Schitt’s Creek is the little comedy show that could. The Eugene Levy-led sitcom you’ve probably seen ads for on the subway wavers between a cult classic and a sleeper hit. However, after it was nominated last year for the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Comedy Series, the Canadian comedy seems to have finally found some love from the mainstream.
If you ever streamed Schitt’s Creek in the U.S., you know a reminder flashes on the screen that you are watching a “Pop Original” before seeing what’s new with the Rose family. In Canada, Schitt’s Creek airs on CBC Television, but since 2015, Pop TV has brought the show to the U.S.
What is Pop TV?
But what is the Pop TV network? The channel is hardly a household name and has gone through several rebrands since it started as a joint venture between the CBS Corporation and Lionsgate Entertainment in 1981. In the years since, Pop TV has quietly made some of the most inventive sitcoms on television.
Like most small networks, Pop airs reruns of hit shows like Gilmore Girls and Ghost Whisperer. Most of the channel’s original content revolves around half-hour comedies. However, these are not your dad’s sitcoms. The comedies on Pop TV are indie and Avant-garde. Their programming feels like it would be at home on a channel like IFC or the now-defunct Seeso.
Pop TV comedies experiment with unscripted television
Schitt’s Creek might actually be their most conventional sitcom. Their show Hollywood Darlings started in 2017. It is an improvised sitcom starring Jodie Sweetin, Christine Lakin, and Beverley Mitchell all playing themselves. Actors playing themselves is not the newest idea, but the way Hollywood Darlings does it brings it to the next level. They use their real families and friends in the show. These recurring and guest stars also play themselves and, with the improvisational nature of the show, it doesn’t feel like a typical sitcom.
Hollywood Darlings was made after they released another improvisational sitcom called Unusually Thicke starring the late Alan Thicke and his real family. However, with Unusually Thicke, the show billed itself as a reality-sitcom hybrid and the reality portion makes the show not work. Where Hollywood Darlings feels like The Office mixed with The Comeback, Unusually Thicke felt like an overproduced reality show. The same year they made Hollywood Darlings they made Return of the Mac, a show with a similar premise but staring Joey McIntyre.
Reality sitcom crossovers are not the only risky sitcoms Pop is making. Hot Date also came to the network in 2017. The show is based on a series of College Humor sketches of the same name. The show, which was recently renewed for a second season, stars Emily Axford and Brian K. Murphy as they play multiple sets of couples each episode. The structure of the show feels a bit like Portlandia. Murphy and Axford put on different wigs and voices to play multiple characters every episode and the characters in Hot Date are usually interconnected or overlap with each other over different scenes. It doesn’t even feel fair to call Hot Date a sitcom. It is more of an experimental comedy experience.
Schitt’s Creek leads growing Pop TV comedy slate
Even two of their more conventional sitcoms, Swedish Dicks and Let’s Get Physical, don’t feel like shows you could see on any other network. While they don’t redefine what the structure of a sitcom is, the premises and humor feel outside of the ordinary. Let’s Get Physical follows a former Aerobic champion as he tries to win his own inheritance after his late father challenges him to return to the imagined cutthroat world of competitive aerobics. Swedish Dicks follows a DJ who, with help from a stunt man, starts his own P.I. business. Both shows are set in the modern day but have a nostalgic feel to them. Let’s Get Physical channels the ‘80s, while Swedish Dicks goes ‘70s. Both shows are also rooted in absurdist humor shoehorned into a sitcom format.
Their newest show is simply called Flack. While not much is known about the series, premiering February 21, it promises to be a dark dramedy about crisis PR starring Anna Paquin. From the trailers released, it will be another show that goes to new places with a half-hour comedy format. Pop TV also ordered two new comedy series late last month: Best Intentions from American Pie writer Adam Herz and Ride or Die. Best Intentions revolves around an awkward teenager and his guidance counselor father while Ride or Die is about a murder at an elite spin studio.
With the success of shows like Schitt’s Creek, Pop TV proves to be more IFC than IFC. Their shows are weird and new. Maybe not every comedy on Pop TV is perfect, but having comedies that are new and different pushing the structure of sitcoms is good for comedy overall. It’s strange that comedy nerds haven’t flocked to this channel the way they have in the past to Adult Swim or Seeso or even FXX. It’s time comedy nerds learn about Pop TV and their weird approach to half-hour comedies. So, who is watching the premiere of Flack with me?