Kirsten McDougall Essay: The Summer of Schitt’s Creek
Last summer I watched all 80 episodes of the comedy series vs in three weeks. I did this on my phone, mostly lying on or in a bed. It was the best summer, the summer of Schitt Creek. The main characters, Moira, Johnny, David and Alexis Rose, became familiar, companions with whom I wanted to come back after barbecues in the real homes of my real friends. At these barbecues I listed everyone I could talk to Schitt Creek. I judged people on their answers. If someone said, “Oh, I tried, I didn’t get it,” I would quickly find a reason to leave their orbit of conversation. If you didn’t like Schitt’s Creek, or worse, if you didn’t find it funny, I didn’t want to know you.
My favorite revelers were those who knew the comedic brilliance of Catherine O’Hara’s vocal motifs and accent as Moira Rose. There are entire articles and reddits dedicated to the way Moira speaks, so it wasn’t like I was the only one obsessed. There is nothing boring Schitt Creek so it is impossible that i was a Schitt Creek bother. But I’m socially aware enough to know when a topic of conversation is exhausted. It was okay, I could go home and watch more eps. Until I can’t. Once episode 80 was over, I felt its absence, as you do when you finish a novel you love, or when you leave the black theater at the end of a film that captivates you. It’s a specific desire this one, and I hurt it last summer, when I reached the end of the Schitt Creek story.
For me, summer is for the obsession. And by obsession, I mean long times to do or think about something that I don’t have time for in the ordinary year. It’s for long novels, long walks on the beach, long parties, long drinks, long chats with friends, long days in bed. When I was a teenager I loved watching a TV mini-series in the summer. Thorny birds, Lonely dove, Body line about the 1932-33 English cricket team’s Ashes tour of Australia – these are shows I remember from the summers of my childhood. I don’t even like cricket but I loved it Body line.
I often choose a long novel to read in the summer – Anna karenina camping in Tokomaru bay, Portrait of a lady Laura Hillenbrand’s book on racehorses at Ōtaki Beach, Sea Biscuit, on a Hawkes Bay farm, the complete catalog of Peanuts on my couch at home. These stories are indelible in my mind, I live in their worlds for days and they settle in me like friendly parasites. Their pace is important. The kind of obsession I’m talking about forces you to slow down, to pay attention in a particular way, to look away from reality.
The last summer of my childhood I took a long bike ride from Masterton to the Pinnacles in Putangirua with my friends Jo and Cath. We weren’t really cyclists but had become obsessed with the splash movies of Peter Jackson and Brain death was released that year. The opening scenes were shot at the Pinnacles, so we decided to make a pilgrimage, as the fans do, to our own movie mecca. We packed our sleeping bags and arranged to stay at Stu’s. His family consisted of farmers in southern Wairarapa and Stu was likely to be a farmer too, although the idea of adult work was still a vague concept.
Sun dazzling long stretches of metal gray country roads … an ever-present headwind full of dust and pollen … the occasional farmer walking past us in a ute … sheepdogs barking at three young women speeding through ten speeds. I had definitely romanticized cycling in the countryside. In reality, it was mostly unpleasant. I don’t remember how long it took us to get there, but I do remember the sunburn on my legs and neck. When we got to the Pinnacles we were exhausted and dehydrated. My thighs were too sore to climb the dry valleys of towering gravel pillars that had replaced southwestern Sumatra in Brain death. People come from all over the world to view New Zealand’s famous landscapes, but when you’ve lived here your whole life you sometimes take it for granted, and that’s just … scenery. It was too hot and I was too tired to imagine where they could have put the cameras. In real life, the Pinnacles looked like New Zealand, too ordinary to be the birthplace of zombies.
Back at Stu’s, we had a picnic and his parents took us water skiing on Lake Wairarapa. That night I lay awake reflecting on my inability to imagine how to turn a normal old New Zealand into something extraordinary. I would never be someone who could make such a fuss. I hadn’t yet understood that you have to follow your nose where it takes you, and that the best stories are in just living.
I took my youngest son there three summers ago. We stayed at the wonderful Lake Ferry Hotel and ate their famous fish and chips. The Pinnacles were majestic, and even my son loved them, showing that the scenery and obsession is best enjoyed when you’re well fed.
A while ago the mother of an old friend showed me a clipping from Stu from a local newspaper, now a farmer with a large herd of 1,500 cows. I wouldn’t have recognized him, but he was there, surrounded by cows. “Look at all these cows,” my friend’s mother said. ‘Success!’
Success. To each of us, it seems different. These days, Jo is a lawyer, Cath is an artist, and I … my head is full of stories. I have spent thousands of hours obsessed with the characters, the dialogue, translating reality into fiction. Laying down on a bed watching 80 eps of a comedy series might seem like a waste of time to some people, but for me, it’s part of how I learn to tell stories. This is exactly what summer is for.
* Kirsten McDougall’s latest novel is She’s a Killer. She lives in Wellington.