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On 'Doomsday Castle,' If Armageddon Doesn't Get You, Your Tractor Might

Brent, Jr. in his battering ram, on National Geographic Channel's <em>Doomsday Castle</em>.
National Geographic Channel
Brent, Jr. in his battering ram, on National Geographic Channel's Doomsday Castle.

In the annals of The National Register Of Rather Ironic Ways To Die, I'm going to guess there would be a hallowed place for "tied two logs to a tractor and flipped it on myself while trying to test the steel-reinforced drawbridge on the castle my father built so that we could all survive the electromagnetic pulse that he is fairly confident will be the delivery mechanism for the end times."

Let's step back for a moment.

National Geographic Channel has already found success with Doomsday Preppers, its series about various people who are readying themselves for assorted apocalyptic scenarios. And now, they present the spinoff series Doomsday Castle, in which a man known only as "Brent Sr." (if they told you his last name, you see, you'd find it easier to locate him) gathers five of his grown children to help him complete his "castle."

The castle is intended to act as a refuge where the family will be safe from marauding neighbors and others — who will all be shot, apparently — once the power grid goes down and it's every man for himself. Four of Brent's kids are in their early twenties, and then there's the eldest, Brent Jr., who feels slighted by his father when he's tasked to clean up the 2000-square-foot, rat-infested underground bunker with his three sisters instead of building a drawbridge with his father and brother.

(Judging from Brent II's reluctance to clean up the bunker — "I'm not a maid!" — I'm not 100 percent sure he's fully prepared for the demands of post-apocalyptic life, but that's a separate issue.)

Thus does Brent II find himself in the scenario described above, in which he ties two logs to a tractor, calls the whole thing a "battering ram," and putt-putts up to the closed drawbridge to show his father a thing or two.

Unfortunately, not only does the drawbridge win this confrontation, but the logs — which make the tractor more of a battering catamaran — act as leverage to pull the front end of the tractor up the surface of the door, until Brent II is lying on his back, in a tractor that is vertical.

Fortunately, Brent II does not actually trap himself under the tractor, but learns a valuable lesson about his father's genius and vows to find other ways to prove himself in the future.

Brent Sr. cuts a rather strange figure, vowing to prepare his children for the closest thing to a zombie war you will ever see real people anticipate. He imagines that his children will stand in his castle as hordes of starving, desperate strangers come looking for help, and his children will kill all of these people and then return to the bunker they apparently will not be able to leave.

There are drills — in fact, when the show was presented to television critics recently, Brent's daughter Dawn Marie said that she and her siblings have to work together because "our dad literally wakes all of us up in the morning screaming, turning on lights saying, 'Get up! Get up right now! Do you have your gas mask?'" A similar bit transpires on the show, where a bunch of people pour out of a truck and faux-attack the castle, faux-shooting Brent's kids.

The guns recur as a theme. In fact, Brent II told a critic who asked whether the family was concerned that putting the castle on a TV show might expose it to the public that he wasn't too worried about people snooping around. "You don't want to wander through the woods out in the Carolina mountains. Our neighbors are pretty serious preppers, and lots of guns, and there's lots of booby traps on our property that [brother] Michael developed, so I wouldn't be wandering around our property."

The thing about these Doomsday shows is that they whip back and forth between seeming kind of wacky and entertaining in an it-takes-all-kinds sort of way, as when Brent II is trying to build his battering ram, and seeming kind of unsettling, as when the whole family is matter-of-factly preparing to shoot everyone who comes anywhere near them. Nat Geo is trying to split the difference here, it seems, between the quirky-family reality genre and the RUN FOR YOUR LIFE documentary genre, but the result isn't anything I'd spend eternity watching in a bunker.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

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