Well, that's a relief.

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Opinion

Well, that's a relief.

Based on the mixed sets of expectations its pending arrival in CBC's lineup had created, the new comedy Schitt's Creek was going to be one of two things:

If it lived up to the considerable TV-comedy pedigree of its stars, SCTV alumni Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, it stood a decent chance of being something really funny and special; if, however, if lived down to the lowbrow level of its title's built-in joke, it might turn out to be cheesy, clunky and a bit desperately sad.

Happily, the in-your-face-ness of the series title's without-a-paddle punchline is in no way representative of Schitt's Creek's comedy, which quickly shows itself to be smart, sharp and fully worthy of having a couple of Canadian comedy legends in its cast.

The new half-hour sitcom, which premières with back-to-back episodes tonight at 9 on CBC, puts a fresh and appealing spin on an oft-used comedy construct -- the classic tale of riches to rags, in which the humour is mined from characters' struggle to adapt to new and challenging circumstances.

In this case, multi-millionaire video-store magnate Johnny Rose (Levy) and his past-her-prime soap-star wife, Moira (O'Hara), have their opulent L.A. lifestyle pulled out from beneath them when news arrives -- in the form of a tax-department seizure team -- that a crooked business manager has squandered and/or embezzled their entire fortune.

Along with their pampered offspring, David (Levy's son, Daniel, who co-created the series with his dad) and Alexis (Annie Murphy), the Roses are evicted from their mansion and informed by their lawyer that the only thing of any (questionable) value they have left is the titular town, which Johnny bought several years earlier as a joke.

With only as many clothes and personal effects as they can shove into an extensive set of designer luggage, the family leaves the bright lights behind and travels to Schitt's Creek -- which, believe it or not, might actually be less glamorous than its name implies.

After meeting the town's wildly inappropriate mayor, Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott), the Roses take up residence in adjoining rooms at the local motel. Calling it a fleabag would be insultingly unfair to fleas everywhere.

Johnny is horrified; his (literally) drama-queen wife is reduced to tears. And the kids, who've never known anything but mansions, boarding schools, chauffeurs and unlimited gold-card spending, seem more confused than angry.

What follows is, in many ways, quite predictable -- the Roses must find a way to assimilate into this foreign environment, coming to terms with sacrifices, lowered standards and minimized spending possibilities in ways they never could have imagined having to face.

Mayor Roland, who's both needy and demanding, offers little help, other than forcing Johnny to summon up some of the long-forgotten entrepreneurial zeal that allowed him to build a business empire in the first place.

David makes a connection of sorts with the motel's clerk/housekeeper, Stevie (Emily Hampshire), who finds his complete lack of understanding of the real world somewhat endearing. Alexis, forever tethered to her smartphone, becomes oblivious to her new surroundings when she receives word that her shipping-heir boyfriend has dumped her, and Moira careens emotionally between anger and self-pitying despair.

Levy and O'Hara are wonderful as the overwhelmed and under-financed parents, playing the broad-comedy moments with all the zaniness they brought to their best SCTV material but also showing a deft touch with the smaller and more specific beats that give Schitt's Creek its heart. Murphy is solid as the displaced socialite daughter, but the real revelation here is the younger Levy, whose note-perfect work leaves no doubt that when it comes to creating memorable TV comedy, the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

If your first instinct was to give Schitt's Creek a pass because of its corny title, well, don't. It's a very good show -- so good, in fact, that CBC announced on Tuesday that a second season has been ordered, a full day before the first season even begins.

In terms of forward momentum, I'd say that's more than enough paddle power to keep Schitt's Creek moving.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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