"Schitt's Creek" and "The Magicians": A Eulogy for two powerhouse queer shows
A woman, dressed in high Pope drag with makeup smearing from her tears, officiates the wedding of her son and his husband.
A woman declared a High King, happily eating a sandwich as the world collapses around her, knowing she saved the world.
Two of the best queer shows on TV ended with a bang last year—Schitt’s Creek and The Magicians. Two shows that are so incredibly different yet wrote pitch perfect versions of the gay guy/straight woman power duo.
The Magicians gave us the sassy, fashionable, kind of mean duo of Summer Bishil’s Margo and Hale Appleman’s Eliot much the same way Schitt’s Creek first gave us Dan Levy’s David and Annie Murphy’s Alexis. These characters in a lesser show would’ve been Regina George with a Gay best Friend. But, over the course of their respective runs, both showcased you can still be witty, fashionable, kind of mean, and also the main character.
High King Margo Hanson and Alexis Rose of Alexis Rose Talent both are like Cordelia Chase from Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets…well, Cordelia Chase from Angel. They never gave up their fashion sense or shitty remarks to become “good.” Margo, after being crowned High King, would still exclaim things like “balls” and “pig fucker” while Alexis, after maturing into an adult who could run a PR firm and have one of the most mature breakups on TV, would still wear a white dress to her brother’s wedding. And none of it was ever out of character.
Eliot Waugh and David Rose were two completely different breeds of gay man, but both felt real. Eliot was first portrayed as the kind of Mean Gay who would flirt with the show’s main character, but also had an angsty streak—he would glide in and out of scenes like a cat from Alice in Wonderland. David was first portrayed as a kind of witty, vapid, anxious gay—he was not unlike a chihuahua in a ridiculous outfit being held by Paris Hilton. But both quickly matured. David was the first to go out on his own, apart from the Rose family, and start Rose Apothecary where he’d meet the love of his life, Noah Reid’s Patrick. Eliot was a messy gay who stayed messy but found love with Jason Ralph’s Quentin and truly formed the most supportive friendship on TV with Margo.
Together Eliot and Margo quickly became the most dynamic characters on The Magicians. They became High King and High Queens of Fillory and surprisingly took their roles more seriously than any of the other crowned characters. Then, during a Fillory election, Margo won by write-in votes and was crowned High King because of her openness to discuss sexuality with the talking animals. Eliot pauses for a moment, realizing he lost the election to his best friend who wasn’t even on the ballot, then immediately turns and bows to her, hailing his new High King. It’s so silly but also shows her as one of the more progressive characters in the show. She saves a living boat from sexual assault, drinks with the talking animals, and even flirts with pirates. Eliot both loves and then loses—and in the show’s final season we saw some of the best written queer grief. He is angsty and lashing out and Margo is there by his side through all of it. Eliot, alongside Olivia Taylor Dudley’s Alice, is even given an entire quest in one episode that’s just them both dealing with their grief over the loss of their love Quentin. Hell, when they need to save the world together in the finale, Margo sends Eliot off with her beau Trevor Einhorn’s Josh, so she can sacrifice herself to save the world (but thankfully, she makes it out) and the boys can live another day. It’s a hell of a line from their early days of bursting into the room to tell Quentin he was a nerd and then go get drunk. At the end of season 1, Margo even has a meltdown worried they’re the comic relief that’s about to get slaughtered.
Unlike Margo and Eliot, David and Alexis were always the main characters but in season 2 we start to really see their humanity and it carried throughout the rest of the show. David and Alexis would still make fun of their parents and each other at every turn but Alexis was so supportive of her brother, even when yelling at him to remember no one cares so he shouldn’t either. Alexis and David also always knew each other’s stories. David knew Alexis went to Tokyo at 12 but their parents didn’t! And it made sense when Alexis was the one to walk David down the aisle.
The dynamic is often a hard one to nail down. Sure, we’ve all seen Will & Grace but there wasn’t a lot of character work going on there—those characters were pretty much fully themselves from the start, with some touching moments here and there. These two duos felt modern and progressive. When Eliot finds out he has to get married, Margo says through tears, “Is it okay if I hate that you’re getting married? Shit. I think you’re the only person that I can stand,” fully showing how strong yet codependent their bond was, and one of the first time we see the nuance of their friendship. A thing a lot of shows, like Will & Grace, made toxic—but Eliot and Margo’s bond was never toxic. Neither was Alexis and David’s—when David tells his sister while she was off traveling the world, David was at home worrying, and it’s one of their first really touching moments. Friendships with a strong bond don’t need to be toxic or have something bad thrown into the mix to be interesting and both these duo proved that.
Often times, characters have to drop their femininity to be the hero or drop the attitude to be a main character. But watching Margo, Alexis, Eliot, and David grow into the power duo each became was truly such a fun ride. In the end, both duos go their separate ways so they can flourish on their own but not because they don’t want the other in their life anymore. Which, in extreme Alexis voice, I love that journey for them.
And the shows also helped develop their other characters: Stella Maeve’s Julia went from a magician flunky to God to magical mom, Eugene Levy’s Johnny Rose went from failed snobby businessman to a success hotel entrepreneur working alongside his friend in Schitt’s Creek, Arjun Gupta’s Penny went from bully to dead librarian to compassionate father, Catherine O’Hara went from an incredibly self-involved actor to…an incredibly self-involved actor who showed hints of both empathy and intelligence.
The Magicians and Schitt’s Creek are two great examples of how often shows, especially queer ones, need time to take off and thrive. The first season of both shows I found myself thinking I didn’t need to watch them again—then, years later, I found myself sobbing twice in my sweatpants in the same week during this pandemic because of the Schitt’s Creek and The Magicians finales.