Romance in “Schitt’s Creek”: The Queer Slow-Burn

Full disclosure: this post is more for me than anyone else. Enjoy. Also, massive spoilers for Schitt’s Creek season 3. As in, don’t even bother reading this if you don’t want to be spoiled.

Queer romance, especially for male-identified characters, is woefully lacking on television. In the 2000’s when the LGBTQ community was finding its footing in the TV landscape, the representation for queer men was only one of two options: hook-up culture a la Queer as Folk or celibate a la Will & Grace (not to mention how white these shows are). I watched Queer as Folk religiously and wished I could mimic that life, but alas, I lean closer to the chaste side, but in the middle nonetheless. I’m not alone as most of the queer community falls somewhere between those extremes.

There are quite a few queer relationships between men on television, but even fewer relationships that do not start with the characters sleeping together. Current media tends to lean toward the sexual side, opting to shock viewers with images of gay sex right off the bat. Yes, many of the relationships, regardless of beginnings, take the winding journey to a monogamy. Yet only four couples from recent shows come to mind in regards to a slow-burn: Alec & Magnus from Shadowhunters, Blaine & Kurt from Glee, Darryl & White Josh from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and David & Patrick from Schitt’s Creek. (There are more, but I haven’t seen all the television that exists. I know, shocking.) Even out of those, only one does not include a coming out storyline: Schitt’s Creek.

From the outside, the relationship plays out like a normal sitcom. David purchases the now-vacant general store and meets Patrick when he has to procure his business license. Patrick later offers to help David run the store since David clearly has no business acumen and Patrick is, as David says, “a business major who wears straight-leg, mid-range denim”. The relationship blossoms and it culminates to a lovely date on David’s birthday that ends with a kiss in Patrick’s car.

It’s a simple and straight-forward enough plot, but it’s still incredibly unique. And I’m obsessed.

David is sarcastic, self-centered, and materialistic in season 1 and… not much changes in season 3. However, we learn in the pilot that his friends back in New York have abandoned him since the family lost their money. They were relationships (friendships and otherwise) based in superficiality so it’s understandable to why David is emotionally closed off. The first person to break through that is Stevie who is David’s first genuine friend. Their friendship is hilarious and wonderful, despite the bumps along the way.

When David meets Patrick, he treats him coldly and defensively like anyone else in Schitt’s Creek, but Patrick is very clearly fascinated by David. You can see it all over his face. This one conversation tells you a lot about where Patrick is coming from. David is a rarity in Schitt’s Creek and certainly someone he’s never met before. At the end of their last scene in episode 8, the camera lingers on Patrick after David has left. Anyone who watches shows with queer goggles knew immediately that Patrick was gay. (Ex: I pointed and yelled at the screen, “That motherfucker is gay.”)

The thing is, David can’t tell Patrick is gay. His emotional walls prevent him from seeing Patrick as anything other than the guy at Ray’s. Patrick, to David’s credit, is playing this very subtly. He brings David’s business license that Alexis points out is framed. Hats off to Noah Reid, because in the simple stutter, “Actually, they… they come that way.” we know the frame means much more. Adding his crestfallen face after David rejects the frame as it’s too corporate for his brand tells you what kind of gesture Patrick meant to make it. This small moment sets up the progression of Patrick’s courage with David: any time he questions his romantic gesture, he stutters.

Back at the motel, Alexis hints to David that Patrick might be gay as he didn’t hit on her (which meant he was either newly married or that) and it’s not likely he’s only into the store concept. He usually dismisses her, but David takes this conversation to heart. He’s been so emotionally closed off from long before they were forced to move to Schitt’s Creek that it hadn’t been something he could have imagined. It also forces David’s idea of who can be queer to expand. While Jake (David’s season 2 fling) and Patrick are both more masculine men, we can assume that David is used to the kind of rhythm Jake brings: far away from everyone, secretive, and physical immediately.

The next day, Patrick comes to the store when David is alone. It’s in this scene where David smiles for the very first time around Patrick. It’s also a smile we’ve never seen before. It’s one of innocence and excitement. It’s a smile we can imagine David having in his teenage years with his first crush.

Meanwhile, there is nothing about Patrick that says he denying his sexuality or his attraction to David. Patrick’s admission of purchasing the frame is a flirting ritual we’ve seen numerous times in straight relationships on television. And like those couples, we are given the exact same kind of reaction. We don’t get any moody expository moment of Patrick being ashamed to divulge his identity to David. It just is what it is. They both know what is happening.

Every step through their budding relationship is a small one. Nothing about it is rushed. It’s romantic tension, not sexual tension.

In the season finale, Patrick takes David out for his birthday but David doesn’t realize it’s meant to be a date until Stevie points it out. David knows Patrick is interested in him, yet fails to put the two together. Prior to Patrick, it’s probable that David had never been asked out on a date. His reaction to Patrick’s gift is so sweet, the realization that this is a relationship that is starting out of romance instead of sex. Meanwhile, Patrick is smooth and confident… until Stevie shows up because David invited her. Obviously Patrick doesn’t oppose to being seen with David alone and he’s met Stevie. She’s seen them interact. But he stutters after her arrival. The nervousness is from giving an obviously sentimental gift to David on what he believed to be a date, a sentiment anyone can relate to.

The pinnacle of the finale is the car scene. As Patrick is dropping David back off at the motel, they kiss. It’s brief, but means so much to both characters. In the silence, you can see David weighing if that was the best decision, but we quickly learn that Patrick had been waiting for something like that his whole life. It’s his first kiss with a man and he thanks David. While this doesn’t seem like much, Patrick is not thanking David for confirming his sexuality. He’s thanking David for taking that final step. It would have been easy to slip this final conversation into something that takes us into Patrick’s coming out story. It’s a common trope in Queer From A Small Town. With limited options and opportunities, writers will often make this the experiment that confirms the character’s sexuality. But Patrick knows who he is without hesitation. This wasn’t a test if he liked David romantically, but if David had similar feelings. They slip back into their usual banter as David exits the car, but this time it’s infused with affection and excitement for what lies ahead.

And that’s where we’re left. There’s no lesson to be learned. No one randomly goes into a soliloquy about how hard their queer identity is. No one explains their sexuality. It is just two people who have mutual crushes naturally finding their way to each other. The show has allowed David and Patrick to be people, not props for a queer agenda or a “very special episode”, and it is so refreshing. We know they’re queer because it’s two men in a relationship. We don’t need to be hit over the head with it. It’s the slow-burn that mimics a reality for many queer people that hasn’t been represented. I’ve always been a romantic, so I’m so incredibly happy to see a relationship that looks exactly like what I want for my life.

Dan Levy has made a point in saying that he refuses to let David become a caricature of the queer community and I agree with him wholeheartedly. Not only is David not a caricature, but he defies many tropes of queer characters before him. David openly pansexual, an identity that has not been represented in media, and no one gives him any trouble for it. He doesn’t have an overabundance of casual sex like many bisexual portrayals. He comes out once and his sexuality is mentioned very little after that. We are here with these characters every week so we know who they are. David is so much more than a lesson in queerness.

If there is a lesson, it comes in the analyzation of the show: that queer romance has all the same tenets as straight romance. The butterflies, the nervousness, the uncertainty, the twitterpated heart, the joy. Queerness does not have to be centerstage in a queer romance. The center of romance is love and that is universal.

(Full disclosure #2: I was lucky enough to see a screening of the season 4 premiere at Vulture Fest this past weekend, so I know where they take the relationship. No spoilers because I don’t ever want to be on Dan Levy’s bad side, but I am positively exploding with delight. The whole episode is lovely and hilarious and I’m in physical pain that I can’t discuss it with anyone.)

Schitt’s Creek returns January 9th.