Doomsday Castle

Asked what drew her to her husband, Keri Russell recently told The Cut, “He built me a house. That was pretty amazing. You kind of can’t ask for more than that.”

Doomsday Castle thinks you could, though. You could ask for a medieval castle in an undisclosed location in the Appalachian Mountains where you’ll be secure in the event of an EMP attack that devastates the Eastern seaboard, where you can build a drawbridge with your son and test its strength with an AR-15.

“I’ve called on my children to help me finish my life’s work: a massive fortress to protect us,” Brent Sr. tells us in one of his opening salvos on Doomsday Castle, looking imposing in fatigues possibly purchased at the local Ranger Surplus.

Here, we follow Brent Sr. and five of his 10 children as they work to construct an actual castle—a castle-looking castle, like the kind from which John Cleese does the French taunting in Holy Grail—in the Carolinas.

Doomsday Castle is sort of the Preppers' HGTV. And why not? Given the explosion of niche reality shows in the last decade, why hasn’t HGTV launched an entire network of home improvement shows corresponding to each trend. Watch these people build a big ass castle in North or South Carolina! It’s kind of a brilliant idea.

NatGeo’s handling of the subject matter is somewhat uninspired. Within the assorted brood, we have the familiar archetypes: the hot head, looking to make trouble (Brent II); the one who is game (Michael); the girl who brings a useless dog (Ashley). It’s pretty by the book, though the family has enough verve to sustain the hour devoted to their exploits and presumably a season of them. There are also unanswered questions: How did Brent Sr. settle on this location? Why, if he’s been working on it for nearly 15 years, is it so unfinished? Why does it look like a castle?

And although the production is pretty straight, without any cloying, superfluous emphasis on “wacky” moments, the editing skimps a little on process in its first hour. What is a show about building a castle if you don’t see the building of the castle? I’d be interested in seeing how the family members actually constructed that drawbridge, you know? We see the highlights—the shooting of the steel plates, the shooting of the drawbridge, the battery ramming of the drawbridge with a jacked up lawnmower and some logs and subsequent near death of Brent II—but I’d like to see some brass tacks and more of the choices that go into that. Like the selection of three-inch oak, that was good. How do two people construct a drawbridge and how the hell long does it take? If I’m not going to learn it on Doomsday Castle, when will I?

Which is not to say that I didn’t personally learn anything during the hour. Ashley and Lindsey make a rat trap with just a bucket, wire, an old aluminum can, peanut butter, and bleach. “When we got up, the first thing I wanted to know was if our rat trap worked,” one of the sisters says in the morning—and me, too! I don’t even want to think about dealing with rats, but if I ever am, after I vacate the premises and enlist some exterminators to make poison liberally rain down, I would set up some of those bleach bucket traps.

Shoehorned into all of this is the random, hilariously intense test attack on Brent Sr.’s children. Ashley’s nonplussed exasperation at the whole tableau—20 masked preppers with paintball guns—is sort of the highlight, but the way Brent Sr. notes with matter of fact derision, “None of them escaped,” is pretty great, too.

It’s unclear whether these kinds of drills are going to be a weekly exercise, in which Brent Sr. tests the wiles of his children, but it wouldn’t hurt Doomsday Castle, even if I might prefer a more instructive show. After all, Home Alone wouldn’t be a classic if all Kevin did was set up all the traps and call it a night.

Stray observations:

  • “If it isn’t the twins.” “Double trouble.” The delivery of the phrase “Double trouble” was representative of the kids’ periodic dryness at the proceedings, which was pretty choice. The real highlight: “I was just on a cruise in Jamaica, and then they threw me in this bunker thing.”
  • Dawn-Marie got tackled in the woods.
  • “You can’t be what you were in the past. You can’t be on the cell phone. You can’t be on the Internet.” I mean, that’s just good advice. Get off your phones, y’all.
  • My last semester in college, I took a modern architecture class, and when you start putting into context, for instance, the Greek revival in Washington, D.C., it starts to seem really odd that there are a bunch of Greek buildings in a country founded in the 18th century. Maybe that’s obvious to everybody, but I hadn’t really thought about it before. I bring this up because this castle could look like anything, and it looks like a castle just randomly in the Blue Ridge mountains.
  • “This is not a good use of my brain.” —Brent II  
  • Protect yourself and survive.