Ho ho howdy folkses! After a long, laborious year of blood, sweat, tears and the occasional mystery itch, we present to you our admittedly anticlimactic Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration for 2023. This is the fifth year of our semi-venerable holiday tradition, so we thought we'd shake things up a bit by turning our collective backs on the tawdry bells, whistles and gimmicks of our past Shitmas offerings and make a welcome return to the idyllic, sepia-toned nostalgia of more quaint and tasteful seasonal festivities. No more will you find hidden pictures of sneaky Santas or naughty elves embedded in our screenshots. No more will you be besieged by preposterous so-called "bonuses" or fatuous works of bloated yuletide fantasy. This year we shall instead eschew all the tacky, pop-trash claptrap in favor of pared-back, old-fashioned, no-frills reviews of the worst, weirdest and wildest Christmas media we could unearth from the soggiest, boggiest bowels of the nigh-bottomless interwebs. Perhaps we've grown weary of the crass commercialism of the modern holidays and long for a guileless return to the wholesome values of love, fellowship and goodwill this most sacred season is meant to represent...or maybe we've spent the entirety of 2023 renovating a hundred and eight year old house, tearing out walls, fixing plumbing, running new electrical wiring, designing and building custom cabinetry and installing new drywall and flooring, all the while still working our regular day jobs and routinely pushing twelve to sixteen hour days. We'll leave it to you to decide which of those explanations you think seems more plausible.

A fecal plume of holiday excitement.

As we do each year at this time, we're posting a brand-new review of a Christmas special every other day beginning December 3rd, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. This year’s assortment includes some mighty peculiar yuletide shenanigans spanning multiple continents and decades, featuring tuneless tots, garrulous ghosts, salty Santas, worrisome wolfmen, puerile puppets and a pair of silent films that are the oldest, moldiest media we’ve ever reviewed for the site. We’re hoping the sheer breadth and variety of material we’ve chosen will distract you from the poor presentation and paucity of decent jokes. 

Over the years we've gotten a lot of Shitmas mileage--and no small portion of Shitmas joy--from Evangelical Christian children's TV batshittery. We’ve previously pilloried the bible-thumping robot cult of Colby’s Clubhouse (1984), the vocal-fry ramblings of plush loser Gerbert (1991), the psylocybin-inspired afterlife of The Littlest Angel, (1969) and the snooze-inducing, unintentional homoeroticism of Davey and Goliath (1965). This year we bring you the rootin’, tootin’ bible verse spootin’ Gospel Bill, a sterling example of the “let’s indoctrinate ‘em young” variety of religious kiddie TV which aired on the Christian Broadcasting Network from 1981-1993. Produced by the Willie George Ministries of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the program takes place in the fictional wild west town of Dry Gulch, where the titular sheriff (played by Pastor Willie George himself) foils the schemes of itinerant bad actors and preaches the gospel of Jesus to the salt-of-the-earth locals and the impressionable fundie kids watching at home. Present also are his faithful deputy Nicodemus, local shop-keep Miss Lana, local dumbass Elmer Barnes, skinflint Mayor T. U. Tutwater and a giant anthropomorphic dog in a cowboy hat named Barkamaeus.

As is usual with Christian-themed programs, each week’s story was designed to demonstrate some heavy-handed moral trope or “uniquely” Christian value, but The Gospel Bill Show goes the extra forty cubits with some daffy, non-sequitur segments featuring puppets, nature footage and a native American in buckskins and full ceremonial headdress named “Chief Nowanasin,” who talks in halting pidgin English like a "TV Injun'" from the 1950's and gives the kids secret smoke-signal bible messages to decode with a substitution cipher they could get by writing to the ministry.

Him heap racist stereotype, but him have big love for Jesus.

Sadly, the good chief does not appear in the episode we'll be reviewing today, but there's plenty of other misguided weirdness to enjoy, including some sacramentally dubious basic chemistry, a Godly tour of a kangaroo's reproductive system and even a bit of that ever-so-sinful male-to-female crossdressing so many self-professed evangelical Christians claim to despise but seem to secretly get off on whenever they think no one's watching. So why not grab yourself a bullet, a beer and a bible and get to explorin' our First Day of Shitmas for 2023?

We open in Dry Gulch, a studio-bound, old west town full of God-fearin' just plain folks who've been born again in the blood of the Savior, where Sheriff's Deputy Nicodemus has just popped into Miss Lana's general store looking to do a little holiday moonlightin'. Turns out ol' Nick hasn't got the scratch to buy his boss Gospel Bill a nice Christmas present this year so he's hoping to earn himself a few extra shekels doing odd jobs around the store. Sadly, Miss Lana is out of town, and her counter boy Barkamaeus isn't authorized to make hiring and firing decisions on her behalf. Rather than commiserating with his friend's penurious plight, however, the dirty dog chooses the path of braggadocio and commences to gush over the beautiful and expensive pair of cowboy boots he himself has bought for their beloved town sheriff.

Nicodemus, badly in need of a shave.

Barkamaeus, badly in need of a flea collar.

Needless to say, all this ostentatious puffery only makes Nicodemus feel even more like the broke joke he knows in his heart he truly is, and he commences to whine louder and harder about his holiday destitution.

Meanwhile, just outside the store, trouble is brewing. A pseudo-comic duo of dusty ne'er-do-wells named Weasel and Monk are creeping around, plotting to rob the local Dry Gulch bank. They snicker and sneer and rub their greedy mitts together, dreaming of the big score they're about to make and all the filthy, ill-gotten lucre that'll soon be bulging in their pockets.

Weasel (masked) & Monk, who talks just like the pipe-smoking professor from The Final Sacrifice (1990).

After a commercial break we get our first interstitial segment, featuring a felt-faced moppet named Oogene discussing the reproductive habits of kangaroos, featuring stock footage from some poorly funded Midwest zoo, wherein we learn that their babies are called Joeys, and that Joeys like to hang out in their mothers' pouches. He also explains how Joeys are born without rear legs but "slowly crawl with their front legs up from the birth canal and in the pouch," which is not something I was emotionally prepared to hear enthusiastically shouted by a Christian Fundamentalist puppet with a crimson butt-plug for a head.

He's easy to insert and provides a vapor-proof seal.

In case we were concerned about where exactly we stand in terms of our relative theological value, Oogene assures us that God loves us more than a mother kangaroo loves her babies. He explains that when a Joey is in trouble with a pack of wild dogs he can jump in mama's pouch and hunker down safely while she turns and kicks their heads clean off, but if we're in trouble we should just trust in God. He says this is objectively better, because "by jumping into His pouch, the pouch of His Word, we can hop right over all of our problems."

Yeah, I think I'll take my chances with the kangaroo.

Now we rejoin Nicodemus on his quest to make some extra cash for Christmas. He pokes his head into various businesses in town, including a boot shop and a livery stable, but inflation is up, and the local GDP is down, leaving small business owners with neither the capital nor the resources to hire additional workers.

"What can I say? That's a red state economy for ya!"

Having thus failed to obtain the supplemental employment he so desperately requires, Nicodemus heads back to his regular job at the Sherriff's office, but his mangy nemesis Barkamaeus has arrived before him, and he walks in to find his boss, the titular Gospel Bill, waxing rhapsodic over the shiniest, most expensive pair of lizard-skin cowboy boots the humble burg of Dry Gulch has ever seen. Needless to say, it's a hard, cold bite to Nicky's God-fearing, indigent balls.

Barkamaeus trots off triumphantly into the dusty afternoon, and poor Nicodemus fesses up to Gospel Bill that he wanted to get him a real nice Christmas gift but he's flat busted and can't find a thing for him within his twenty-five cent budget. Gospel Bill tries to reassure him that it doesn't matter how nice or expensive a gift is, it's the thought behind it that counts, but Nicodemus knows a crock of horseshit when he smells it, and he vows to find a way to get his bestest pal the very bestest gift he ever did get in his whole dang gospel-preachin' life.

"Still, the boots are mighty sexy, ain't they?"

Still outside the general store, Weasel and Monk are still plotting their heinous crime spree, a key feature of which, we soon learn, will be ambushing and killing Gospel Bill, an appropriate plot point, considering "dry gulch" is an old west slang term for an ambush. Monk worries that if the Sherriff should see the two of them together before they can get their criminal shit together, he'll recognize them and figure out what they're up to. He figures if Weasel dresses up in some clever disguise, though he'll somehow not be able to recognize either of them. He doesn't plan to disguise himself, mind you, just Weasel, and since Monk forces him at gun point to dress up in drag, I think it might have more to do with their personal power dynamics and sexual predilections than about either of them going incognito.

Man, he feels like a woman.

Now we abruptly cut away to the first of a pair of puppet reenactments set during the night of the first Christmas. Segment one is a fractious exchange between Joseph and a grumpy innkeeper, who tells the Earthly father of the Prince of Peace that he doesn't give one single fuck from his well-stocked fuck bucket that Mary is pregnant, and even if he did, he can't make an unoccupied room appear in his grubby little hostel just by snapping his greasy falafel-fingers and making a wish. He does, however, have a stable out back that has only a moderate amount of livestock feces strewn about its environs. If Joseph's wife doesn't mind her water breaking in a pile of sticky hay, he says they're welcome to it, for an extortionate price. The innkeeper heads inside and Mary comes galumphing up on her donkey, only to have Joseph break the news to her that they're gonna be sleeping in a cowpat that night.

Donkey don't care. He's fuckin' baked, dude.

Back in the store Nicodemus is still droning on and on about how he can't find work and can't buy Gospel Bill a nice present. Barkamaeus suggests that he doesn't have to spend a lot of money, but should just think about giving Bill something he needs but doesn't have. Nick thinks for a minute and suddenly remembers that Bill has two checkers missing from his checkers board. He figures those two checkers are just the thing in the whole wide world of sports his boss needs most. He skips excitedly out of the shop to procure the elusive game tokens, leaving Barkamaeus bemused at what an idiot Dry Gulch has for a deputy.

Later, as the two scheming outlaws finalize their plan to knock over the bank and skip back to the livery stable so Weasel can put on his sweet lady disguise and bait Gospel Bill into letting his guard down, Nicodemus passes right by them, lost in the crusty, tumbleweed-populated caverns of his mind, mumbling distractedly with a plain paper parcel in his hand whether two measly checkers pieces are a good gift, or is he maybe just as stupid as everyone tells him he is.

And now it's time for more Oogene.

In addition to his dubiously researched zoological travelogues, Oogene also has a second regular gig on The Gospel Bill Show being a nasty, undisciplined little douchebag who constantly uses his Christian faith as a "get out of hell free" card. His modus operandi is to act like a selfish, obnoxious, entitled and mean-spirited brat then immediately pray to God for forgiveness, which he invariably and immediately receives from everybody. There are sequences where he throws tantrums, insults his sister, refuses to do his chores and generally demonstrates that you can be as much of a raging dick to as many people as you want just as often as you like, and you'll never have to face any consequences so long as you believe in Jesus with all your heart...which now that I think about it is the best description of the modern Evangelical movement's worldview I've ever heard.

Nice work if you can get it.

Today's tainted moral lesson du jour mirrors Nicodemus' plight, with Oogene complaining to his sister Jeannie that he doesn't have any money to buy anything nice for his parents for Christmas. Long story short, his sister suggests he give them "a real sacrifice" like cleaning his room or doing some chores around the house.

"Just like Jesus would!"

Now we get back to the main story, such as it is, which would be tedious enough without all the pointless interruptions. Nicodemus is back at the general store showing off the present he got for Gospel BIll, wrapped in paper he got from the butcher shop and some sisal rope he found in the old bunkhouse. It's a mighty big box for two measly checkers, too and the overall effect is that it looks like something a kindergartener might give to his mom and even he'd be embarrassed by it.

It has the word "trouble" on it. This is never explained.

Nicodemus tries to shit himself up that it's a real nice, I say, a real nice gift, but in his heart of hearts he knows it's super crappy. Barkamaeus, possibly sincerely or possibly in a predatorily trolling way tries to convince him otherwise, that Gospel Bill will love it and that he should get the fuck out of his store and go give it to him post haste. When we cut back to the Sheriff's office Gospel Bill is sitting at his desk and lovingly fondling the boots. He rubs his chin with satisfaction and squints lasciviously at them with a concupiscent glint in his eye. When Nicodemus shows up, he shoves them under the desk right quick, like he just got caught polishing his "long arm of the law."

Bill and those boots need to get a fucking room.

So, Nicodemus comes in and gives his crappy pre-school parcel to Gospel Bill, who "oohs" and "aahs" over it like he's coddling a toddler. He even asks at one point "did you do it all by yourself?" and assures little Nicky "These are the nicest checkers I've ever seen!" Nicodemus shuffles bashfully from one foot to the other with his hat in his hand and practically blushes at the compliment, and I cringed and gritted my teeth so hard I knocked out a filling.

At this point in the dreary proceedings, I was getting pretty desperate for something more exciting than cowboys giving presents to each other to happen, so when it cut from Gospel Bill's nauseating display of condescension back to the outlaws Weasel and Monk I perked up, hoping to see an old timey wild west bank robbery replete with bandanna masks, errant gunfire and a terrified cashier with sleeve garters and wire-rimmed spectacles shaking in his boots, with the barrel of a Colt Navy revolver pressed to his sweat-beaded temple, shoveling cash into a burlap swag bag. Sadly, if any of this happened at all it happened off-camera, as when we join the two dirty dinguses it's clearly post-heist, with Monk boastfully declaring the First Bank of Dry Gulch the easiest bank he's ever seen. As he and his partner gloat, Barkamaeus comes stomping out of the shop to ask them what's going on. Monk shouts back at him "The bank just got robbed...and we robbed it!"

As Barkamaeus runs off in a panic to fetch Gospel Bill, Monk turns to Weasel and tells him to go inside the livery stable and drag up so they can set up for their ambush.

Now we join Puppet Mary and Puppet Joseph and a couple of Puppet Shepherds in the manger back in Puppet Bethlehem, where the proud parents are crowing over the Puppet Newborn Baby Jesus, whose porcelain-white, egg-shaped head appears to contain a tiny 15-watt light bulb.

"Well, he is the light of the world!"

They recount in an off-handed way how the angel came down and foretold to them all about the kid they were going to have and all the groovy, mind-blowing things He'd grow up to do, with a particular focus on His becoming a king with a kingdom that would last forever and his saving all His people from their sins. "I wonder how all those things are going to happen?" asks Mary, and Joseph helpfully answers, "I don't know, but if the angel said it, I believe it!"

Highly education stuff.

Back at the Sheriff's office we rejoin Gospel Bill as he continues to make a big fucking deal about the two new checkers. Suddenly Barkamaeus bursts in with the news about the bank and all they all pile out the door to see if they can catch up with the robbers. When they arrive back outside the store, they find only an oddly gangly, yet strangely sexy frontier lady.

"Hey baby...I like boots. Do you like boots?"

Barkamaeus immediately recognizes the dress he sold the robbers that morning and Gospel Bill rapidly disarms the would-be hussy with a swift, well-practiced hand-up-the-shawl. He pulls off the villain's wig and proclaims: "It's Weasel of the Weasel and Monk Gang!" which I must declare is a pretty lame gang if it's only got two outlaws in it. Bill demands to know where Monk is hiding, and no sooner does he ask than the man himself steps out from the livery stable with his gun pointed at the Sheriff's back. Monk declares "I've waited a long time to blow you away!" Oh, I'll just bet he has. After all, it's mighty lonely out there on the range and a feller sometimes gets urges he can't quite understand. As Monk's thoughts thus turn to love, Nicodemus sneaks up behind him and throws a coat over his head and Gospel Bill runs over and grabs his gun.

"Not today, Satan...but I can pencil you in for the 17th?"

The fatal crisis averted, Gospel Bill thanks Nicodemus for saving his life, declaring it the best Christmas present he ever could have received because, he insists, Nicodemus sacrificed his life for him just like Jesus did.

I hate [am quite happy] to be a pedant about this, Bill, but he really didn't do that thing you said he did. Just because someone could have been killed doesn't mean they actually were killed, and just because someone saved your life doesn't mean they sacrificed theirs to do it. I get that The Gospel Bill Show is all about teachin' and preachin' Jesus, but man-oh-Manischewitz, that's really fucking reaching, dude.

Now we head to another commercial, and when we return Gospel Bill is back at the Sheriff's office, sitting on the edge of the desk with a rack full of test tubes at his side, getting ready to do some chemically-enhanced pulpitry for the kiddies at home. Specifically, he has a dark liquid representing sin, and a clear liquid representing the blood of Jesus before it was shed, which he pours into a cloudy liquid representing nothing in particular beyond the need for a chemical reaction that would turn the first liquid red. Then he pours the red liquid into the black liquid, which turns it clear, demonstrating definitively that the blood of Christ, when carefully mixed in the proper proportions with your own filthy blood, washes your sins clear away.

"It's also effective on wine and grass stains."

Bill's rapturous sermon about Jesus' blood and the true meaning of Christmas ends, with a final image of him smiling broadly as he holds up a vial of purified blood, which rapidly dissolves to some random dude's hand setting a jar of whiskey on a shelf in slow motion.

Best segue ever.

Thus commences a weird, cheap music video for a bland fundie Christian synth-pop ballad called "He Will Meet All Your Needs," sung by Nicodemus and some random, big-haired, gingham-clad church lady who provides tuneless backup on the hallelujahs.

I wonder if Nicodemus meets all her needs.

Between all these high-contrast black and white glamor shots, the video tells the tawdry tale of a sad little boy whose parents fight whenever daddy drinks, and it sure seems like daddy drinks a lot. At first the boy is angry, but then he asks himself the eternal question "What would Gospel Bill do?" and apparently the answer is "Gospel Bill would pray." Do you think you can guess what happens next? If you said, "the parents suddenly stop fighting, walk into the kid's bedroom and they all pray together," then you've probably seen a fundie Christian synth-pop music video before.

The family that prays together stays together...but daddy still drinks.

The song finally ends, and we get yet another sermon from Gospel Bill about the true meaning of Christmas, wherein he doubles down on the false equivalency between "Nicodemus sacrificed his life for me," (he didn't) and "Jesus sacrificed his life for all of us" (the jury's still out until we all die and find out). Then he talks about Jesus wanting "to live in you" and "to make a home in you," and as someone who didn't grow up in that tradition, or indeed in a churchgoing household at all, I find those particular expressions oddly invasive, especially when they're paired with the notion that giving your life over to God will solve your problems for you without the burden of actively working to change and improve yourself. If it works for you that's lovely, I guess, but it seems to me that if faith is to play a part in bettering the condition of one's soul it should be tempered with a healthy degree of skepticism and doubt. I believe there's nothing that stagnates personal development so completely as the unwavering conviction that everything you do, say and believe is absolutely right.

Of course, I might be wrong about that.

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 5th!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2023.

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