Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the Third Day of our second annual The Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration. After the bitter pill of our Second Day offering I felt I needed something sweet to cleanse the palate, a sentimental confection with perhaps a soupcon of wit and warmth to wash away the astringent aftertaste of what I shall henceforth refer to as the special that shall not be named. Unfortunately the special I'd originally lined up for today's article was far too brash, noisy and frenetic to serve that purpose, so I was forced to make a last-minute substitution.

I think maybe we all dodged a bullet there.

As I looked over my extensive list of alternates it soon became apparent that none of these would quite do the trick either, leaving me in the unenviable position of having nothing to write about with a strict and immovable deadline bearing down on me like a runaway sleigh.

So I did what I always do when faced with a seemingly impossible situation: I whined about it to my wife.

At first she was...less than sympathetic. I had, after all, been sequestering myself at Million Monkey Towers since late October, obsessively plotting and planning, voraciously reading and researching for this holiday project you're all just barely enjoying right now. So consumed was I with the spirit of Shitmas, in fact, that I had for all practical purposes ceased to exist as a part of my own family. Such is the burden of the artist, and such are the sacrifices he and those who love him must leave upon the altar of his art.

After I had made the appropriate prostrations and obeisances to my wife, however, and secured the sacred offerings of hard cider and Ben and Jerry's ice cream, her frigid heart gradually warmed to me again, and in the rosy glow of our renewed affections she recalled a particular Christmas special that she and her sister had discovered in their teen years while babysitting a neighbor's kids for pocket money.

For a time it had become a tradition for them to watch their well-worn, off-air VHS recording each holiday season, and as my lovely wife shared this treasured memory with me last night we renewed our vows and I pledged to be more present in our relationship starting January 1st, 2021. For now I'm going to make a present of this special for all of you, because Shitmas is for sharing.

It's not just a holiday, it's also a bowel movement.

We're posting a brand new review of a Christmas Special every other day, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. It's kind of like Hanukkah, but instead of nine days of socks, trousers and chocolate gelt you get twelve days of me yapping on about how much weirder the holidays used to be when I was a kid, goshdarnit, and drop those lights and get off my lawn you little hoodlums.

Eureeka's Castle, with scripts written by R. L. Stine of Goosebumps fame, debuted on my 19th birthday, September 4th, 1989, and ran for three seasons as part of the Nickelodeon channel's "Nick Jr." slate, featuring programs aimed at their youngest viewers. It was popular with toddlers and pre-schoolers in the golden hours when their older siblings were at school, after which they'd burst in the door, steal all the snacks and hijack the TV to watch cheap, hack-job cartoons designed to sell them toys.

I didn't have any younger siblings to show me the delights of late-80's/early 90's Nickelodeon, just an older brother who played street hockey and enjoyed breaking my nose with the ball (true story), and by the time today's Shitmas offering rolled around I was far more interested in avoiding college and trying to get laid. If I do say so myself I was rather good at both of those things.

Christmas at Eureeka's Castle is rather good, too. Although it's more than a little derivative of the Muppets it still manages to build an engaging world of quirky, relatable characters, and to tell a sweet story through well-written songs and cheeky humor that hit their targets far more often than they don't. It's the prefect vehicle to take a holiday that was about to derail itself with existential dread and put it back on track towards some heartwarming, wholesome fun.

We fade in on the castle itself, an elaborate structure with a crank-key sticking out the side of it like one of those old-fashioned wind-up tin toys collectors pay thousands of dollars for just to keep them in cardboard boxes in their basements. I asked my wife about the crank but she was as clueless as I was, having never watched the show beyond this one special, but a quick visit to the Eureeka's Castle fandom page reveals that the entire building is actually an elaborate music box belonging to a friendly giant.

He's apparently a much better landlord than I've ever had.

There's a fun little montage intro where we meet each of the main characters as they ready themselves for the Christmas celebrations they'll be enjoying later in the day. First up we see Eureeka, wizard-in-training, shuffling back and forth in her tower budoir and worrying over whether she can successfully summon a Christmas tree with her often less-than-stellar magic skills.

The horns were an early Christmas present from her uncle Tim.

Next we swing on down to the basement dungeon where childlike, kind-hearted Magellan the dragon is excitedly telling his little pet fluff-ball Coo-ee how excited he is for the holiday.

Magellan. Not exactly Smaug, is he?

Elsewhere in the bowels of the castle we meet moat monster siblings Bogge and Quagmire, fussin' and fightin' on their way upstairs to the courtyard to join the rest of the gang.

Like most young siblings they've got a knee-jerk rivalry and questionable hygiene.

Up in the belfrey we meet Battley the bat, grandiloquent buffoon and solipsist, standing in front of a mirror over which he's hung some mistletoe so he has an excuse to kiss his own reflection.

I hear he once gave himself mono.

There's also a trio of singing fish that are actually the figures on a sculptural fountain, but we only see them briefly during the intro to the theme song. They have nothing further to do with the plot, but they're hella cool and I totally want them in my garden.

Everyone meets in the castle courtyard to rehearse the big Christmas play they're putting on for themselves later that evening. Battley, of course is the director, and he immediately makes it clear that no matter what anyone does it will be wrong, and never nearly as good as he could do himself. He reminds me of my drama teacher in high school.

First up we meet the orchestra, which is a trio of mice in a little portable stage festooned with bells and various instruments. When these three indicate that they're ready to play Battley orders everyone to perform the "big dance number" to an instrumental version of "Jingle Bells." Battley, of course is unsatisfied with their club-footed attempts at rhythm and decides to demonstrate the steps himself. He tells them "do everything I do" then proceeds to perform a few heel-toe-heel-toe steps before tripping over his director's chair and falling flat on his face. Of course everyone immediately repeats his demonstration step-for-step, and at the appropriate moment they all fall in unison flat on their own faces. It's an old gag but a good one.

A bit later we see Eureeka up on her balcony practicing the holiday spell so crucial to their celebrations. She waves her wand and speaks the incantation: "Come magical magic and please bring to me a wonderful, beautiful, big Christmas tree!" A flash of sparkling light reveals, however that her spell hasn't worked quite as she'd intended, as instead of a "tree" all that appears is a cup of "tea."

What's that brewing? I think it's a running gag.

Undaunted she vows to continue trying until she gets it right.

Down in the courtyard, meanwhile Battley is shouting "Places everyone! Places" through his little director's bullhorn, but no one is around to hear him. Just as he's about to lose his temper the sparkling light of Eureeka's magic swirls around him and he suddenly finds himself holding another teacup.

Tea-gag part deux.

He throws the cup to the ground and calls out for his "Santa" so they can rehearse "the big reindeer number." Santa, it seems is going to be played by the castle's resident handyman and addle-brained inventor Mr. Knack, who shows up for his big showstopping number dressed as the Easter Bunny.

Paul Lynde called. He wants his joke back.

Mr. Knack, by the way, sounds suspiciously like Muppet musician Marvin Suggs, the sadistic, authoritarian inventor of the Muppaphone.

Battley is predictably exasperated by all of this ineptitude, especially when everything he does is so darn perfect. He sends Mr. Knack off to change clothes and calls for Magellan to bring out the Christmas tree so they can start rehearsing his part of the play.

Magellan pants and plods his way onto the stage, heaving and jingling with every step. Battley shouts that they need the Christmas tree for this number and Magellan struggles to lift his tail, bedecked and burdened as it is with tinsel and heavy ornaments. He repeatedly tries and fails to hold it up, whispering each time "Stand up, tail! Stand up!"

Sorry, we're all out of flaccid penis jokes. You'll have to bring your own.

Magellan explains that Eureeka is having trouble making a tree with her magic so he decided he'd better make one himself out of the nearest tree-like object, but he didn't realize the darn thing would end up being so heavy. Battley looks up towards Eureeka's balcony to see what the hold up is on getting an actual tree and he gets an unwelcome surprise.

If you're keeping score that's a full "triple" on the teacup gag. Nick at Night would be proud.

Poor Magellan is doing his best but he's in a losing battle against the weight of his overburdened tail. Self-absorbed prick Battley waves him off dismissively and calls out for his "reindeer," which turns out to be Bogge and Quagmire in a front-half/back-half reindeer suit, spinning in a vicious circle, arguing over who gets to go onstage first.

As they bicker back and forth Magellan loses his fight against gravity. He shouts "timber!" as it falls directly down the center of the reindeer costume, sending the siblings flying directly onto Battley and knocking them all to the ground.

Battley starts shouting at Magellan and gets the sensitive reptile so frazzled that he sneezes, which according to the Fandom page is his usual reaction when he gets upset, wreaking havoc on everything in the path of his nose. The sneeze is a rip-snorter, too, sending Battley flying directly into the crotch of a snowlady painted on the backdrop of the stage.

Quick! Call the Midwife!

When Battley gets his head out of the snowlady's hoochie he tells Magellan he's "giving him the old heave-ho ho ho" and kicks him out of the show. Magellan begs for another chance, and Bogge and Quagmire back him up, but hothead Battley refuses to budge, sending poor Magellan and his poor, limp tail packing.

As Magellan slinks away, his head bowed in sadness and shame, Battley calls over his pet spider Webster to help him with a brief rendition of "jingle bells" so they can show the rest of the castle's inhabitants how it's done. Webster talks in guttural wails and grunts and synchronizes his movements to the rhythm of the song with shakes of the Christmas bells he's wearing on each of his eight legs. It's one of the most self-consciously Muppet-like sequences in the special and also the one of the most entertaining.

By the end of the song everyone has left the courtyard in disgust at Battley's cruelty and egotism, but the vainglorious bat, clueless as always to the consequences of his own behavior, looks around at the empty courtyard and asks innocently "Hey! Where'd everybody go?"

Here's a shout-out to all my South Philly peeps.

Meanwhile Magellan has gone to the edge of the forest outside the castle to mope and complain about how crappy Christmas is turning out to be, what with Battley yelling at him and getting kicked out of the play, and Eureeka seemingly unable to conjure up a Christmas tree.

How, wonders the kind but simple dragon, can you have Christmas without a Christmas tree? As he thus ponders it occurs to him that he's sitting right next to a forest, and that surely there must be at least one Christmas tree in there somewhere, right? He decides he'll go in and find one, and then when he brings it back to the castle even Battley will forgive him and let him back in the play.

The only problem is that he's never been in the forest by himself before and he's a little bit scared. He figures if he can just get someone to go with him he'll be okay, so he calls his pet Coo-ee, and in an instant the little floofy puffball is bouncing around and cooing in his face and rarin' to go.

Yeah, I have no idea what the hell it is, either, but it's fuzzy and gives nose-kisses and that's good enough for me.

Magellan explains their mission, to find a big beautiful tree with lots of lights and decorations on it, and Coo-ee seems to be completely on-board. As the two of them take off into the forest, a fat-ass mouse named Emma tells them "pick a good one!" then goes back to eating a gingerbread man that's almost as big as she is.

She's got the diabeetus.

Back at the castle Mr. Knack has changed into the appropriate costume but is having trouble remembering how to say Santa's signature greeting. Sometimes he says "Hee Hee Hee," sometimes "Har Har Har," but shakes his head each time as if he realizes something's wrong but can't quite put his finger on what it is. Battley is typically annoyed by this, but sets his worries aside to concentrate on the rest of the rehearsal. He calls Bogge and Quagmire to the stage to perform their featured song called "The List."

The song involves the two of them compiling an ever-growing catalog of potential Christmas gifts, from bottles, nickels, beans 'n' franks, to boxes, popcorn and peanut butter sandwiches, the latter of which are apparently their most favorite of all their favorite things. They keep writing more and more items down until the scrolls of paper they're using completely cover the stage.

That's a big-ass list.

It's a funny, frenetic and completely charming routine and it's also the point where Christmas at Eureeka's Castle fully absorbs and transforms the influences that informed it and stands most confidently on its own.

Battley, of course is never satisfied with anything anyone else ever does, so he berates the moat monsters, saying "Is that all Christmas means to you? Presents?" Then he suddenly remembers that he's really into presents, too and asks "by the way, what did you get me?"

"Look at me! I'm an asshole and a hypocrite!"

So it's time to rehearse "the big snowflake number," and Battley starts looking around for big snowflake Magellan, not recalling apparently that he'd fired him in a fit of pique something like an hour earlier.

Diabeetus Mouse casually shows up and tells everyone about Magellan and Coo-ee heading off into the forest to find a Christmas tree, and everyone begins to panic as we head to the commercial break.

When we rejoin our heroes it's night time, and Magellan is forging a path deeper and deeper into the forest, passing and rejecting beautiful, full and perfect trees one after another by the light of a full moon. Just as you're beginning to wonder why he's being so picky he explains to Coo-ee "We've seen hundreds of trees but not one of them has any lights or decorations on it!"

Ever the optimist, Magellan says they must go onward and keep trying, but he suddenly finds that he's further into the forest than he's ever been before, and worse yet he doesn't even know which way is forward and which way is back. He puts on a brave face for Coo-ee, but even as he tries to convince his little friend that there's nothing to be afraid of he realizes with a start that not only are they lost, but they're lost for Christmas!

Life sure was scary before Google Maps.

Back at the castle Diabeetus Mouse is expounding on the tale of Magellan and Coo-ee and their ill-fated Christmas tree quest. Eureeka takes Battley to task for driving Magellan off, but like a true narcissist he deflects responsibility, even going so far as to suggest that since "his pal" isn't there maybe he should open his presents for him. When this doesn't get the reaction he'd hoped for he claims it was just a joke, and finally admits that since Magellan leaving was his fault he should be the one to go find him. He puts on a little hat and scarf and flies away to begin his search.

"I am the Battleyman."

Bogge suggests to Eureeka that she use her magic to find Magellan, but because she's only a wizard-in-training and doesn't have a very strong track record of successful spell-casting she's afraid she might do more harm than good.

This leads into a song about her doubts and fears, and her hopes that Magellan and Coo-ee are safe. It expresses beautifully the protective, maternal relationship she has with him and her heartfelt assertion that having him home with her "would be the greatest Christmas gift of all."

Back in the dark of the forest the song continues with Magellan setting his own fears aside to comfort his frightened pet, then the screen splits to give us a final chorus duet, with both Magellan and Eureeka wishing fervently that they could all be home safe together for Christmas. It's a lovely song and sentiment, and it's so authentically sweet even I can't even bring myself to make fun of it.

I must be getting soft.

The excellent music for Eureeka's Castle was written by veteran composer and lyricist Peter Lurye, whose other credits include The Bear in the Big Blue House (1997-2006), The Magic Schoolbus (1994-97) and, in yet another nod to the ubiquitous Muppets, Elmo's World (1998-2009, 2017-present).

Just as Magellan finishes the song and begins reassuring Coo-ee that they're going to be safe Battley drops out of the sky and crash lands in front of them. He announces that now that Magellan has been found he can't possibly still be lost, but when he starts looking around to get his bearings it becomes clear that he has no idea where they are or which way they should go to get back to the castle. Magellan calls him out on this but he replies that he only said he'd find him, not that he'd take him back, and justifies his ridiculous position with the assertion "I'm a bat, not a homing pigeon!"

I can think of several other things he is, too but I'm trying hard to keep the profanity to a minimum.

Suddenly there's squealing and the sound of breaking sticks and leaves shuffling in the distance. Battley, Magellan and Coo-ee hide behind a big pine tree as the sound draws near. Soon there's a light shining on them and the branches of the trees in front of them part to reveal:

Whatever the hell this is to the rescue!

There's a big happy reunion with lots of hugs and laughter, and Battley trying to bullshit everyone into believing he had everything under control. Eureeka suddenly notices the gorgeous fir he and Magellan had been hiding behind and tells Magellan "Look! You found a beautiful Christmas tree!"

The poor fella still doesn't get it, and Eureeka has to explain to him that a Christmas tree is just a regular tree until you put the decorations on it. She decides to try one last time to cast a working spell, and this time she gets it right, transforming the lovely but plain tree into a Christmas showpiece.

They must have a really long extension cord.

Eureeka tells them that the real magic of Christmas is that the whole castle family can be together, but of course Battley, despite causing all the trouble in the first place and having to have had his sorry ass saved from his own incompetence, can't just enjoy the moment and has to find something to complain about. He starts whining about the Christmas show they--meaning he--worked so hard on and how now that they're stuck out in the woods they won't be able to perform it. Mr. Knack says it's so lovely with that big beautiful tree they should all just sing their big holiday number right out there in the forest anyway.

So we get a peppy, sprawling Christmas finale, a spirited number called "Christmas is the Best Time of the Year." It's a fun, catchy song again with "Muppets" written over it, definitively demonstrating for the umpteenth time just how long a shadow Jim Henson's work has cast across virtually all of the Children's entertainment to come after him.

The finale spreads the joy around to everyone, giving each character a line or two to sing and a moment of the spotlight in which to shine. Even Diabeetus Mouse has her time, digging into a figgy pudding twice her size and sitting atop an elaborate holiday cake as the others anticipate the inevitable insulin coma she'll be suffering come Christmas morning.

Totally worth it.

The big number ends with a flourish, and Knack says that with all of his friends gathered together like this he feels like he's at home right there in the forest. This leads Eureeka into a brief reprise of "The Greatest Christmas Gift of All," with all of them agreeing that the greatest gift they have this Christmas is being able to be together.

The End.

What can I say? Christmas at Eureeka's Castle hit me right in the sweet spot between sarcastic and treacly, with just the right level of sharp humor to balance out the sentimentality at the center of its sappy heart. I might otherwise complain that it took perhaps a bit too much inspiration from the Muppets but for the the overall quality of it. The characters are well-defined without being stock caricatures, the performances are committed and energetic and the songs are catchy and well-produced, so what's there not to love? I adore the classic Muppets, so it's easy to enjoy something that emulates so well what made the them so good.

Thanks for the recommendation sweet wife o' mine! Now It's back to Million Monkey Towers to lock myself in my office again until days Four through Twelve are done. Kiss the cats for me and don't wait up. I'll see you sometime before New Years'.

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 9th!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2020.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?

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