TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Last month, the TV Guide cable network rebranded itself and is now known as the Pop network, pop as in pop culture. On Wednesday, it presents the first series that our TV critic David Bianculli considers worth mentioning. But, on the radio, mentioning the title is somewhat problematic. Here's David's review and his explanation.
DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: The show I'm about to review, which premieres with two back-to-back episodes Wednesday night on the newly launched pop network, is a sitcom. It's an import from Canada, where it premiered earlier this year. And one reason it's worth noting is because it stars two veteran performers from one of my all-time favorite sketch comedy series, "SCTV." Those stars are Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy, who also have teamed together on such wonderful films as "A Mighty Wind." Eugene Levy co-created the series with his son Dan, who's known in Canada as a former host on MTV there, but a virtual unknown here in the States. It's the first time father and son have worked together. And on this new series, they're collaborating on-screen as well as off.
Eugene Levy plays John Rose, the patriarch of a wealthy, pampered family, and O'Hara plays his wife. Dan Levy plays their son, and Annie Murphy portrays their daughter. In the opening scene of the premier, all four of them are thrust suddenly into poverty after an associate absconds with their fortune. As a small army of Treasury agents empties their opulent mansion, their lawyer sits down with the family to explain their new fiscal reality.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCHITT'S CREEK")
STEWART ARNOTT: (As lawyer) Eli really did a number, Johnny. He took everything. They're still looking for him. They think he's in the Caymans.
EUGENE LEVY: (As Johnny Rose) He was our business manager. He's supposed to pay taxes.
ARNOTT: (As lawyer) There's is a very small amount set aside for you and one asset the government has allowed you to retain.
O'HARA: (As Moira Rose) The kids.
ARNOTT: (As lawyer) The children are dependents, Moira. You bought a small town in 1991, Johnny.
E. LEVY: (As Johnny Rose) Yes, I bought that as joke for my son.
DAN LEVY: (As David Rose) Wait, you actually purchased that town?
E. LEVY: (As Johnny Rose) Yes, I purchased the town. How else could I get the deed?
ANNIE MURPHY: (As Alexis Rose) You could have PhotoShopped the deed.
D. LEVY: (As David Rose) And saved the money - saved the money.
E. LEVY: (As Johnny Rose) Why would I PhotoShop a deed? The joke was owning the town.
O'HARA: (As Moira Rose) OK, stop.
E. LEVY: (As Johnny Rose) That was the joke.
D. LEVY: (As David Rose) Oh my God.
E. LEVY: (As Johnny Rose) Well, that was the joke.
ARNOTT: (As lawyer) To Johnny's credit, this town might just be your saving grace, at least for a while.
O'HARA: (As Moira Rose) What do you mean?
ARNOTT: (As lawyer) You can live there for next-to-nothing until you get back on your feet.
O'HARA: (As Moira Rose) I'm sure there's a penthouse we can move into. Please, there are other options.
ARNOTT: (As lawyer) Well, homelessness is still on the table.
BIANCULLI: In the very next scene, the Rose family shows up in that small town, arriving by bus and moving into a seedy, little motel. The name of the town also is the name of this TV series, and there's a reason the deed to the town was bought as a joke. It's a joke I can't say on the radio, but the second word is creek. The first is spelled S-C-H-I-T-T-apostrophe-S and rhymes with spits. From now on, I'll just call it "Creek."
"Creek" is a film sitcom without a laugh track, but one that falls in line with a long TV tradition. Basically, it's a reboot of "Green Acres," except in that '60s sitcom, only the wealthy wife didn't want to relocate to a small town. In "Creek," none of them wants to be there. But in both shows, rubbing up against the locals is the main point of the story and the main source of the comedy.
You expect old hands from "SCTV" to be almost effortlessly funny here, and they are. O'Hara wears a different wig and displays a different frantic emotion in almost every scene. And Eugene Levy gets to do plenty of his patented slow burns, especially when he tangles with the town mayor, played by the show's other familiar face, Chris Elliott. But the less familiar faces make a good first impression, too, and keep impressing because I've previewed the first handful of episodes.
One standout is Annie Murphy as the Roses' spoiled daughter, Alexis. Another is Emily Hampshire as the motel clerk, maid and manager. She's so droll and sarcastic, she's delightful, as in this scene from an upcoming episode in which Dan Levy as David Rose asks her advice in seeking employment in town. After he lists his strengths, she looks in the local want ads.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SCHITT'S CREEK")
EMILY HAMPSHIRE: (As Stevie Budd) What kind of job are you looking for?
D. LEVY: (As David Rose) Something in, like, art curating or trend forecasting.
HAMPSHIRE: (Stevie Budd) Oh, OK, let's see. Not seeing anything in art curating or trend forecasting. That's weird.
D. LEVY: (As David Rose) OK.
HAMPSHIRE: (Stevie Budd) Do you have any other skills or areas of expertise?
D. LEVY: (As David Rose) I've been told I have really good taste.
HAMPSHIRE: (As Stevie Budd) Oh, well, that's good. Let's see. Oh, bag boy at the grocery store.
D. LEVY: (As David Rose) I don't know what that is.
HAMPSHIRE: (As Stevie Budd) You put groceries in bags so that people can carry their groceries out of the grocery store.
D. LEVY: (As David Rose) OK. And how much do you think that would pay?
HAMPSHIRE: (As Stevie Budd) I'm going to say minimum wage.
D. LEVY: (As David Rose) Which is - what? - 40, 45 something an hour?
HAMPSHIRE: (As Stevie Budd) Exactly.
BIANCULLI: The title of this new comedy series is an obvious joke and not at all a subtle one. The show itself, though, is lot more textured and worth seeking out. Usually, when a new network wants to lure an audience to visit for the first time, the bait it uses is a flashy, new drama. The Pop network is counting on comedy instead. And with this Canadian sitcom, that trick just might work.
GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website, TV Worth Watching and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews a new comic novel about female beauty called "The Unfortunate Importance Of Beauty." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.