We’ve All Been Up Schitt’s Creek & Catherine O’Hara’s Moira Rose Made It a Little Better for Us

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We’ve All Been Up Schitt’s Creek & Catherine O’Hara’s Moira Rose Made It a Little Better for Us

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

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

If there’s one TV show that helped us get through the pandemic, it’s Schitt’s Creek. After total domination at the Emmys, the endearing Canadian comedy series about a dysfunctional family who lands up in a town called Schitt’s Creek after going bankrupt, is continuing its award season run at the Golden Globes. Catherine O’Hara won the Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy for playing the hysterical Moira Rose and the show was also awarded the Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy.

Many of us who were up Schitt’s Creek most of 2020, took to the series in the last season after its modest start in 2015. The story of the riches-to-rags Rose family, an eccentric foursome who lose everything when their video rental stores go bust, 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 troubled 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 O’Hara channeled her inner Moira Rose during the Golden Globes acceptance speech. O’Hara and her husband, production designer Bo Welch, attempted to recreate an in-person awards ceremony and it was chaotic. As the actress started speaking, Welch played some fake applause and instrumental music on his phone, leaving everyone watching puzzled and reminding us why we simply can’t get enough of Moira Rose.

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.

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 think pieces 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.

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

Flawed but beloved

Despite these glaring flaws, she never crosses into unlikeable territory. Yes, she’s ridiculous, but so genuine that it’s impossible to mock her 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.) 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 her daughter 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 fan base without the genius of Moira Rose? If you think so, you are blind to reality – and for that, Moira would be most proud.