Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to Day Eight of our Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration for 2023. Like a runaway toboggan, we've crested the hill and are now careening ever-faster towards the abyss that is Christmas morning, but there's still a lot of Shitmas fun to be had before we tumble over the edge and launch ourselves into the stygian darkness of holiday oblivion. Last time we stepped into the wayback machine for a pair of nostalgic silent short subjects from the first full decade of motion pictures. Today we're leaving on a jet plane and won't be back again until we find out what Australia has to offer in the way of a strange and wondrous holiday tale that subverts the Santa Claus myth to sinister and comic effect. It's a wry, southern-exposed Shitmas treat with a salty, marmite-infused sting in the tail, so grab yourself a generous glass of Shiraz and a plate of pavlova and settle in for something weird, wonderful and totally down-underful!


A merry mass of micturating members.

We're posting a brand-new review of a Christmas special every other day beginning December 3rd, and culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. This is the part where I usually go off on some stream-of-consciousness tangent, travelling a laboriously long path to a puerile pun or punchline that's hardly worth the trip. Today I'll set the overt bullshit to one side for a change and tell a nearly almost true tale of weary woe, about how a seemingly harmless cheese plate broke my will and ruined my life forever.

Back before marriage equality was a thing here in Pennsylvania my wife and I were asked to accompany some friends to New York, where same-sex marriage had recently been made legal, to act as witnesses to their blessed union. After a lovely, low-key Central Park ceremony, the newly-minted Mrs. and Mrs. took us to a high-falutin' grub house in the Plaza Hotel, famously the home of Eloise from the popular series of children's books. At the time I'd been a vegan for ten plus years, but the first thing our friends ordered was a plateau m de fromages, featuring a variety of hoity-toity, hard to pronounce cheeses and bits of crusty bread with which to enjoy them. What the hell, I thought. It's a joyous celebration and these folks are buying us a fancy lunch. Live a little. After all, sweet dreams are made of cheese, so who am I to dis a brie? So, I innocently, and eagerly, tucked into the first slice of the stuff I'd had in over a decade.

I guess it is today, Satan.

How to describe the rich, sharp flavor, the explosion of oral excitement and the rush of dopamine I felt at that very first bite? It was like the best sex of my life was happening inside my mouth, and the pleasure centers of my frantic, half-panicked, half-aroused brain lit up like the northern lights during a solar flare. A switch had been flipped and a door had been opened, and I could neither turn off the one nor force shut the other as the rush of endorphins burst through every synapse to engulf me. Cheese had defeated me, and worse yet, it proved a gateway drug to a host of other dairy-filled delights. Custards and puddings, yogurts and ice creams, milk chocolates and mousses, sweetened butters and creme brulees--all went down, down, down into my greedy gullet, fattening my liver, hardening my arteries and sending my blood sugar soaring to dizzy and dangerous heights. I suddenly wanted cheese on bread, cheese on pasta, cheese on vegetables, cheese on breakfast cereal...and to my eternal shame, even cheese on cheese.

I'm not a weak-willed person. I can be extremely focused, stubborn and determined. I've weathered real and serious childhood trauma and done the ever-ongoing work to heal from it and reclaim my life, and in my mid 30's I suffered another kind of trauma through a painful back injury and a failed surgery that largely incapacitated me for nearly eight years. I was assigned a pain specialist who gave me prescription fentanyl, which I took via patches for almost half a decade, more than long enough to become physically dependent. Despite the intensity of the withdrawal, I was able to wean myself off of it and have never taken an opiate again. Cheese, however, is a habit I've never been able to kick. It's Satan's most successful campaign. It's my toothsome lord and master, and I will ever be its willing slave. 

Round the Twist (1990-2001), which ran for 52 episodes over four seasons (with significant gaps between production years), was a much beloved, Australian-produced, family-friendly take on the "weird tales" genre typified by such programs as The Twilight Zone (1959-64), Amazing Stories (1985-87) and Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88), the last of which it most resembles in tone and content. Whereas these programs were anthologies, Round the Twist is structured as a weekly comedy/drama following the adventures of a hapless family whose lives are frequently upended by supernatural or uncanny events. Originally based on the short stories of Aussie author Paul Jennings, the program aired in over two dozen countries and won over a dozen awards for its quirky blend of relatable teen-age drama, surreal, genre-blending plots and eerie twist endings. The program continues its cultural relevance in Australia even today, with book tie-ins, home video releases and a musical stage adaptation set to premiere in November of 2024.

Widowed father Tony Twist, an artist and sculptor, moves his family into a converted lighthouse in the coastal town of Port Neranda, and supernatural hijinks ensue for his fourteen-year-old twins Pete and Linda and their younger brother, eight-year-old Bronson. Sometimes other residents of the Northern Exposure-esque community play a role in the story, including Nell, an old woman who lives next-door to the lighthouse whose family used to run the it but now haunt it as ghosts, Bronson's primary school teacher Fay, who's also Dad Tony's love interest, an unscrupulous real-estate agent named Harold Gribble, who with his scheming wife Cecilia often plot to cheat the Twists out of their home, a trio of school bullies led by the Gribble's entitled son James and rounded out with a pair of ne'er do wells named Rabbit and Tiger, and Pete Twist's school crush Fiona.

I think that's about all you need to know going in, so let's get to it and find out whether Round the Twist lives up to its reputation or if it's just another hunk of Shitmas fruit cake that should be tossed in the compost bin to decompose until Spring. 

There are many beloved and iconic television programs with equally beloved and iconic theme songs. Rawhide (1959-65), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66) and The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71) all spring to mind, as do Sanford and Son (1972-77), The Jeffersons (1975-85), The Golden Girls (1985-92), and classic British offerings such as Doctor Who (1963-87, 1996, 2005-present), The Prisoner (1967) and Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74). A great theme song can throw down the creator's gauntlet for what a series promises to be, can serve as a catchy earworm to keep a series present and relevant in viewers minds and can provide a strong first impression to catch an audience's attention and pique their interest in what's to come. Sadly, the first impression the theme song to Round the Twist presents to my ear is of a tinnitus simulator. It's cold, jangly and overprocessed in that echoey, end-of-a-tunnel, early 90's way, and it made me wonder if I might need to somewhat modify the expectations I'd formed based on what I'd read about the program.

The special opens in the Twist family's living room, where Pete is dozing on the couch and little bro Bronson is putting some presents under the Christmas tree. Bronson casually remarks that he hopes Santa knows they moved, as this is their very first Christmas in their lighthouse home.

Pete, the male half of Port Neranda's resident Wonder Twins.

Bronson. Just Bronson.

Pete half-absorbs his brother's comment but drifts off to sleep without responding, and we get one of those wavy transitions that usually indicate a flashback or a dream. In this situation it's clearly telegraphing the "it was all a dream" trope, which immediately makes me wary, as it's amongst my least favorite of all plot devices and one of the hardest to pull off effectively. It's not been an auspicious start, but it's early yet, so we'll see if the episode can reel me back in.

The next sequence seems rather to be a flash-forward rather than a flashback, so maybe we'll avoid the dream trope after all. I'll cross all my fingies and toesies. It's the return to school after Christmas break. Dad pulls up outside the gate to drop off the kids and we see that Pete has a bandana tied over the bottom half of his face. Dad tells Pete he's "got to face the music" and encourages him to get out of the car and get to class. Linda says she and Bronson will distract Gribble and his pals so he can sneak inside without attracting any notice.

Dad, Linda and Bronson. Just Bronson.

So, Linda and Bronson use a live bunny to distract the bullies and Pete shoots his shot. He hops the fence and twists his ankle as he falls, then power-limps his way through the motley crowd of students in the schoolyard. As he reaches the entrance Gribble, Rabit and Tiger spot him. The Bully Trio run after him, but he manages to secrete himself in a supply cabinet in their homeroom. Later, once the other students have all filed in, the teacher Mr. Snapper describes the plot of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," explaining how Quasimodo is in love with the beautiful Esmerelda, but being a freak and outcast can only watch her from dark, hidden places. Pete watches from inside the cabinet, with the bestial sound of his labored breathing cleverly linking him with the Hunchback. He sneaks out and limps to his seat, which happens to be right next to his lovely crush Fiona.

Fiona (r). I'd have had a crush on her, too.

As Pete sits down Mr. Snapper announces that they need someone to play the part of Quasimodo for the day, and the Bully Trio, having just noticed their favorite target's arrival, nominate Pete. Snapper comes over and thanks Pete for deigning to join them, and Pete slips him a note explaining that he's lost his voice and needs to wear the bandana to keep himself warm so it won't get any worse.

We jump cut to the bell ringing out recess, and Pete, still masked and limping, being chased across the yard. He slips into the open door of the bell tower, but the Bullies follow, and when he reaches the uppermost chamber he finds himself with nowhere to run and his backed against the wall by Gribble and company.

The Bully Boys.

Gribble poses the question "Who lies beneath the mask?" reaches out and pulls the bandana down to reveal that Pete's mouth has somehow shrunk to the size of a baby's.

"It's great for blowing out candles."

Later, at lunchtime, Pete is re-masked, sipping a soda through a straw and sitting on a bench with Fiona, who to her credit is the only student aside from his sister who isn't standing in a circle pointing and laughing at him. Clearly the Bullies have spread the news of his affliction, and he's now become as much a freak and outcast as The Hunchback of their English assignment. Fiona asks if she can see his mini-maw, promising not to laugh at it. He briefly uncovers his face for her, and she can't fully suppress a brief giggle, which coming from her must have felt like an anvil just landed on his left nut. She quickly composes herself and apologizes, then asks him gently how it happened. He proceeds, in a faint, Mickey Mouse-like voice to relate to her his tragic tale of woe...

We flash back to a week or so before, on the Saturday before Christmas. Pete and his fam are hanging at home watching Dad make an interactive sculptural installation involving an upside-down TV set with a copper-colored wig on it. A Christmas movie of some kind involving Santa and his reindeer is playing, and Bronson is lying upside-down between his siblings so he can watch it. Dad spews some artsy-fartsy smoke-and-mirrors about the piece being called "Hairwaves," an exploration of illusion and reality, and asks his incredulous spawn to consider whether or not they themselves are real or merely self-aware illusions.

I think Dad's mental health might be an illusion.

Bronson points at the televisual image of Santa and says that he, at least, is real and will be at the Port Nerada Christmas fete later that evening, an annual event during which various folks from the community come together and have a holiday themed rummage sale in the School's auditorium. Pete, acting the typical big brother, pooh-poohs Bronson's simple, innocent belief in Santa, and the younger boy appeals to his father to settle the question. Dad very diplomatically, and evasively, opines that "Santa Claus lives in the minds of all true believers." Bronson presses him further, asking does he exist or does he not, and Dad advises, "It's not a straightforward matter, go take a look at him and see what you think."

Thanks for clearing that up, asshole.

So, the three kids go to the fete, where folks stand at tables flea-market style, selling everything from candy and toys to used electronics to live animals. At one table Rabbit tries to sell the kids an old TV, but Pete can't hear the hard-sell sales pitch over the roar of his raging hormones. There's a music video playing in front of him featuring the latest, greatest sexy teen pop star all the boys have been wanking to that year, and he stands transfixed and erect in a concupiscent, ever-stiffening trance.

Brisbane Britney Spears.

Linda rolls her eyes and wanders off to browse, but she gets flagged down by Mrs. Gribble, who's hocking cheap, gaudy makeup, Amway-style. She's gaudily made-up herself, almost to the point of clownishness, and her pitch to the natural-faced Linda is that if only she'd give her ten minutes of her time, she could make her pale and lifeless teenage visage look almost as beautiful as hers.

Choose a look and I'll tell you what kind of porn you're into.

Back at the TV table Bronson is delivering a wicked burn about his brother's TV idol. He says she's got fake hair, fake teeth and fake boobs and everybody knows it. Pete counters that at least she's more real than Santa Claus, which reminds Bronson that seeing that jolly fat fucker is what he really came there for. He demands Pete take him to Santa stat, but Pete catches a glimpse of Fiona, heading out a doorway across the auditorium, and with his libido having been whipped into a maelstrom-like froth by the lethargic gyrating and bland pop stylings of Brisbane Britney, he ditches his little bro to go chase after her.

Once he steps outside, however, Pete finds himself alone. He looks around a bit and turns to go back in, but he hears a whirring noise somewhere above him, accompanied by what sounds like the barking of a dog. He looks up and sees a little mechanical walking puppy toy that shuffles off the roof and falls directly into his arms. A parade of other marching mechanical toys follow it, including a toy soldier bunny, a drum major teddy bear, a little train and a robot. Pete manages to catch them all...and damn if this special hasn't managed not only to draw me back into it, but also to get me fully invested in what's going to happen next.

Pete naturally wonders what the hell is happening, so he calls to see who's up there. His shouting awakens up a big, bearded Hagrid-looking dude in a tattered red coat, long red underwear and cap with a red badge and wings on it who's been having a bit of a lie-down between the gables. The dude peers down and shouts "Can't a man get a bit of sleep?"

Check his tags. He might need his shots.

Pete shouts up that all the toys he's holding jumped off the edge and asks if they belong to the guy. The fellow does a little Groucho Marx, up and down thing with his eyebrows and suddenly he's standing right next to the very confused teen. He thanks Pete for catching all the errant toys and has him stick them in a big bag he's carrying, and Pete casually mentions that his is the worst Santa outfit he's ever seen. The guy seems offended and explains that it's not an outfit, but a uniform. He's Santa Claus number one hundred fifteen thousand three hundred and two. He'd had a couple of celebratory drinks and left the base early by mistake, then stopped to rest on the roof and sober up before it was time to start his deliveries. Unfortunately, his reindeer nicked off and now he's running late. Pete can at least believe the part about the drinking and rather wisely, tries to nick off himself, but SC puts a hand on his shoulder and holds him back. His hands are hairy and filthy, and his fingernails are long and sharp. Pete inquires in horror what the hell is up with that shit? SC explains that these are his Santa Claws, an adaptation his people have evolved after years of scrambling up and down chimneys. He also explains that since Pete helped him by saving his toys from possible breakage, he's entitled to two wishes for each member of his family!

I'd wish for an air freshener and some breath mints.

Pete isn't buying a word of it and he's feeling mighty uncomfortable with all of this, so he excuses himself and heads back inside.

Elsewhere in the auditorium old lady neighbor Nell is peering out from a curtain and surveying a long line of kids waiting to meet Santa. She closes the curtains, and we see that she's all dressed up in her red suit and has only to pull the beard to her chin to complete the illusion that she's Old St. Nick.

Elsewhere, Mrs. Gribble has completed Linda's makeover, and holds up a mirror so she can see what she's done to her.

I see you've made your choice. Your porn preference is "vintage 1980's."

Pete walks up and sees his sister all tarted up. He somehow manages to suppress his laughter long enough for SC to sneak up behind him and urge him to point out his folks so they can all make their wishes and he can scarper. According to regulations, he explains, he's not allowed to leave until his debt is paid, and every minute he stays he's falling farther and farther behind schedule. Mr. and Mrs. Gribble come over to investigate and SC asks the painted lady what she wants for Christmas. She gives him her tackiest, most outraged stink-eye and sneers "Horrible little man!" SC gives Mr. Gribble an appraising once-over and replies, "Don't be greedy. You've already got a horrible little man!"

He's got his moments, though.

Pete introduces SC to his sister, and the grubby traveler explains that as an immediate family member she also gets two wishes. Naturally she doesn't believe him, either. Pete asks about Bronson, and she says he's over meeting the real Santa Claus, which sends SC into a rage. He insists he's the real Santa and he has neither time nor tolerance for imposters. He marches over to the Santa Forest and confronts Nell. Things get physical, with SC tearing off Nell's hat, and Nell pulling SC's beard and even headbutting him in the gut, all the while urged on by a grey-suited photographer who's lost all sense of propriety and decency in the face of all this hot Santa on Santa action.

It's a niche, but it's a thing.

Linda and Bronson have seen enough and take off for home. The melee continues apace, eventually reaching a fever pitch that ends with the hapless photographer being knocked over backwards, taking the concealing curtain with him and revealing the scene of holiday chaos to the entire auditorium. When SC realizes he's on a stage in front of an audience he does his little eyebrow thing to turn a spotlight on himself and performs a shockingly good rendition of "Silent Night." SC's normal voice is gravely and grating like an ornery old outback prospector whose spent the past fifty years blowing what little gold dust he's found on fast women and rotgut whiskey, but as soon as he starts singing, he sounds like a star baritone at the Sydney Opera House. It's completely unexpected, completely absurd and it's the point at which my growing admiration for Round the Twist turned to love.

His "sleeps behind a dumpster at an EzyMart" aesthetic makes it just that much better.

Even after this clear display of magic Pete is still incredulous and just wants SC to bugger off and leave him alone, but the crusty Claus follows him home and insists that he can't go anywhere until he's given away those wishes, so Pete and his people had better get to wishing but quick. Pete abruptly says his goodbyes and heads inside the lighthouse, only to find SC waiting for him on the sofa watching a live broadcast of Brisbane Britney. Dad and Linda hear the ruckus and come out to find SC and Pete, and Bronson comes running down the steps denouncing him as "The tramp who beat up Santa," lamenting further, "Now I'll never get what I want for Christmas." SC tells the kid all he has to do is make a goddamn wish and he can get whatever he wants and will somebody just fucking start already.

Dad, ever the laid-back hippie artist, going with the flow and taking life sweet and easy, decides he might as well give it a try. He wishes for someone special to come in and "Take him away from all this."  No sooner said than a couple of eyebrow arches makes his wish come true. There's a knock at the door and Fay, Bronson's teacher, you'll recall, who's also Dad's love interest, comes waltzing in with two tickets to a Christmas concert and the declaration "I've come to take you away from all this!" Dad immediately, and without any question or apparent surprise, calmly replies "well, let's go then." SC reminds him he needs to use his second wish, too, so Dad leans over and whispers something in the old fella's ear that makes his bushy eyebrows go up all on their own.

Something involving a paddle and some whipped cream, no doubt.

So that's Dad sorted out, so SC turns to Bronson and tells him he's next. Bronson looks at his big brother, who let's face it, has been kind of a douchebag to him lately, and declares that all he wants is to be bigger than Pete...and boy-howdy, does his wish come true. He grows to the size of a giant, just barely able to fit inside the house. Somehow the expansion of his schnoz has put a tickle in it, and as he pokes his face into the kitchen where Pete, Linda and SC have retreated, he lets out an earth-shaking sneeze.


The sneeze has left the poor kid wedged between ceiling and floor, and he's forced to use his second wish to bring him back down to normal size.

Next, SC turns to Pete, who's again been distracted by the seemingly endless loop of Brisbane Britney's performance. Pete lets his penis do the wishing and asks to see her in person, so she vanishes from the television and appears right next to him in his very own living room.

Oddly enough, she's not really on board with it.

While she's coming to terms with what the hell just happened to her you can hear the announcer on her TV special trying to cover for the fact that she's suddenly disappeared. She asks where she is and Bronson tells her it's Port Neranda, dumb ass. Also, we've heard your boobs are fake, so why not prove us wrong and give us a peek. Linda tells her bro he's gonna get himself embroiled in some deep shit over this ill-advised, hormonally motivated lapse in judgement, and realizing she's probably right, he uses his second wish to send the now-traumatized starlet back to the TV studio from whence she came.

Now we're down to Linda, who's more level-headed and strong-willed than the entire rest of her family combined. She wants no part of this creepy tramp and his irony-drenched, cautionary-tale wishes. She tells the creepy old tramp that all she wants is for him to be out of there, and so he raises his eyebrows and disappears.

The man has departed yet the aroma still lingers.

We now cut back to the playground at lunchtime, where poor pea-sized-puss Pete is still at the center of the jeering crowd. Fiona isn't buying any of his Santa/wishes fantasy, but Linda insists it's all true, that they each got two wishes just as stated and that those wishes turned out exactly as Pete had just relayed. Fiona points out to Linda that according to the story she only got the one wish, which made SC disappear, but she shakes her head sadly as her brother picks up the tale from where he'd left off.

After SC buggered off, he says, the three siblings went back to the kitchen to do the washing up...

As they scrub and dry the dishes they chat about the strange events of the evening. Bronson offers that the grubby Santa may have been magic, but surely the Santa at the school fete was the real one. Pete, who's still not learned his fucking lesson about letting a kid have a little innocent fantasy in his life decides to be an asshole make an issue of it. Linda gives him a nudge to knock it off, and just then Nell comes in looking for their Dad, who's not back from the concert yet because he's probably still busy getting his pole polished and his ass spanked with a cricket bat. Nell takes her hat off and a bunch of the pixie dust glitter SC threw at her during their fight comes off and falls to the floor. Bronson notices it and asks what it is, and his snarky, joy-killing brother says, "Surely you know by now! It's the pixie dust from the fight...she played Santa!"

"I could rip off your head and chew on your brain stem!"

Bronson runs off to his room, his entire worldview shattered by his brother's utter lack of compassion and decency, and Nell and Linda gang up on him for being such a prick. As Linda glares at him in disgust she mutters "I wish you didn't have such a big mouth!"

A distant, yet familiar voice replies, "Done!" 

Pete feels something funny happening to the lower half of his face and instinctively sticks his hand over the bottom half of his face, and when he removes it, he finds he's been disfigured with a tiny baby-doll mouth, destined to lead a lonely life of liquid diets and professional whistling competitions.

There goes his rep at the glory hole.

Linda and Nell start laughing uncontrollably, and the faces of the school bullies laughing appear before his eyes, mocking him with pursed lips and blown kisses...and suddenly he awakens on the couch where we first met him at the beginning of the episode. It's Christmas morning, and his family is already awake and getting ready to open their presents. Bronson hands him a flat item wrapped in green paper, saying "Santa brought you this." Pete unwraps it to find a framed photo of he and SC, with the handwritten words "Merry Christmas from Santa."

I don't recall them being so chummy.

Alright, much as I dislike an "It was all a dream" ending, I can 100% get behind this one, because the entire thing was Santa's scheme to cure Pete of being such a dick to his brother. It's in the same vein for me as the dream-ending of Time Bandits (1981) when Kevin awakes to find that although he's been dreaming, the evil he brought back with him from his adventures is real, has set his house on fire and is about to blast his self-absorbed parents to smithereens. As in Nilus the Sandman, waking life shapes your dreams and your dreams transform your waking life.

I loved this special, and I intend to binge the entire series of Round the Twist as soon as Shitmas is over, and I finally have a goddamn minute to myself. I've inadvertently picked an unusual amount of really good stuff this year, and in fact the past four articles have constituted the longest and most enjoyable run of decent specials I've ever done. It'd be a real shame if that all came to a screeching halt and I ended up with something godawful and damn near unwatchable for Day Nine.

[In the writing business we call that "foreshadowing." --Ed.]

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 19th!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2023.

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


Go ahead.
Steal anything you want from this page.

That's between you and the
vengeful wrath of your personal god.