As we gear up for Moira Rose's favorite season — awards — I have a humble plea: Give everyone on Schitt's Creek an Emmy already. The dreamy Canadian sitcom is the best comedy on television, a rare gem that is both radically empathetic and riotously funny. The story of the formerly wealthy Rose family — parents Moira (Catherine O'Hara) and Johnny (Eugene Levy) and their adult children, David (Dan Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy) — who relocate to a small town after losing their fortune, Schitt's Creek is packed with characters who are easier to love in person than they might have been on paper. For everything the show owes to its whip-smart scripts, it sings because the cast is capable of embracing that tension. If we lived in a world as kind as the one depicted in the show, the whole ensemble would be rolling in Emmy nominations.
O'Hara is the show's most obvious scene-stealer, and her Moira — an eccentric soap star whose fading celebrity status sends her sense of self into a tailspin — is its most unique creation. Moira arrives in the town of Schitt's Creek with no creature comforts but her black-and-white wardrobe and a collection of wigs she treats like old friends. Her diction is lofty; her elocution is loftier. Give O'Hara an Emmy for the way she says "baby" alone, and then give her another for the half-human, half-crow voice she adopted for Moira's big comeback role in the fifth season. The actress plays Moira's showboating as the product of a life spent jumping from one role to the next. She distracts people with flair because she doesn't know if she's enough without her fame. All the world's a stage, and Moira Rose's greatest performance is Moira Rose.
Moira takes her bravado to the extreme, but she taps into universal anxieties. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, O'Hara described her character as "no more [tragic] than we're all tragic characters in life. I love that we're all kind of delusional and we have really no idea of what impression we're making on others." Moira works as a character because O'Hara plays her with empathy — she's all of us, just heightened. Everyone wants to believe in their potential like Moira does at her best, and everyone crashes emotionally when the world can't see it. There's something childlike about how Moira navigates her life: She might not know who she is, but she screams when she wants to scream. Her dramatic responses to life's inconveniences are what the internet might call a whole entire mood. Moira's dazzling histrionics are, in O'Hara's hands, honest.
But while the decadent confection that is Moira Rose is (justifiably) getting showered in praise, O'Hara seems just as thrilled to let her castmates shine. She's balanced out by her longtime collaborator Eugene Levy — who co-created the series with his son, Dan Levy — as the family's befuddled patriarch, Johnny. Where O'Hara is airy, Levy is an anchor, grounding the show in familial love. The former CEO of a chain of video rental stores, Johnny vibes like a dependable, business-savvy dad, but Eugene Levy plays him with an undercurrent of panic: He doesn't even know how to work a grill. Johnny may be the smartest person in the room, but he's still a disaster in his own right. Every week on Schitt's Creek, Levy and his expressive eyebrows teach a masterclass in deadpan comedy. He can land a punchline just by staring helplessly into the distance.
Schitt's Creek is a family affair both behind the camera and in front of it — Sarah Levy co-stars with Eugene and Dan, her father and brother, as guileless local waitress Twyla Sands. But on screen, there's no mistaking that the Roses are the ones who are related. The four stars who bring the Rose family to life have worked out an uncanny set of shared mannerisms. It isn't just that Dan Levy inherited his father's eyebrows but inverts his facial expressions (Johnny absorbs frustration; David reflects it). It's the way O'Hara, Murphy, and Dan Levy all talk with their hands, like they're used to wearing too many heavy rings. The physical comedy of Schitt's Creek isn't pratfalls; it's the body language of elite wealth.
No one has a more endearing physicality than Annie Murphy, who deserves the inaugural Emmy for best wrist acting. Murphy acts wrists first; she twists her hands to wave out of car windows and dances her fingers along countertops and poses, bunny-like, when she has something to say. The way Alexis holds herself is a definitive character trait, blending rich-girl snobbery with something inherently cuter and more innocent. Her vocal fry is the same: She gasps and exclaims ("Ew, David!") with such delight that she turns a ditzy stereotype on its head. The fifth season took Murphy's vocal and physical comedy to new heights when Alexis performed her long-lost pop single — and certified bop — "A Little Bit Alexis," complete with choreography. Alexis is incapable of disappearing into a performance; she's just too happy to show off. Her valiant little high kick in the town's production of Cabaret was the funniest split second of the season. Annie Murphy is a stone-cold comic genius.
Season 5 also gave Murphy and her on-screen brother more opportunities to crack their characters' shells, as both Alexis and David pushed themselves to be more vulnerable in their romantic relationships. Alexis took a leap with wholesome veterinarian Ted (Dustin Milligan), while David got engaged to his business partner, Patrick (Noah Reid), whose steady practicality is the perfect foil to his fussiness. Reid brings an easy charm to Patrick's patient amusement with David, and Dan Levy plays David like he's becoming amused with himself, like he might as well start every conversation with, "Please humor me." Like Alexis and Moira, David could have been grating in the wrong hands, but Levy makes him likable by playing with the fact that David is simultaneously aware of himself and unable to be anyone else.
David is a difficult cocktail of contradictions: His unapologetic flamboyance hides deep insecurities. He is his mother's son, right down to the black-and-white clothes, but unlike Moira, David doesn't try on different parts; he's just trying, again and again, to match up to the version of himself that he projects to others. There's a frantic vigilance to him — Levy's line readings are hilariously snappy, his dialogue so crisp it feels like it's on the verge of shattering. Even at his most controlled, David is a baffled mess. But Levy always leaves warmth simmering below the surface. Schitt's Creek walks a fine line between the Roses' damaged past and the love they gradually learn to express, and the show finds quiet moments to highlight their growth: It's in the way David's eyes tear up when his armor is cracked, Moira touches her son's arm, Alexis lights up when she smiles, and Johnny visibly uncoils when his family is happy.
The show's cast of locals is equally gifted. Stevie (Emily Hampshire), who co-owns the motel with Johnny, shone in Season 5 when she broke out of her shell to star in Cabaret, embracing the potential Moira saw in her. Hampshire sang "Maybe This Time" with all the unpolished elation of someone letting herself believe she could win for the first time. Meanwhile, in the audience, Milligan's Ted held his playbill open in front of him for the entire show, a truly galaxy-brained character detail for the wide-eyed vet. Reid makes Patrick soft without making him a pushover; Chris Elliott somehow makes the town's obnoxious mayor, Roland Schitt, more respectable by refusing to sand down his rough edges; Jennifer Robertson plays Roland's wife, Jocelyn, as far smarter than most of the Roses would bet. The whole ensemble finds chemistry in the way everyone is entertained by — and tolerant of — everyone else's quirks. Because these people like each other, the audience can do the same. They should really win Emmys for that. I would love that journey for them.
The first four seasons of Schitt's Creek are streaming on Netflix. Emmy nominations will be announced Tuesday, July 16. The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast Sunday, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on Fox.