Features

It's (Past) Time Everyone Got on Board IFC's Baroness Von Sketch Show

Why this under-the-radar Canadian comedy deserves to be the next Schitt's Creek.
  • Photo: Matt Barnes/IFC
    Photo: Matt Barnes/IFC

    Once upon a time, Schitt's Creek was just a Canadian sitcom, financed (in part) with Canadian tax dollars and airing on the Canadian Broadcasting Company. It also aired in the U.S., on an unglamorous channel called PopTV that had formerly been the TV Guide Channel. Famously, few knew that Schitt's Creek even existed until it showed up on Netflix. Then, as fans started devouring its many seasons, Schitt's Creek became a legit word-of-mouth hit, ubiquitous enough for its gifs to be shared by the most basic normie wine moms you follow on Instagram (I'm looking at you, The Home Edit broads); people even found out where they could watch the final season live — and when this year's Emmys were awarded, Schitt's Creek made it a clean sweep, winning in every category in which it was nominated.

    Now how about we do the same for the Baroness von Sketch Show?

    OK, I realize it's a real long shot for CBC's Baroness von Sketch Show — starring Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne, and Jennifer Whelan — to become Canada's next breakout comedy sensation. It's not just that the show is about to air its fifth and final season (although that certainly doesn't help). As a sketch series, it doesn't have the same kind of built-in emotional beats and stakes as Schitt's Creek. Still, for four seasons (and throughout the new fifth) it's held space for women in the historically male-dominated world of sketch comedy and delivered hard laughs in every episode. I could go on and on about all the topics BvSS has put its stamp on over the years — there's a Master's thesis in the comedic perspective of four Canadian women on the pitfalls of being too polite — but instead I've narrowed it down to the five areas that most clearly define the show's voice for new viewers:

    1. Women's Concerns In Incongruous Settings

    The new season features a number of sketches in which women's interests or passions are reimagined in unexpected ways, like a contemporary coven who've started hiring themselves out as an extremely inefficient moving company. We also get the above look at the heads of several Mob families, who have come together for a summit to discuss an extremely important matter that is getting out of hand.

    2. Female Aging/Body Horror

    The four stars of Baroness von Sketch Show are well into their forties, and what it's like to live in a female body as it ages is, evidently, both a matter of some preoccupation and a rich vein of comedy to be mined. Season 5 introduces an extreme solution to keeping a menstruating woman from attracting bears on a camping trip, and forces a woman arriving at work with a hangover to confront the fact that this experience is not the same for her in middle age as it was in her twenties. But I'll never forgot this earlier sketch about a zone some women age into in the gym changing room.

    3. Savage Comedy From Extremely Touchy Subjects

    Generally, Baroness von Sketch Show keeps it light and silly, but most episodes also feature a sketch or two that address social issues with an admirable sharpness. One from last season, in which a woman makes her very polite daily phone call to the detectives working her rape case to find out how the investigation is going, stayed with me for days. This season includes sketches about what a dead oil baron is truly leaving to his heirs; whether superhero narratives actually only popularize band-aid solutions to serious problems; and how companies anesthetize workers against rising up against labor violations. How might a friendly game of Celebrity go awry? It's surprisingly easy!

    4. Spoofing Women At Their Actual Worst

    Baroness von Sketch Show is certainly comedy from a feminist perspective, but that doesn't mean it uncritically supports all female pursuits or attitudes, some of which are extremely annoying. Any woman who's been out for dinner with friends will probably recognize the revisionist history on display in a sketch this season with regard to who actually ordered the rosé for the table; and the fanatical enforcement of a fragrance-free office policy should cure anyone of wanting to wrap up their time working remotely. Some of the best sketches revolve around women's performatively self-abnegating food restrictions; the above birthday party sketch is a prime example.

    5. Pure Absurdity

    Obviously. Baroness von Sketch Show did not invent the concept of heightening a comic premise past all logic; it's a cornerstone of the genre. A dog show, a zombie apocalypse, and a famous author's deathbed may be settings you've seen in sketch comedy before, but I guarantee you haven't seen them this way. For an example of BvSS offering a particularly female take on absurdity, I'm going all the way back to Season 1 with "Dry Shampoo."

    The first four seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show are available on IFC.com for anyone who has access to the network through a cable provider; those who don't can buy either individual episodes or full seasons on AppleTV or Amazon. But where is the Netflix deal that's going to catapult it, Schitt's Creek-like, to true cult hit? Why is it being prevented from being  more widely seen by American audiences? What does Dan Levy have that Browne, MacNeill, Taylor, and Whalen don't?

    I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

    Yes, it's a heavier lift to watch a show when its not readily accessible on Netflix. But it's fun and funny, smart and dumb, and deserves to go out in its final season in a blaze of viral glory. Watch it!

    Baroness Von Sketch Show returns for its fifth and final season October 14th at Midnight ET /9:00 PM PT on IFC.

    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: Baroness von Sketch Show, CBC, IFC