Emmy episode analysis: Eugene Levy (‘Schitt’s Creek’) navigates workplace harassment in ‘Rock On!’

Eugene Levy has graced our screens for years as one of the funniest men on camera. Thanks to his bumbling portrayal of washed-up businessman Johnny Rose on “Schitt’s Creek,” the talented performer has scored his first-ever Emmy nomination for acting in the Best Comedy Actor category.

Though this year marks his first time competing as an actor, Levy is no stranger to the Emmys. He claimed two consecutive writing wins for his work on “SCTV” in 1982 and 1983. He has an additional nomination this year for Best Comedy Series, as executive producer of “Schitt’s Creek.” In his quest for an acting trophy, Levy has submitted the episode “Rock On!” for consideration.

In “Rock On!” Johnny shows his co-workers, Stevie (Emily Hampshire) and Roland (Chris Elliott), an old training video about sexual harassment in the workplace. The content of the dated VHS tape is quite prescient, as later at the motel, Johnny accidentally walks in on Stevie as she takes an explicit photo for a long-distance lover. With workplace professionalism at the forefront of Johnny’s mind, he stumbles through several attempts to alleviate any awkwardness with Stevie. Unfortunately, Johnny’s penchant for saying the wrong turn of phrase continually thwarts his sincere attempts to make things right.

SEE Dan Levy (‘Schitt’s Creek’) interview

Let’s examine the pros and cons of this submission

PROS

Levy is an expert at crafting comedic characters that viewers can root for, and that’s especially true of Johnny Rose. Watching his desperate, fumbling attempts at defusing the situation with Stevie evokes sympathy from the audience. Johnny’s constant foot-in-mouth disease is funny, to be sure, but it’s also . an endearing performance anchored by heart.

“Schitt’s Creek” slowly but steadily gained traction with American audiences the past few years before it exploded into a full-blown meme-ified favorite (thanks in part to the series’ streaming debut on Netflix). The series has incredibly strong word-of-mouth success, as viewers feel that they’ve “discovered” something special, which they need to share with friends. That goodwill could extend to veteran funny-man Levy for his first Emmy nomination as an actor.

CONS

Other members of Levy’s onscreen family have major storylines in the episode, which pull considerable focus away from the nominated actor. Voters will spend lots of time with Moira’s (Catherine O’Hara) drug-induced trip to a casino and David’s (Dan Levy) nervous foray into non-monogamy. These two plots are hilarious and steal ample screen time from Levy’s Johnny Rose.

Unlike his competitors, Levy is not the sole lead of “Schitt’s Creek,” hence the aforementioned stolen screen time. While this is not an insurmountable handicap for an Emmy win, Levy’s fellow nominees are true leads who dominate their respective series. This is especially true for reigning champ and returning nominee Bill Hader (“Barry”).

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