Deadshirt Is Watching…is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt staff, contributors, and guests sound off on the television shows we’re tuned into, from intense dramas to clever sitcoms to the most insane reality shows. This week: Schitt’s Creek and Child Genius!
David Lebovitz is watching…
Episodes 1 and 2: “Our Cup Runneth Over” and “The Drip”
Wednesdays at 10/9c on Pop
If the channel name “Pop” doesn’t sound familiar, you probably know it by its former title of of “TVGuide.” I can’t imagine why they’d need to rebrand. (*Hits the guide button on remote control to locate the channel.*)
Although these were technically two episodes, the first installments of Schitt’s Creek were aired together as one consecutive block. And while it was charming at times, it just doesn’t feel unique or special enough to keep up with on a regular basis. I can’t imagine there’s too much risk of cancellation at this time, because ANY ratings are good ratings for Pop and the star power of Schitt’s Creek will surely attract eyeballs, but it’s not, as of yet, a particularly good show.
Schitt’s Creek sees the wealthy Rose family, which consists of businessman Johnny (played by Eugene Levy and his eyebrows), his wife and soap opera star Moira (Catherine O’Hara), and their grown-ish bratty children David (Daniel Levy, Eugene’s real life son) and Alexis (Annie Murphy). The Roses lose most of their wealth after a business partner cleans Johnny out behind his back, and the family is forced to move to their one remaining asset: a podunk town by the name of Schitt’s Creek that Johnny bought as a joke years ago. From their new home in a run-down motel, the Roses attempt to rebuild their lives while working with/maneuvering around lower-class town mayor Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott).
The fish-out-of-water rich-family-loses-it-all storyline is an old trope, and I couldn’t help but think of Arrested Development the whole time I was watching the episode. The Bluths have a near-monopoly on “narcissistic family starting from scratch after losing their money due to bad business practices,” so of course anything similar will be compared, and it’s certainly a hard act to follow.
While the characters are already pretty well realized, the writing is middling at best, and even these experienced actors can only do so much with it. Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara can perform the hell out of any given part, and their characters in Schitt’s Creek aren’t too far removed from their typical crazy-couple roles they’ve taken on in many a Christopher Guest movie, but they don’t get too many laugh out loud moments. Chris Elliott plays Roland Schitt well, but it’s fairly close territory to his other character roles throughout his career. Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy’s characters are deliberately grating, but at times they veer into shouting “WE GET IT” territory.
By the end of the pilot episodes, it seems painfully clear what direction the series will go: they’ll develop the town, fall in love with it, and have a hard time selling it once the buyers start rolling in—which just adds up to the “been there, done that” feel of it all.
Maybe this show can be developed, much in the same way the Roses intend to develop Schitt’s Creek, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m not particularly compelled to find out, at least not yet. The performances are good, the chemistry is natural, the star power is nice, but the writing just isn’t there and it drags everything down.
Episode Highlight: The Roses have dinner with Roland’s family to coax him into signing the paperwork that will allow them to sell the town. Turns out that Roland was a big fan of Moira’s slap-happy soap opera character, and demands that Moira slap him just to fulfill a fantasy of his before he signs.
Haley Winters is watching…
Season 1, Episode 6: “These Kids Are Like Cheetahs”
Tuesdays at 10/9c on Lifetime
And just when I thought I’d exhausted my potential for taking on new TV commitments, here comes Child Genius, combining two of my favorite things in this world: amazing child prodigies and horrifying exploitative reality television. How can I say no?!
Child Genius is pretty much exactly what you think it is: hyper-intelligent children are pitted against one another in a massive spelling-bee-like competition for a $100,000 college scholarship. Frankly, for what these kids are put through, $100k is a pittance. As the weeks wear on and the tests become increasingly difficult (they’re administered by Mensa), it’s hard not to feel for these families, who undoubtedly must already spend a fortune trying to provide their children with the extra tutelage and stimulation their adorable genius brains require. Many of these families are working class and have several non-genius children to nag along with their prodigy, and it’s alternately inspiring and disheartening to watch these parents try to provide all of their kids with the best opportunities they can.
This could be a nice reality show for the family, but interestingly, it airs at 10pm, nixing the audience that might actually identify with its eight- to twelve-year old subjects. It’s this fact that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, because it indicates that the producers of Child Genius see it as nothing more than rote reality entertainment, and the children are treated as little more than stock characters for drama fodder. There’s a lot of familiar faces here: the workaholic teacher’s pet Katherine, quiet dark horse Yeji, and a rainbow’s worth of wonderfully nerdy little boys and and girls. Too often the show leans on the stereotypes it picks up on—Ryan’s Chinese tiger parents are fairly horrifying to watch as they berate their son over and over again for not being the best (he’s been ranked #1 nearly every week, but every question missed becomes a failure worth punishment) while he just could not care less about the whole ordeal. And Graham’s evangelical Christian beliefs are pored over as he stands before the judges on Astronomy week and confidently declares the Big Bang Theory to be laughably false, as God created the heavens and Earth and that’s all there is to it—right before answering every single question right and shooting to the top of the class (it’s terrible to watch, but one must trust that his brilliance will someday allow him some insight into his own saturated judgment).
The producers focus on imagined “rivalries” between the kids, and spend a lot of time asking questions like “Who is your biggest competitor here?” Unlike most everyone else on reality TV, the kids never take up the opportunity to shit talk one another. They high five and hug each other after every win and loss. Their enemies are not each other, but the hellish game they’re forced to play. Child Genius should be a showcase of the children who will undoubtedly be our future leaders, but instead it’s a circus. And it’s not lost on the kids, either. As Graham says himself, “The person who wins this competition won’t be the smartest person in America. It’ll be the person who is best at withstanding torture.”
Episode Highlight: Ryan’s family quizzes him relentlessly, and the laid-back supergenius just don’t give a fuck. “Define volcano.” “A mountain with a hole in it.”