Schitt’s Creek’s Emmy Streak is No Surprise. It Owes Its Pandemic Fanbase to the Nutty Moira Rose

Pop Culture

Schitt’s Creek’s Emmy Streak is No Surprise. It Owes Its Pandemic Fanbase to the Nutty Moira Rose

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

“The world is falling apart around us, and I’m dying inside.” – Moira Rose

The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards – referred to by host Jimmy Kimmel as the “Pandemmys” – didn’t exactly promise to be exciting. With no live audience for Kimmel to play off, no red carpet coverage, and winners making their speeches from their houses over video call, TV’s biggest award show was dampened by the spectre of Covid-19. Highlights included such cheap thrills as seeing Rachel, Phoebe, and Monica from FRIENDS reunited watching the awards together, and getting sneak peeks into our favourite celebrity living rooms. This definitely wasn’t the glammed-up good time we’ve come to expect from awards shows past.

But like any good TV show, the Emmys weren’t boring for long. Historic victories included 24-year-old Zendaya becoming the youngest winner for Lead Actress in a Drama Series; she was one of a record number of Black actors to pick up a statue. Even more impressive, though, was the total domination of Netflix’s Canadian comedy series Schitt’s Creek, which swept an astounding nine of the 15 categories it was nominated in. Never before has any series, comedy or drama, won all four acting categories (Best Lead Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress), not to mention awards for writing, directing, and best comedy series. The Emmys, it seems, were up Schitt’s Creek and loving the journey.

So are viewers, many of whom have become fans of the series in the last season after its modest start in 2015. The story of the riches-to-rags Rose family, a dysfunctional foursome who lose everything when their video rental stores go bankrupt, struck a chord with the world under lockdown. The spoiled, sassy Roses are forced to retreat to a backwoods town they bought as a joke because of its absurd name (yep, Schitt’s Creek) and live out of two rooms in a rundown motel. Any schadenfreude we might feel is short-lived, as patriarch Johnny, retired soap star Moira, and their adult children David and Alexis find themselves abandoned by their wealthy New York friends.

A feel-good show for dark times

As the series progresses, the Roses go from desperately grasping at their old lives to becoming part of the wider Schitt’s Creek community. While retaining its laugh-out-loud hilarity, the family narrative delves deeper into heartwarming sincerity with each passing season, and it’s no wonder fans fell for this ultimate feel-good show to tide them through dark times. And yet, despite Schitt’s Creek’s glorious growth arc where David (played by writer/creator Dan Levy) comes to the fore as its heart, there is a gateway drug that hooks you upfront: the wondrous, certifiably insane Moira Rose.

Moira Rose is ridiculous, but so genuine in her pain that she’s impossible to mock completely.

It’s fitting that the show’s first win of the night for Best Comedy Actress went to national treasure Catherine O’Hara. Being Canadian, I was an early adopter of Schitt’s Creek and I’d been hoping for this moment for five years, ever since I saw the outraged grande dame in the first episode. “I’ve been stripped of every morsel of pleasure I earned in this life,” she wails, setting the stage for the endlessly quotable Moira-isms that are now the stuff of legendary memes and gifs.

Moira has a diverse and beloved collection of wigs that she has named; she totters around town in stilettos and fur hats with an enviable self-seriousness; and her bizarre accent has been the subject of countless thinkpieces and “bébé” jokes. Her tour de force eccentricity is like nothing I’ve seen since Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka: a woman who lives so strenuously in a world of her own making that it becomes real, and now everyone else has to live in it too.

Moira is too self-absorbed to be an attentive mother, too strong-willed to put her glory days as a TV star behind her, and too much in denial to ever accept that her lot is now to live in Schitt’s Creek.

Flawed but beloved

Despite these glaring flaws, she never crosses into unlikeable territory. Moira is ridiculous, but so genuine in her pain that she’s impossible to mock completely. Her marriage to down-to-earth Johnny is often like chalk and cheese, when Moira insists on spending extravagant sums of money they don’t have and refuses to cooperate with his well-meant plans. (“Be careful John, lest you suffer vertigo from the dizzying heights of your moral ground!” she warns.)

Would Schitt’s Creek have found its ardent fanbase without the genius of Moira Rose?

Even when Moira drives him to his wits’ end, she shows up as a supportive, if not uncomplaining, spouse and cares for him unconditionally. Moira is the Rose who has the longest way to go in coming to terms with Schitt’s Creek.

To watch her try is a singular treat. When Moira takes on a commercial for vintner Herb Ertlinger’s fruit wines, desperate to earn some money for the family, the drunken tongue twisters that ensue are comedy gold. She swallows her pride and allows Alexis to coax her into doing soap opera fan conventions, and when her hysterically bad film, The Crows Have Eyes 3: The Crowening, is shelved, Moira’s heartbreak is shattering. O’Hara’s range is unparalleled, and to watch her at work as Moira is addictive. Would Schitt’s Creek have found its ardent fanbase without the genius of Moira Rose? If you think so, you are blind to reality – and for that, Moira would be most proud.