Schitt's Creek Simply The Best 2.0, or Touching Tender-Queerness through Dance on Screen
There is this moment in Schitt's Creek (CBS, 2015–) season 4 episode "The Olive Branch" (episode 9), where David Rose (played by Dan Levy, who is also Schitt's Creek showrunner) ends up performing a dancey lip sync to Tina Turner's song "Simply the Best." The performance is directed at his boyfriend Patrick (Noah Reid), in order to make up for not accepting Patrick's many apologies (and the accompanying "olive branch" presents) earlier, despite having already forgiven him for not telling him about being engaged to a woman two episodes previously. This scene has become known as "Simply the Best 2.0" in the fan vernacular, as it mirrors the scene in the "Open Mic" episode (episode 6) earlier in the season when Patrick serenades David with an acoustic guitar rendition of the same song. As a response to this, the "Simply the Best 2.0" moment functions as a further queer declaration of love and both the presence of Tina Turner through the song and David's dancey lip sync are crucial for what I would like to call the "tender-queer" fierceness the scene exudes.
Tenderness as a feeling seems simple enough. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "the quality of being tender in regard or treatment of others; gentleness, kindness, compassion, love."1 Derived from the adjective "tender," the sense-feeling it conveys alludes to a soft and delicate texture – gentle and affectionate, but also fragile and easily broken, with a sensitivity to bodily feeling and touch. Part of David's character arc and the way that he negotiates his relationship with Patrick resonates with the latter aspect of tenderness – being/feeling fragile and easily broken as well as a general sensitivity to feeling and touch, since David is not a particularly touchy-feely character and easily embarrassed by outpourings of emotions or people attempting to hug him, all of which he masks by sarcastic responses. It is in this scene that the gentle and affectionate sensibility of tenderness overcomes its (and his) fragile, touchy-sarcastic sensibility through the medium of a dancey lip sync.
Patrick, and by extension the viewer, is asked to witness the performance by David, gesturing for Patrick to sit down on a chair placed in one of the free spaces in their store Rose's Apothecary. When Patrick asks David, "What is this?" David responds with a touchy-sarcastic undertone, "Consider this my olive branch," before turning around and hitting the play button on the docked smartphone, while the camera zooms in to a medium close-up of David's upper body. To the first bars of "Simply The Best," David turns back to face Patrick and briefly licks his lips before closing his eyes, pursing his lips and awkwardly starting to lip sync along, all the while slowly and gently approaching Patrick in his chair. Individual step by individual step, individual shoulder shimmy by individual shoulder shimmy, David's movements are contained. His arms are bent at a 90-degree angle with his elbows held close to his torso. His gaze never wavers from Partick's face as, at the end of the second line of the first verse, "You come to me, come to me, wild and wild," David has reached Patrick's chair and crouched low enough throughout his approach to be at his eye level. Right before their noses touch, David pulls up and away with a slight smirk on his face, resulting in Patrick gazing up at him with a broad smile on his face, wondering where David's moves will take them next, keeping both Patrick and the viewer mesmerised with, at this stage, the more delicate and fragile tenderness of the moment.
At this first glance, tenderness does not seem particularly made to be fierce, requiring a shift in focus, a queering of directionality and a repositioning of the body in performance. In their article "Tina Theory: Notes on Fierceness", madison moore starts their exploration of Tina Turner's performance aesthetic, her "Tina-ness," with the observation, "Everything I know about being queer I learned from Tina Turner."2 From this vantage point, they start more broadly conceptualising the notion of fierceness in relation to Turner's very specific performance aesthetic and the way that their own dress-up lip sync performances of/as Tina Turner as a child made it possible for them "to touch queerness"3 through Turner's fierceness. In relation to this, moore positions fierceness as "a spectacular way of being in the world – a transgressive over-performance of the self through aesthetics," a way to "push back against limiting identity categories."4 Fierceness is an aesthetic that is not just a regular performance of the self, but an over-performance, which explicitly and forcefully expands the self. In this sense, it can be used to expand and queer the soft and delicate sensibility of tenderness.
As David's dancey lip sync of "Simply the Best" progresses, David's starts queering the directionality of his tenderness from its more delicate and careful movements at the beginning to give way to an increasingly forceful, dynamic, and outward pushing danced corporeality. Patrick, in realising this and knowing David's usual disposition, can't help but comment, "You know people can see you, right?" before the chorus of "Simply the Best" starts. David completely shakes off Patrick's implication, expanding his tender expression by pushing his movements out: flinging his arms about as well as swinging his upper body more forcefully in tune with the music, and getting more intensely into Patrick's face. The moment culminates when David slides to his knees in front of Patrick, swinging his upper body back, opening his chest to the ceiling, once the crescendo of the bridge hits with Turner's throaty, bold and roaring delivery of its last line "Oh baby / don't let go!" Tapping into the fierceness of Tina Turner's lyrical performance of "Simply the Best" in this scene, signals David's expansion of tenderness through danced fierceness and his becoming tender-queer.
I want to end this exploration of tender-queerness on the notion of the gaze and Patrick's comment that David will be seen. A part of moore's argument on fierceness is that being fierce means to return the gaze. In this scene the tender-queer fierceness is not just created through David's "transgressive over-performance" with a little help from Tina Turner, but also in the way that Patrick returns the gaze. From the first bar of the song and David's performance, Patrick's gaze is stuck on David. He looks. He sees. He witnesses. He also returns the gaze and, as an extension, the queer tenderness of the moment through little micro-expressions – a smile here, a sharp inhale, a flattening of the lips, a lowering of the eyelids in anticipation and desire there. The focus of Patrick's gaze is intensely and fiercely tender. Patrick sees David, in general and in this moment, and by sticking with them and returning the gaze, the dancey lip sync invites the audience in,5 to be "in touch" with tender-queerness.