Up Schitt's Creek: How our newsroom managed the time when the world stopped


Local Input~ When a filthy rich video store magnate Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy, 2nd right), his soap star wife Moira (Catherine O'Hara, second left), and their two kids - über-hipster son David (Dan Levy, right) and socialite daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy, left) - suddenly find themselves broke, they are forced to live in Schitt's Creek, a small, depressing town they once bought as a joke. With their pampered lives now abandoned, they must confront their new-found poverty and discover what it means to be a family, all within the rural city limits of their new home. SCHITT'S CREEK is a character driven, half-hour single-camera comedy co-created by Eugene Levy and Dan Levy. Credit: CBC.Goodbye, Schitt’s Creek 🙁 Photo by CBC

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This year, 2020, well, it was a year.

A novel coronavirus, COVID-19, as we have all uttered far, far too many times, created upheaval the likes of which many had never before seen.

And while the whole pandemic affected people in myriad ways, there was a stretch in the spring — that is being repeated now — when we all had a lot of spare time on our hands.

Theatres and sporting events were shut down. Restaurants were offering reduced seating or curbside pickup. Everything seemed to slow down.

Now, some of you out there took up baking bread or recording surprise albums (Taylor Swift, we’re looking at you). But, to be frank, a lot of us hunkered down and made the most of things, looking for something to distract us, whether that was a movie, book, album or TV show.

We here at the Journal were no different. Normally our staff of writers and editors offer up their favourite reads of the year. But this year, we offer our pandemic picks, how we passed the time and kept our minds at ease.


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Schitt’s Creek, CBC/Netflix

What do you do during a pandemic? You go for walks, bike rides in the river valley, work out at 7 am, and at night you can only watch so much of The National and CNN on how people are sick and dying before you race to Netflix like pretty much everybody else.

Yes, my wife and I binge-watched but I may be the one person who hated Tiger King. I thought it was stupid, plus maybe I like farm animals more.

I watched one episode; she watched it all. Then we watched every season of Schitt’s Creek, guffawing at Catherine O’Hara and her wigs and goofball outfits.

That seemed high-brow to me after Tiger King.

Also loved six seasons of Bosch, especially Crate and Barrel, the two oddball cops.

— Jim Matheson

Schitt’s Creek

There wasn’t a better time to hop on the bandwagon of this hit Canadian comedy than while sitting at home on the couch during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I caught up just in time to watch the sixth and final season air as well as see the show historically sweep the comedy categories at the Emmy Awards.

In a time of uncertainty and isolation, the Rose family stuck in their two adjoining motel rooms brought me humour and hope every day.

My only regret is the show ended just as I was getting on board — I would love to see how the people of Schitt’s Creek cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. I imagine “Ew, David” would be said many times.

— Dustin Cook

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Schitt’s Creek

What better show to watch to temporarily forget about your pandemic problems than this Canadian series based on a rich family’s grave misfortune?

In all seriousness, it’s easy to see why Schitt’s came away with nine Emmy Awards. The writing rivals that of the most beloved sitcoms.

The acting, by stars new and old, is phenomenal. I watched the finale months ago and still can’t decide who my favourite character is; every single one significantly develops throughout the six seasons.

If I could only rewatch one TV series for the rest of my life, it would be Schitt’s Creek.

— Sarah Bugden

Fade to Black: Hard Rock Cover Art of the Vinyl Age (2012), Martin Popoff + Ionnis

While I powered through the NSFW family-murder plays of Seneca with great joy lately, if there was a book that rerouted my life it’s this omnibus of first impressions of 100 of the sickest, often most ridiculous album covers whirling around the era heavy metal, from the mid-’60s to 1990, Frank Frazetta looming large.

Besides the brilliant blurbs, I’ve followed the book’s breadcrumbs and brought home much scarred treasure, especially grateful for all things Deep Purple and Tygers of Pan Tang — and finally fattening up that Judas Priest section. Horns high!

— Fish Griwkowsky

Pandemic/Post-Apocalyptic movies, Netflix

I binged an array of bleak, desperate movies in which mankind is being snuffed into extinction by zombies (World War Z), plague (Carriers), or “other” (The Road).


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Not for entertainment, but to desensitize and prepare myself for the end, which you have to think is fairly close.

How do people survive? What are common mistakes?

How can I catch rainwater without being eaten? Bikes? Yes. Hospitals? No.

Why do people scavenging for food still have decent haircuts? What common household items can be weaponized?

Rodents or SPAM, you can only pick one.

NEVER answer the door. I think I’m ready.

— Rob Tychkowski

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RuPaul’s Drag Race, Netlfix/Crave

From all 12 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, to four seasons of All-Stars, one season of U.K. and Canada’s Drag Race — we went hard.

When binge-watching any series it’s easy for things to become formulaic and monotonous, but I found the creativity, the passion, and the strength displayed by the contestants kept pulling me back in for another episode.

And then another. And another.

My favourite style of drag tends to skew to the weird and campy side.

Montreal’s Rita Baga, a top three finalist in Canada’s Drag Race, or fourth season winner Sharon Needles are perfect examples of just how dark and badass drag can be. “When in doubt, freak ’em out,” as Sharon would say.

So a big thank you to Ru and all of the contestants for helping me get through 2020 — the worst year in herstory!

— Trevor Robb

Breaking Bad, AMC/Netflix

The first season of the neo-Western crime drama Breaking Bad has been sitting on my shelf for nearly five years. I always planned on watching it but I never seemed to have the time. That changed in March. Suddenly, I had lots of time. I didn’t know what I was getting into as I watched Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) bumble into the world of meth. What I found was an easy escape during this pandemic thanks to the show’s superb writing and acting.

— Jeff Labine

Midnight Sun, Stephanie Meyer

Look, it’s no Interview with a Vampire but it did its job which was to serve as an escape from the reality of this hellish year.


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I will admit, dear reader, that back in the day I was a “Twi-hard.”

When I heard Midnight Sun was being released, I was intrigued at what the 658-page companion novel to Twilight would offer.

So, I bought it. It took me just a few days to finish and, honestly, I relished in those few hours I could sit down with the book (it’s a very easy read) and revisit the story that excited me as a tween.

So, while I may not necessarily recommend Midnight Sun for your own pandemic survival, I recommend finding your version of it. At the risk of sounding too cheesy, find something that brings you comfort, allows you to escape and forget about the world, if even only for a few hours.

— Anna Junker

The bubble

Well, I could tell you what novel helped me through the pandemic, but I would be lying. Rather, what’s been magnified in all its wonder during this COVID-19 time is that my life’s blood in written words — news, storytelling — is by extension like those I keep close; curious, funny, thoughtful, productive.

Now most days, I am energized by what lies ahead, in the habit of bookending weeks being present, appreciative.

That’s not to say I am happy we are in these times. Just that it has crystalized how life’s path trips up but the ability to adapt, thrive is ever present.

Stories are deep sources of guidance, as are those we love. I find myself with a deep well of both.

— Nicole Bergot

Lotharingia: A Personal History of Europe’s Lost Country by Simon Winder

Early in the pandemic I ordered a stack of Big Ol’ History Books from Audreys, among them Lotharingia, part of Simon Winder’s trilogy on Central Europe. In 843, Charlemagne’s grandsons divvied up his empire.


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One got what became France, the other got proto-Germany and the third got the chunk in the middle: Lotharingia. That middle part — Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and northern Switzerland — is one of the engines of world history.

“Lotharingia has provoked wars in every century and … has been the site of many of the events which have defined European civilization,” writes Winder.

A self-deprecating British book publisher, Winder is a an engaging tour guide, even when writing about the region’s numerous cathedrals.

— Jonny Wakefield

The Skin We're In A Year of Black Resistance and Power Written by Desmond Cole Penguin Random HouseThe Skin We’re InA Year of Black Resistance and PowerWritten by Desmond ColePenguin Random House PST

The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, Desmond Cole

As a legislature reporter, I got a good laugh telling my mother about the books I was reading in the pursuit of nerdy escapism.

King Ralph by Don Martin, or Into the Abyss, the story of the plane crash that killed Grant Notley and altered so many lives by Carol Shaben. Historical biographies consumed me. I couldn’t help it.

But the undeniable standout published this year is Desmond Cole’s personal account of and reporting on “the ever-present impediments to Black life” in Canada in 2017.

Born in Red Deer, Cole defines and targets racist policies that need to change or rightfully did. Narratives like Cole’s offer a political escape that go far beyond the literary sense.

— Lisa Johnson

Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple

Released in April, Fiona Apple’s fifth album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, soundtracked that difficult period where we were perturbed and sullen as the pandemic-wracked world came crashing down.


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Listeners anointed Apple the “Quarantine Queen” as she had spent nearly five years hunkered in her home recording the album.

The songs lurch, always restless and skittering along the edges of convention; the music clangs and crackles, with frayed vocals competing with irregular rhythms. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the sound of survival, clawing through the noise and finding joy within the chaos.

— Chad Huculak

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Big Brother, Global

Moving to start a new job in the middle of a growing pandemic just added to the stress being caused by the virus.

When my workday ended and I walked the five feet between my desk and my couch, the last thing I wanted was to watch anything that required a significant amount of brain power.

Enter Big Brother. Long live the cheesy, manufactured, reality TV melodrama. We all need to turn our minds off once in a while.

— Ashley Joannou

The Boys created by Eric Kripke, Prime Video

I discovered this show at the beginning of the pandemic right before season two was about to launch.

OH WOW does this show rock. And it’s not just the fact that it’s an R-rated, no-holds-barred, constant gut-punch of awesome.

It’s the way the show tackles racism, sexism, corporations and the people that control the message and how the public can believe what they’re told even with endless evidence to the contrary.

Exceptionally well-acted, wonderfully well written and masterfully shot.

— Nathan Martin

Artistic endeavour

I surprised myself by turning to art to get through lockdown this spring. A friend sent me a T-shirt of Salgado Fenwick’s Edmonton crest with its long-eared hare, lake surgeon and severe-looking magpie.

I loved it. So my son and I set out to study one local animal a week in Zurich, watching YouTube videos and searching for them in the forest.

I tried to draw them for a Zurich crest and created a colouring sheet.

My poor red squirrel looked like it stuck its tail in an electrical socket but the project kept us entertained.


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— Elise Stolte

Sir Ian Mckellen, who plays the part of Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The KingSir Ian Mckellen, who plays the part of Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King SunMediaArchive

Lord of the Rings trilogy

During the past nine months I found myself turning to film series to maintain an even emotional keel.

We are a household of DVD and Blu-ray hoarders, and I took advantage of that, diving into the Marvel universe, the DC equivalent, the Bourne original trilogy, all in 30-minute to one-hour instalments.

But the most rewarding was my return to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, extended edition version. The scope of the story, the performances, the fine attention to detail and Jackson’s single-minded commitment to the project is constantly rewarding.

Next up: Star Wars.

— Barry Hanson

Call of the Wild, Jack London

A calling for an adventure, the struggle to survive and wishing to see the world through a dog’s eyes makes Jack London’s call of the wild the perfect short novel for 2020.

When the first set of restrictions kept us at home in March, I lost out on a trip to Europe as well as the ability to return home to northern Canada. As the days, weeks and months rolled on I felt a growing urge to leave the city in anyway I could, yearning for adventure.

On top of trips to Alberta’s beautiful provincial and national parks, I found solace in Jack London’s writing, as many young city-strapped men do.

Buck’s adventures became my adventures as we beat the pandemic blues together.

— Dylan Short

Crusader Kings 3, Paradox Interactive

OK, things might get a little geeky, but while it’s our pandemic, this is my little corner of space.


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So, nerd out with me and imagine being in charge of carving out a corner of Medieval Europe for your dynasty.

Having just read that back, it doesn’t begin to do any justice. Just know that there will be war, disease and plenty of underhanded sneakiness to go around.

Think Game of Thrones, but in a historical sandbox. Better yet, just pick it up on Steam. It won’t banish COVID-19, but there are worse ways to pass the time. Deus vult!

— Gerry Moddejonge

When We Were Vikings, Andrew David MacDonald

This author’s first novel is an inspiring, well-written and compelling story about Zelda, an unforgettable character who succeeds despite the challenges she faces as a cognitively disabled person living in an impoverished environment.

The 21-year-old Viking enthusiast finds a job in a library, fiercely protects her brother Gert, who she lives with, and decides to launch her own quest when she discovers her brother has resorted to some questionable and dangerous means to make money and keep them afloat.

The journey of this unlikely heroine will leave you wanting to embark on a quest of your own.

— Glenn Werkman

Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu

Written in the form of a TV screenplay, Interior Chinatown follows a Chinese-American actor appearing on a Law-and-Order style cop show, but just barely.

Even though much of the action takes place in Chinatown, Willis Wu is pigeonholed in clichéd bit parts like Generic Asian Man, Disgraced Son or Striving Immigrant. He yearns to reach the pinnacle of roles for someone like him — Kung Fu Guy.


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Although it’s a satirical commentary on pop culture, immigration and identity politics, the novel comes across as fun and playful instead of preachy.

— Bill Mah

Long Way Up, Apple+ TV

Although this series on Apple+ TV hasn’t been available for very long, it is currently fuelling my fire for spring and better times ahead when we can travel and explore new territory.

I’m speaking of “Long Way Up” that featured Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman riding electric Harley Davidson motorcycles from the tip of South America to Los Angeles.

It featured beautiful scenery and two charming characters. It was far more than a documentary about an epic motorbike ride.

— Shaughn Butts

The Great, Amazon Prime/Hulu

“Did he just say that?”

That thought comes often — even spoken at times — when I laugh out loud watching Nicholas Hoult as Peter III in the Hulu /Amazon prime television series The Great.

It’s a loose interpretation of Russia in the time of Catherine The Great, played by Elle Fanning.

It’s not just Hoult — catchword “Huzzah!” — who gets all the great lines. Fanning, the show’s focal point, is equally as engaging, as is much of the supporting cast with their chiselled characters.

The Great follows the idealistic Catherine after she naively arrives at Peter’s court to become his wife, and who then — soon after realizing she’s married a childish megalomaniac — begins to plot a coup.

Not only is The Great a look back at the dusk of a Russia ruled by divine right, it’s a mirror on our times, too, what with the world enduring its fair share of wannabe and legitimate dictators.


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— Craig Ellingson

James Gandolfini and Edie Falco in the Sopranos.n/a ORG XMIT: SOPRANOS-HARRIS0James Gandolfini and Edie Falco in the Sopranos. SunMedia

The Sopranos, HBO

I spent much of 2020 in a nostalgic bubble watching and re-watching ’90s/’00s movies and shows. Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t believe I waited this long to watch the Sopranos.

James Gandolfini’s ability to make us both love and hate Tony Soprano — a sweet, generous man in therapy who gets excited about ducks and horses, and who also happens to be a violent and homicidal mobster — speaks to his incredible skill as an actor and the writers’ compelling storytelling.

I also started taking acting classes this year and was continually amazed and inspired by the cast’s ability to portray such complex characters. It’s a classic for a reason.

— Lauren Boothby

Deadwood, HBO

As a sports reporter who works evenings and weekends, I don’t have a lot of time to watch television.

However, the NHL pause in March gave me an opportunity to catch up on a series which had always intrigued me as a history buff and fan of American Westerns.

Deadwood was a television series based on true events in 1870s South Dakota and featured famous characters such as Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, George Hearst, Calamity Jane and Charlie Utter.

The series was interesting as it showed the progression of the town and portrayed what life was like during the American gold rush and helped me get through the days awaiting the NHL’s return.

Derek Van Diest

Horse racing

I didn’t realize it at the time but it was horse racing that got me through the pandemic.


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Hey, I’m a sportswriter. There was no other action. Horse racing, for the longest time, was the only sport up and running, first at Winnipeg’s Assiniboia Downs and then at Edmonton’s Century Mile.

Initially I was drawn by journalistic instincts. There was a story there, a really good story. The sport had been struggling but with no games to bet on, people turned to the track. All of a sudden the handles were up over $1 million in Winnipeg and about $700,000 in Edmonton.

I started watching live streaming from Winnipeg and Edmonton. And I started to pay particular attention to one jockey in articular.

Shannon Beauregard, because of the no fans aspect and the schedules combined with a jockey shortage because of border closures, was able to race five nights a week commuting back and forth.

When her horse, leading the race and only a few feet from the finish line, fell and another horse landed on her and broke almost every bone in her body late in the season in Edmonton, I felt personally affected. Shannon Beauregard, I realized, had helped get me through the pandemic.

— Terry Jones

Dark Souls, From Software

This past spring I played a lot of videogames. Untitled Goose Game is as silly as its name suggests. Disco Elysium was absorbing but pretentious, and Jedi Fallen Order is a swashbuckling Star Wars game.

But the game that got me through most of the long weeks at home is Dark Souls, which I first played years ago but never finished.

It is notorious for being hard, but the difficulty isn’t what I love about it, or its sequels. It is a medieval hack-and-slasher filled with long-winding levels, hidden areas, treasures and shortcuts.


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The story is a bit silly. Your goal is to usurp an undead king to stop the Age of Dark, while being guided by a giant talking “primordial serpent.”

But it is the perfect world to lose yourself in when you can’t leave the house.

— Carson Jerema

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The Wire and Chernobyl, HBO

I’m not going to lie, I binged a LOT of TV this year.

Whether it was Modern Family, Community or Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Netflix, season 3 of HBO’s Westworld or the great Perry Mason remake, I filled a lot of my downtime with the distraction of a never-ending stream of great digital viewing.

But the two programs that were ultimately the key to my pandemic viewing were not in the least bit escapist, and both felt fitting for a year in which everything felt sort of broken.

In the spring, I dove into the 2019 miniseries Chernobyl, and through the summer and fall, re-watched the 2002-2008 series The Wire.

I think both of them resonated with me this year because they look at the failings of broken institutions (and that felt very timely this year). But beyond that, they did what HBO is so well-known for by now: Assembling great talent to tell gripping stories, whether over the course of five episodes or five seasons.

— Dave Breakenridge

Burke’s Law, Brian Burke and Stephen Brunt

The pandemic has been heavy, so in my free time I’ve been looking for escape and more escape.

Former NHL GM, agent and league executive Brian Burke’s new autobiography did the trick, especially as I listened on Audible. The “gruffest man in hockey” recounts numerous stories, mainly about him dealing with this or that young player, the punchline invariably being: So I grabbed him by the neck, threatened to beat the hell out of him. That straightened him out and he turned into a great player soon enough.


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— David Staples

GRiZ: Live on Twitch

Live sets by the artist GRiZ were my energized spells of escapism.

And, I learned something new in the online world.

Delivering a diverse range of live content, from art installations to watching gamers and lots of music, Twitch is a free video-streaming platform spun from justin.tv in 2011, the same year GRiZ took a stage name for his future funk.

Born Grant Kwiecinski in Detroit, Michigan, he played sax and piano in elementary school, eventually mashing the sounds of Motown and disco with cutting-edge electronica.

Most music on Twitch isn’t archived to satisfy recording execs but GRiZ posted a few on YouTube for posterity’s sake.

The founder of All Good Records does charity work with his GRiZFam and 12 Days of GRiZmas, recently streaming everything from holiday jazz and house music, to yoga sessions and baking cookies with Mama GRiZ and selling her special recipe.

Proceeds support various charities, including music education for youth in Detroit.

— Jenny Feniak


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