An Oral History Of 'Schitt's Creek's "Rock On"

- Schitt's Creek -
An Oral History Of 'Schitt's Creek's "Rock On"

“It made people genuinely sad that night,” Schitt’s Creek actress Jennifer Robertson tells me, recalling the night she shot Season 5, Episode 6’s “Rock On.” She’s not referring to the episode’s plot, or filming, but to a singular prop that provided the episode’s biggest punchline: Jocelyn’s haircut. “People in the crew kinda looked at me, and I said, ‘It's just a wig!’”

The wig might have drawn the most laughs (and misplaced on-set sympathy), but the 2019 episode — in which new mom Jocelyn enjoys a rare night out with the Jazzagals at a casino — serves as a comedic tour de force for the entire Schitt’s Creek ensemble. Not to mention an emotional tug, thanks to a rare heart-to-heart between Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara) and Jocelyn that anchors the episode. (“Whatever you do,” Moira tells a down and out and sheared Jocelyn, clad in an ‘80s- and Poison-inspired outfit, “rock onwards and upwards!”)

Schitt’s Creek may have ended last April (Rest In Paisley), but I decided to combat the withdrawal by speaking to writer Michael Short, director Laurie Lyd, and actors Jennifer Robertson (Jocelyn Schitt) and Karen Robinson (Ronnie) about the emotional and hilarious “Rock On” — and discovered some behind-the-scenes details fans didn’t see along the way.

The Idea

Five seasons in, Schitt’s Creek’s writers felt it was time for Jocelyn to break out of her mold. And her post-second-child phase proved the perfect opportunity to show that the soft-hearted mom was capable of being a little hard-rock.

Michael Short (Writer): Jocelyn was always grinning and smiling. I remember saying, "We need [to do] something with this character because I'm now starting to hate her because she's such a pushover." This was an attempt to give her a little more substance and dig a little deeper.

Jennifer Robertson (Jocelyn): I kind of knew the episode was coming. You know, [with] Dan [Levy], nothing happened by accident. Dan knows these things well, well in advance.

Karen Robinson (Ronnie): I could see from the previous episodes that they were building a storyline around Jocelyn's new motherhood after 20-something years and her feelings of frustration around the life that she built for herself. [She struggles] between who she was who she became, what she wanted to do, what she couldn't do anymore, and all of those feelings that so many mothers know all too well.

Robertson: I love the whole season for Jocelyn — the whole having a baby and not being able to be a part of things. Dan and I talked about it, and I'm a mom — and I'm a single mom now — so it's even harder to schedule any kind of a semblance of a life. I really love that, and I love her unraveling. I love this exhausted Jocelyn who's clinging a little bit to a way [her life] used to be.

The Costuming

Moira isn’t the only character with an iconic wardrobe. “Rock On” introduced several memorable outfits, like Ronnie’s “formal” vest and Jocelyn’s ‘80s-inspired fashion — and, of course, that wig.

Robertson: The wig prep took several months before we shot it.

Laurie Lynd (Director): Dan's eye for detail — he definitely elevates everyone to his standard and abilities. And so the search for the haircut for Jocelyn was something.

Robertson: Dan, myself, and Anastasia [Cucullo], who was my hair person, worked honestly for two months. I tried on so many different versions. Anastasia just bought a whole bunch of blonde wigs. We had all these photos of Kate Gosselin from Jon & Kate Plus 8, so we had that in mind, but [Kate’s haircut] was too short in the back. There was a mullet kind of cut, there was like a bad, angular [cut]... There were so many different versions of bad haircuts until we landed on that type.

Lynd: But it's not cartoony. I think that's one of the extraordinary things about the show — it's never cartoony, it always feels grounded in reality. It always feels real.

Robinson: I found it pretty easy to keep reacting authentically to that wig because it is so outrageous. I hope I didn't hurt Jenn's feelings, because I just could not believe the lengths they went through to make that something that could possibly be on somebody's head. It was a pretty sudden choice of a hairstyle.

Lynd: What works so well about the cut is that it feels real. And yet it's like, "Oh my God, why did you do that?"

Robertson: It made people genuinely sad that night. People in the crew kinda looked at me, and I said, "It's just a wig!"

Lynd: I didn't know what she was gonna be wearing, so we all were in stitches when [Robertson] walked in.

Robinson: You know, I love how Ronnie dresses up too. Ronnie put on a leather vest, and that was like her dressy leather best. She was ready to go. This was a special occasion.

Robertson: When I first told people about Jocelyn, I said, "You have to understand, Jocelyn is one of the most fashionable women in this small town." Because this is the bubble that she lives in. And the Blouse Barn is the place. That is the style. She’s not out of style there, even though she's obviously a little out of style [elsewhere]. Although people love her sweatshirt.

Robinson: I didn't want a say in what Ronnie wore. I did not want to bring Karen Robinson's sense of how she wanted to look on screen. I think my ego would've gotten involved because I can be quite a dressy girl. So I really just left it up to them. And the brilliant thing about it is, in doing that, the costumes really fed into my character, because they made me feel a certain way. I didn't have a waistline, I didn't have to act like I had a waistline. My waistline didn't matter. I didn't have to figure out how to negotiate anything in heels. Listen, it is the most comfortable that I have ever been on a set at any time throughout my career. Now I understand how men feel!

The Production

Though the shoot lasted well into the night, energy on the set remained high, thanks to Robertson’s commitment to the scene.

Robinson: I loved watching Jenn. She is a prodigiously talented woman.

Lynd: It was fun because one of the things Jenn and I had to figure out was, how stoned is she? And, I just thought it was bang-on. She nailed it.

Robinson: I just remember being so impressed when she walked into the town hall, you know, full of expectations and having to hear that the concert was canceled [and] going through all of those emotions... in that outfit too, oh, my god! It was classic actor-actor admiration for me.

Robertson: The casino night was really fun. Sarah Levy has this photograph on Twitter — I think it was, like, 2:00 a.m., and we had a little holding area to sit in, and I was sitting in the holding area with a pack of Smarties between shots. And I'm wearing my Crocs, and it's one of the saddest, funniest photos you'll ever see. It's a real gem. She was like, "This is truly tragic. Can I post it?" I was like, "Absolutely! You must!"

[rich Embed]

The episode wasn’t just a vehicle for Robertson — it also proved a good opportunity to smooth Moira’s edges with a heart-to-heart between Jocelyn and the Rose matriarch.

Short: We wanted to soften the character of Moira just a little bit. After all these years, [make her] a little friendlier to people in town. There was a point when Catherine [O’Hara] was being interviewed by people saying, "We love how mean she is,” and she's saying, "Wait, I don't think she's mean! I think she's had a lot of destruction in her life and is handling it pretty well."

Robertson: It definitely shows how far those characters have come from those very early days of "come over for fondue!" to Moira actually being generous and recognizing that something's happening for someone else, and that she can offer up some advice. It was lovely.

Lynd: I would say she's just a colossal narcissist, right? So when she has moments like that where she's kind and real and thoughtful, the way she is with Jocelyn in that scene, it's what makes that character so interesting, that there's such depth in there as well.

Robertson: Someone was asking me in an interview, "Do you think those characters would keep in touch?" And I said, "Realistically, no." But I think they changed each other, do you know what I mean? In that way of like, “I won't be the same because I knew you.”

Though Schitt’s Creek’s actors mostly stick to the script (“By the time they say, ‘Action!’, we’re pretty much there,” Robinson told me), a few improvised scenes made it into the final cut, with the support of Eugene Levy.

Robertson: The bus driver was an actual school bus driver, because it's such a specific vehicle [to operate]. Honestly, I don't think he watched the show, and I don't think he knew what was happening. When I got the hair, he was deeply confused, not sure how to respond, so I improvised the line when I got back on the bus and said, "Do you recognize me from earlier? I have a new hairdo!" The look on his face was confusion and fear.

Another improvised moment was where Catherine leaves the table and tells me to rock on, and I kind of did like a silent [imitates sound] and held up the chips. I talked to Eugene, who was on set, and he's like, "Yes, try it! Try it!" If you can improvise something and you can make Eugene laugh, you just feel like you've done the best thing that you'll ever do in your life, 'cause he giggles. But he's not an easy laugh, although Chris [Elliott] makes him laugh all the time. The rest of us have to work for it. [Laughs]

With so much good material, it was difficult to fit everything in. One scene that featured a gambling Moira ended up on the cutting room floor.

Robinson: There was one scene that got cut that had Moira at one of the tables. There were incredibly tall plastic tumblers with brightly colored drinks in them, and we all were watching Moira work her magic. I missed that because, first of all, any scene with Catherine O'Hara is a gift. And, second of all, there was this sense of us all being together and cheering her on, and we were all focused on the same thing. I thought that was a lovely depiction of our collectiveness.

Lynd: It was a very funny scene. I can't remember the punchlines to it now, but those tall plastic drinks were hilarious.

The Wrap

Three years after its release, “Rock On” remains a fan favorite, striking Schitt’s Creek’s patented balance of humor and heart.

Lynd: It's a really strong episode. It surprised me, because it wasn't one of the scripts that just looked out at me.

Short: The episode worked out really well. You got to know Jocelyn more and [understood] she was a more complex, more well-rounded character.

Robertson: I had my daughter at 38, and I'm exhausted. I totally got [Jocelyn] in that episode. I totally felt that on a lot of levels, and I think that Dan — and the writing room — definitely played into that. It was all incredibly close to home.

Short: We just sat in a room and tried to make each other laugh.

Lynd: I think it’s such a — if I could use the word — archival episode because it's funny, it's silly, but it's also very moving. You feel for Jocelyn. Like, "Oh my God, she's gonna have to live with that haircut,” and also that feeling of, "How did I suddenly end up being 40?"

Robinson: It was quite a gift, and I thought it really spoke to the show's ability to speak to real-life issues, without becoming preachy, saccharin, or issue-oriented. It was woven seamlessly into somebody's journey, making it really fun to watch.

Lynd: I've done a lot of different stuff, but this is the best credit I've ever had. It’s a thrill to be associated with the show.

Robinson: To me, it just speaks to the places that Schitt's Creek can go. There is nothing off-limits here. You know, drinking zhampagne on the bus and eating weed brownies. You just go, "These are people who, in their quirky and funny ways, just incorporate all these different parts of humanity that we've all been through to some degree in our life." There is no sense of a line drawn about what is appropriate behavior outside of kindness and acceptance.


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Image: Netflix

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