for example, when Patricks ex-fiancée comes to town in an attempt to rekindle their old romance, and Patrick is forced to admit that aspect of his life to David. Although David is upset that he did not know about his previous engagement, he shows maturity by not arguing with Partick regarding the idea of Patrick’s previous heterosexual relationships. More importantly, David neither questions Patrick’s sexuality, nor does he criticise Patrick for coming out later in life.
The writers of Schitt’s Creek, including Dan Levy (in his role as executive producer), were unsure of the relationship at first. When interviewed by EW, Levy admitted that he was unsure if the relationship would work:
“Noah could have come into the show and we could’ve gotten along, but there wouldn’t have been the same spark. Then we would have probably inevitably either written him out or had it die-off at some point.”
However, in letting the characters achieve their happy ending, Levy avoided falling victim to the “Bury the Gays” trope. “Bury the Gays” is a popular trope in television in which LGBTQ+ characters die to add shock value. This trope however, has saturated mainstream media, to the extent that it is unusual when LGBTQ+ characters are given an opportunity to live relatively pain-free lives. Studies by the Journal of Homosexuality has shown that out of the 35 lesbian characters on television in the 2015–2016 season, 10 died in scripted narrative television (Waggoner, 2018). This can be seen in numerous popular TV shows, such as The 100, Pretty Little Liars, and The Walking Dead. During a GLAAD panel discussion in 2017, creators agreed that TV needs to reverse this trope. Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s director of entertainment research and analysis commented that the deaths of the LGBTQ+ characters are “often in violent ways that benefit somebody else’s story rather than anything contributing to that character’s own arc” (Dibdin, 2017).
The writers of Schitt’s Creek successfully developed a realistic yet warm gay relationship, the likes of which have not been seen on mainstream television before. The portrayal of any relationship, queer or straight, as a human relationship is essential in the process of acceptance in mainstream media and in society as a whole. I hope that these strides towards reducing the stigma of same-sex intimacy in media is mimicked in future series.
Featured photo from Twitter