Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the Ninth Day of our second annual The Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration. I'm ashamed to admit that in reviewing our previous special I indulged just a bit too deeply my worst excesses as a writer: pointless pontificating, prolific profanity and plentiful penis jokes. Today's offering, however is so innocent, clean and forthright, so edifying, virtuous and respectable, so right-minded, simple and good that god-dammit we just won't be having any of that fucking shit today.

Wanna see my Yule Log?

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. Shitmas is the season of giving, after all...and you're getting it whether you want it or not.

Oh, Canada! Sweet, golden land of Molson beer and sizzling back-bacon, lightning-paced ice hockey and delicious maple syrup, compulsive apologies and late-night Timmies runs. You are a grand and lovely place full of proud and friendly people, devoid of airs and artifice, so naturally and effortlessly yourself. As Robin Williams once observed, "You are a big country. You are the kindest country in the world. You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab." As a tennant of that meth lab I salute you with good will, affection and this heartfelt letter of Shitmas love.

As recently as two weeks ago I had never even heard of The Forest Rangers, a family-friendly adventure series that was Canada's very first color television program, which ran three seasons from 1963-65. All I knew was that I'd had a blast reviewing last year's befuddling and obscure Day Eight offering from Quebec The Christmas Martian (1971) and that I needed another fix of Canadian holiday cheer. Having rejected a few other Canuck candidates for being too similar to other titles I'd already reviewed I did an online search for old Canadian television shows in the hopes that one might have a decent Christmas episode.

I thank my lucky Christmas stars I did, because The Forest Rangers: Santa MacLeod is a delight. For all my sardonic vitriol and acerbic wise-cracking I'm actually a pretty tender-hearted fellow, and this is exactly the kind of old-fashioned, sentimental fluff I love to indulge in to balance out all the hideous shit I usually watch for MMT. It's not flawless, but it's got some gentle humor, genuine thrills, and even a little bit of Yuletide a whole gaggle of convivial Canadians. Beauty, eh?

So fetch your toboggan, pick up a two-four and put on your toque. It's time to light out for the Great White North!

The Forest Rangers takes place in a fictional flyspeck of a remote wilderness town called Indian River and follows the exploits of Forest Ranger George Keeley and a band of Junior Rangers who operate out of a historic fort a mile or so from town. It's a promising setup, with quirky townsfolk and various hardy travelers dropping by weekly to get into all kinds of scrapes and adventures.

Our story begins a the day before Christmas, and as we join the Junior Rangers they're decorating the main building of the fort for a party to be held the following evening.

Did you know Canada had its own TV Land? I thought all they had up there were wood-burning televisions.

The kids are understandably excited and a little bit anxious, being as they're the hosts of the big shindig, and one of them, Chub Stanley, whom my research indicates is a city boy sent out to the town for his "moral health," asks if everybody they wanted to invite was invited. A kid in a red sweater, Ted Keely, the younger brother of the Chief Forest Ranger stationed in Indian River, says sure he did, and that he left all the invitations at the post office/general store in town so the postmaster/shopkeeper Mr. Johnson could hand them out to everyone.

Junior Ranger Kathy, meanwhile, is busy trimming the tree and waxing poetic over her favorite things about the Christmas season. What she loves best, she says is "the spirit, the warm feeling you get when you see everybody, even people who don't want to, being nice to each other. It kinda makes you feel warm all over."

The only things that keep us warm down here in the meth lab are PornHub, booze and cookin' up.

Sure, it's corny, but it's also authentic and sweet, and Kathy says it with such "aw shucks" sincerity it kinda makes me feel warm all over, too. Or maybe that's just the meth kicking in.

We cut over to the Ranger Station now where Chief Ranger George Keely and his Native Canadian assistant Joe Two Rivers are chewing the bacon fat and enjoying some coffee from a couple of enameled tin cups. The door opens and in comes a bouncy old fella in a battered old slouch hat and big thick frontier coat. This is the titular MacLeod, a crotchety old prospector with a heart of gold whose digs are somewhere in the bush a few miles from town.

Ranger George just got his hair cut.

Joe Two Rivers needs to get his haircut.

Macleod never gets his hair cut. It just grows that way.

Ranger George asks MacLeod what he's so happy about and he says it's because he's got the Christmas spirit. Joe asks him if he came into town for the kids' party but he had no idea there was one and seems a little put out that no one told him about it.

Joe tells him to stop by the General Store and see if Mr. Johnson has an invitation for him there. Ranger George asks him if he and Johnson are on speaking terms and MacLeod replies that he owes Johnson so much money the guy can't afford not to be.

MacLeod was only in 20 of the 104 episodes, but from others I've seen this is a running gag whenever he's in town, that he always gets his supplies at the General Store on credit but never pays down his bill.

So MacLeod heads over to the General Store and the first thing he sees is a shiny harmonica. He pics it up and gives it a little test blow, which is obviously mighty satisfying.

He's the Canadian Gabby Hayes

He bangs on the counter for service and Shop-Keep Johnson appears, giving him the serious stink-eye. It's another running trope that Johnson will stake MacLeod his grub and other essential supplies, knowing damn well he'll never see a penny, but his generosity hits a wall when the old coot wants something frivolous like candy, a watch or in this case a harmonica.

Shop-Keep Johnson, doing his best "fart in an elevator" face.

MacLeod gives up trying to barter for the harmonica, but asks if there's a letter there for him amongst the party invitations. Johnson reaches back and grabs the stack but as he does so one falls to the floor, and of course when he shuffles through the rest of them he doesn't find anything for MacLeod.

MacLeod tries to make like he didn't expect an invite anyway, but he's clearly crestfallen. He pulls up his collar and mopes towards the door. Johnson tells him "happy Christmas" as he skulks out of the shop, and it's clear the Shop-Keep feels pretty bad about it, too.

So we have a pretty basic set up here for an inevitable happy ending that you'd have to be in a catatonic state to not see coming, where the old man ultimately gets his invitation, realizes he's loved, and makes it to the party where everyone has a big Kumbaya moment of good-fellowship and Christmas cheer. How we get there, though...that's what makes the special special.

As MacLeod lumbers dolefully towards the edge of the town, we cut to a clapboard shack somewhere deep in the snow-girded forest, where a Native Man is crouching over his prostrate Native Wife asking where she feels the pain that has incapacitated her. It's in her side, she says, and from her pitiful moans it's obviously more than just a belly ache.

There's an entire freaking bear hanging over her bed.

The Native Man says he'll go to Indian River to get the "white man doctor," but the Native Wife says it'll take too long to get there and back, that it will be night before he returns, and that it's impossible to travel in the bitter cold of a Canadian midwinter night. Native Man says he'll fix up the dog sled and take both her and their baby along so it'll be a one-way trip.

I do have to lodge a complaint here about the stereotypical "Pidgin English" spoken by this couple. It smacks of the kind of dismissive, one-dimensional portrayals of native peoples in American Westerns of the time, who were generally shown as either brutal savages, wise sages or feckless simpletons.

Aside from the limitations of the actors playing them these two characters are generally depicted as real people dealing with a dire emergency as best they can, and the main cast treats them with as much respect, decency and humanity as they would any other character, but there's still a distasteful hint of the "white savior complex" embedded in the narrative, and for an American viewer the halting, broken patois they speak carries some historically racist baggage the producers clearly did not intend. I think it's largely a product of the time in which the series was made, but it does detract slightly from the overall impact of the story.

So the Native Man bundles his wife and child into the sled and mushes the dogs full speed ahead through the forest. We hear wolves in the distance as they fly almost recklessly along, and we can feel the urgency and desperation of their literal life-and-death mission.

It's the only way to travel...and it's the only one they've got.

Eventually the dogs run too close to a stump and the sled lurches up, sending Native Man flying headlong against some exposed ground and Native Woman tumbling across a snowdrift with the baby and the rest of the contents of the sled. The dogs keep on racing out of sight, leaving them stranded, far from home and several miles from their destination.

"Come back, eh! We got some PC Maple!"

Native Man has a nasty bump on his head and seems a little woozy, but his love for his family and the adrenaline rush of danger carry him through the process of setting up a temporary shelter so he can head out towards the town on his own. Neither of them have any illusions about the dire situation they're in or about their dismal prospects of success, however, and the Woman insists that her husband take the baby, so that at least he might survive if they actually make it to town.

"Pick me up a double-double and some Timbits would ya? I'm dyin' here, eh."

Back at the station Ranger George is just heading out the side door to go pick up the kids at the fort, leaving Joe Two Rivers to man the radio and mind the place while he's gone. As soon as he leaves Shop-Keep Johnson pops in the front, clutching the invitation he'd dropped when MacLeod was in his store. He asks if Joe has seen the old fella, explaining how put-out the poor guy seemed when he thought he wasn't invited to the soiree, and how shitty he feels that he dropped the invite and sent him off thinking he wasn't welcome. Joe offers to take the invitation and go out to try to find MacLeod.

"Could you give him a little kiss for me? It gets lonely out there in the bush."

We jump cut to the cantankerous old mule himself, milling about out in the woods and muttering to himself about what a fool he was going into town when clearly he's not wanted there. He shuffles dejectedly off into the wilderness.

Meanwhile Native Man is stumbling forward, dizzy from the wound to his head. He falls to his knees, desperately fighting to remain conscious so he can protect his child, but he's reached the limit of his endurance and passes out amidst a pile of brush at the base of a tree.

At the fort the kids are getting a little anxious that their ride hasn't arrived yet, and Junior Ranger Chub comments that it's looking like a pretty big snowstorm coming. Junior Ranger Ted offers to call over to the station on the radio, but just then they hear a car in the distance and George arrives to drive them back to town.

Back at the Ranger station Joe Two Rivers returns and gives Shop-Keep Johnson the bad news that MacLeod was seen leaving town shortly after he'd visited him at the store. Johnson is concerned that MacLeod won't have time to get home to his shack before dark, that he might get lost in the dark or fall into a snow drift and freeze to death. He blames himself.

We all blame you Shop-Keep Johnson.

As MacLeod trudges through the woods he hears a baby crying in the distance. At first he thinks his ears are playing tricks on him, but when he hears it again he's able to track down the source and finds Native Man passed out in the snow with the little blanketed bundle beside him.

"Hey mister! Is that your baby? Can I buy him on account?"

Native Man comes around long enough to explain what happened, and MacLeod tells him there's a shack nearby that used to belong to another prospector who packed it in and "went to a better place." It's clear Native Man is too weak to make it there on his own, so MacLeod offers to take the baby and go get help.

He takes off his coat and places it over the man then heads off with the kid, but he doesn't get far before he realizes he'll never make it in time with a baby in his arms, so he takes the him to the old shack and beds him down in some nice warm hay.

Just like baby Jesus, get it?

Mac grabs a blanket he finds inside the shack and an old toboggan he finds outside of it and heads back out to where he left Native Man.

Joe, meanwhile is back at the station piddling around waiting for Ranger George to get back when he hears dogs barking outside and goes to investigate. When he sees the sled team pull in with no driver he realizes immediately that someone must be in real trouble, and with night coming on and a storm rolling in he knows there's no time to waste in finding them.

Johnson comes out and asks Joe what's going on, and Joe says he's not sure exactly, but it's definitely an Indian sled and by the way the dogs are behaving he they must have run several miles.

Just then Ranger George and the kids get back. Since the sled team came from the general direction of the fort, George, Johnson and the kids head back there so they can fan out into the surrounding woods. Joe takes the dog sled and they all agree to meet at the old prospector's shack, since it's the only real shelter within their search area and the most likely place for someone in trouble to have gone.

Action! Adventure! Excitement!

Ranger George and the Junior Rangers arrive at the shack first and there's a funny little bit where the baby coos and everybody thinks Kathy said something. She assures them she did not...and eventually they hear it again find the kid nestled in the straw.

"I am the way and the light! He he...just kidding."

Meanwhile MacLeod uses the toboggan to quickly reach Native man and assures the guy his baby is safe. He tries to convince him to let him take him to the shack on the toboggan before he goes for help, but Native Man is too anxious about his wife, explaining again how she's really sick and lying in a shelter on the trail. He tries to get up but he falls right back into the snow, unable to move.

Mac realizes he's got to make a choice, whether to save the man now and probably run out of time to save the woman, or save the woman and probably lose the man.

"Well I flipped a coin, son and let's just say it's gonna be a long, cold night for ya."

MacLeod swaps out the blanket for the coat and leaves Native Man wrapped up like a Great White Northern bean burrito. He takes the toboggan and heads up the trail to find the woman.

Joe reaches the shack and sees the marks Mac left in the snow, saying he'll track that back to wherever it leads using the dogs. George says he'll follow on foot, taking a couple of the kids and leaving the others to get some blankets from the car, light the stove and boil some water to warm up whomever they may bring back...assuming they're not already dead, in which case I guess they'll just make some coffee and play Yahtzee to see who gets to keep the kid.

Joe finds Native Guy now, in a deep sleep and about to slip into the hypothermic coma that presages an icy death. As George and company arrive Native Man wakes just long enough to mumble "wife sick on trail, old man go look, go fetch her."

"Don't leave old man alone with wife. Old man dirty."

As George gives the Native Man some brandy, crafty tracker Joe notices the same tracks he followed from the shack heading back in the direction of the trail. He figures out that because of the snowshoes and the timing this must be MacLeod.

"He's right. MacLeod shouldn't be left alone with anybody's wife."

Further up the trail Mac almost walks right past where the woman is writhing beneath her sparse, inadequate shelter, but he hears her moans and hurries over to her. He asks if she's okay and she says she feels "much cold, much pain."

"Say, little lady...since your husband ain't around..."

Before Mac can finish making his move on her we hear Joe mushing the dogs in the distance, and soon he's crouching down with him by the Woman's side.

"Ma'am, did this man bother or molest you in any way?"

Joe speaks to the Woman in her native tongue and from what she tells him he guesses she's got an appendicitis and will probably need surgery as soon as they get her back to town.

They bundle her in the sled and Joe tells Mac to hop on the back and come to town with him, but he gets all mopey and says he'd just as soon go home. Joe is about to leave without him but thinks better of it, hopping off the sled and calling him over.

He hands him the party invite now, and waits while he opens and reads it, because resolving that plot thread is obviously more urgent than helping the lady with the ready-to-burst appendix who's been lying in the snow exposed to sub-zero temperatures for the past three hours.

"Snows before ho's, eh! Now that's jokes!"

We fade to the Indian River Junior Rangers Christmas Party, where MacLeod is dressed as Santa Claus and handing out presents to the kids. Joe comes in with the Native Man, who's holding his baby, and we get the required-by-narrative-law report that his wife had her appendix surgery and is going to be just fine.

Junior Ranger Kathy, the one from the beginning who had all the warm feelings, grabs the baby and takes him over to Santa MacLeod so the old coot can get an eyeful of him. He hands out the last of the gifts from under the tree, looks around for any stragglers he may have missed and says "Well, looks like it kinda wraps it up!"

"No pun intended, little fella."

Ranger George, with his uniform still on and his regulation 12" broom handle still up his ass, tells Mac that actually there is one more present left. He calls Kathy over, and she dumps the baby someplace so she can grab a little white box from him.

She walks over to Mac with a big smile on her face and makes a charming little speech about how everybody wants Mac to know how much they all care about him, how much they all want him around, and that "what you did last night was just about the bravest and most unselfish thing anyone could do." Native Man steps up now, too and expresses his deep thanks, for his wife, for his baby and for himself.

I think he's got something in his eye...and I think maybe I do, too.

This moment is the loving heart of The Forest Rangers where it transcends its humble, hokey premise and becomes something authentically and profoundly human.

Kathy hands Santa MacLeod the present and he opens it to find the shiny harmonica he'd been coveting back at the General Store. He looks at it wistfully for a moment with a moist and misty eye, then slaps it to his whiskered mug and starts playing "Jingle Bells." He balters joyously about the room with all the children following behind in a line, the beloved pied piper of Indian River, B.C.

The End.

The Forest Rangers reminds me in some respects of the TV Westerns that were popular in the United States at the time. Programs like Bonanza (1959-73), Gunsmoke (1955-75) and The Rifleman (1958-63) also dealt with the unique challenges of living in a remote frontier on the edge of a majestic but potentially deadly wilderness, but those programs always seemed to focus on intrapersonal conflict. Whether it was cowboys and Indians, lawmen and outlaws or cattlemen and rustlers, issues were usually framed within a good vs evil diametric, and resolving them almost inevitably required some sort of violent confrontation.

Perhaps it's a fundamental difference between the national character of our respective nations, but The Forest Rangers has a pervasive kindness as its central motivation. The "cowboys" of the Forest Service and the "Indians" of the wilderness work hand-in-hand to achieve their goals, and when somebody is in trouble the whole community steps up regardless of the race or social standing of the folks who need the help. When Americans view a hostile and unforgiving environment, it seems we see a dog-eat-dog struggle for supremacy that ultimately benefits the individual, whereas the Canadian temperament leans more naturally towards a desire for general prosperity and common good...and more power to them for it.

If I've repeatedly returned to the subject of kindness during this year's Shitmas celebration it's because I think we need to be reminded right now just how powerful a force kindness can be. We live in fractious and frightening times, where cruelty is often equated with strength and compassion with weakness.

I don't buy into that cynical myth. I believe cruelty is the coward's path, the easy road a bully takes to avoid his own hostile and unforgiving inward gaze. It's easy to be cruel when you lack the capacity for self-reflection, and when cruelty is viewed as some perverse kind of virtue then compassion is a radical and necessary form of revolution.

Viva la revolution.

Special thanks to The Forest Rangers Fan Site.

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 21st!

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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