Reality television seems to be divided between shows about the very rich, the very talented, and the very delusional, but the new National Geographic Channel show Doomsday Castle (airing Tuesdays at 10/9c) may have found the exact center of that hypothetical Venn diagram.
Doomsday Castle’s first episode lays out a premise that is as simple as it is pretty outlandish. A man (known only as Brent, Sr.) has recruited his five adult children to help him build a fortress in the Carolina woods in preparation for the apocalypse. Brent, who lost his own father at age four, wants to provide a lasting legacy for his children, his children’s children, and his children’s children’s children. He has a lot of faith in the continuation of his lineage once the earth has become a zombie wasteland.
The titular castle is not a metaphor. It is a literal stone castle that Brent, Sr. has spent years constructing. Now, with the end times nigh at hand, he's summoned his children to assist in the completion of the project before Armageddon — or his death, or whatever catastrophic event necessitates the ownership of an honest-to-goodness castle.
“I need to make sure my children are ready for the end of days,” Brent tells the camera, like any good father might. He tries his best to bring his progeny up to speed through eccentric teachings designed to illustrate how unready for the apocalypse they really are. At one point, Brent hires a crew of men to raid the unfinished castle with guns. They tie the children up and teach them the important lesson that their father is a maniac. But the kids should have known that by their dad’s propensity for wearing head-to-toe camouflage at all times.
As crazy as this setup is, there’s an essential dad-ness embedded in the idea of a doomsday castle. Something about the old-world authority, combined with the impulse to protect, all wrapped up in a backyard construction project tethers Doomsday Castle's premise to reality. The show might as well be called Humoring Dad. The kids display varying degrees of excitement regarding their participation. Ashley, 24, the oldest daughter, seems put out by the whole ordeal. Lindsey, 22, and Dawn-Marie, 20 appear happy to appease their father. Michael, Dawn-Marie’s twin brother is a “prepper” himself, so he gets it — even though his bangs make him look like he used to play bass in an early 2000s emo band. Brent II, 41, is basically a young Michael Scott. He’s an intense goofball, hell-bent on earning his father’s respect through doomsday preparedness — which in the context of this family, seems totally reasonable.
The one-sided tension between Brent II and Michael is the most compelling part of the show. While Michael helps the elder Brent build a drawbridge, Brent the Sequel assists his sisters as they tidy up the underground bunker. Jealous that his younger sibling gets to fortify the castle, Brent Part Deux seethes as he reorganizes two years of nonperishable foodstuffs. And later, to spite his father, B2 builds a battering ram out of an old tractor in an effort to demolish the steel-reinforced door Brent, Sr. and Michael had made. Obviously, his attempt is ill-fated.
All zaniness aside, the show is mostly about a concerned father who wants to make sure his children are prepared for the horrors of the world. The only difference between Brent and any other dad is that this guy wants to be certain his kids know how to fortify a lodging and live off the land after an electromagnetic pulse has torn our society asunder. I’m a little jealous my own father just taught me long division and how to throw a baseball.
I'm also exceptionally curious as to how this series will play out. Will the girls go feral as an adaptation to the wilderness around them? Will Michael front a survivalist emo-pop band?
Maybe some of the viewers will be doomsday preppers themselves, people of the (not entirely unreasonable) opinion that we should have better survival training and less reliance on modern conveniences. My hunch, though, is that the show’s ratings will hinge less on the practical elements of castle building and more on the family drama. Is it so wrong to want to see a man in full camo fistfight his forty-year-old son?
“When I saw my kids getting slaughtered and captured in front of me, I realized I should have started this training many years earlier,” Brent states, solemnly.
I don’t know much, but I do know that any man who utters those words sincerely belongs on television.
Need more end-of-days mayhem? Tune in to Doomsday Castle, every Tuesday at 10/9c only on National Geographic Channel.
Josh Gondelman is a writer and comedian who would not last an hour after the apocalypse.