Eureka's holiday episode was a shameless celebration of all things Christmas, giving us an Australian lunatic searching for the secret science behind Santa, a shrinking town threatened by giant runaway Christmas ornaments, and dangerously high levels of magic and whimsy.
It's Christmas time in Eureka, and a snowbound Sheriff Carter decides to regale some downcast kids in Vincent's with a story of holidays past. We flashback to the hottest Christmas in Eureka history, and a couple mad scientists are up to their usual tricks. Matt Frewer's eccentric Australian scientist Taggart is back in town and trying to explain the science of Santa Claus, while Chris Parnell guest stars as a strange scientist with a powerful crystal.
As always, things go wrong and the crystal starts growing to monstrous size...or does it? Henry realizes the crystal is the same size and the town of Eureka is actually shrinking, and the only way to save the day involves a Santa-inspired bit of derring-do. Meanwhile, Allison is throwing herself into Christmas maybe a little too much, Jo is a Scrooge with a secret, Fargo wants to throw the perfect office Christmas party, and Jack just wants to be back home arguing football with his brothers.
I've seen a decent number of Christmas episodes, and "O' Little Town" might just be the most unabashedly Christmas-y hour of television I've ever seen. Christmas here is a relentlessly positive thing, a time of magic and wonder where the normal rules no longer quite apply. The story is sickly sweet in its premise and execution, but it's pretty much completely unapologetic about that fact, other than the kids in the framing device explicitly labeling the whole thing sappy.
There's a lot of clever metatextual reasons one can come up with for why this episode is so relentlessly saccharine - it's revealing how Carter sees Christmas, he's being a little condescending to the kids, he's not a particularly nuanced storyteller, or maybe he's just trying to teach them a lesson in the least subtle way possible - but ultimately, this is a story where a mysterious physicist may or may not be the real Santa. Let's not walk away from how mawkish an idea like that is.
Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. "O' Little Town" wouldn't work if everyone involved on both sides of the camera wasn't so completely committed to the sentimentality and magic of it all. Yes, there are a few flippant moments in there as escape valves, but the episode makes it quite clear that there's nothing silly about how much Christmas means to Taggart, Allison, Jo, and Carter. You're either going to get on board with that sentiment or you won't - I'll admit I struggled with it a bit, as I pretty much entirely confine my Christmas cheer to December 23 to 26 - but honestly it's just refreshing to see a show so unafraid to celebrate the season.
I'm not sure why Syfy went out of its way to call this a "holiday episode", as there's not even a slight acknowledgment of Hanukkah in here anywhere, unless I missed a menorah or two hiding in the background. Of course, "O' Little Town" isn't even remotely a Christian parable - the episode extracts the secular magic of Christmas, recasting Santa as an otherworldly physicist and considering only what the time of year affects how people act towards each other.
Do yourself a favor and don't even try to work out how this episode fits into the continuity of the show. The story Jack is telling is probably just a tall tale - if nothing else, how exactly did a regular-sized Christmas ornament roll from rural Oregon into the shrunken Eureka? - but I'm not entirely convinced the framing device "really" happened either. The main story seems to take place after the events of the first half of this season, so is the framing device set one or two years in the future? Yeah, like I said...best not to think too much about it.
Special mention needs to be made of Chris Parnell as Dr. Drummer. It's a very weird role, considering he's supposed to be Santa by way of wacky bow-tied scientist. But he makes the character work, for pretty much the exact same reason Dr. Spaceman on 30 Rock is one of the show's funniest side characters - he has a preternatural gift for giving even the most ridiculous lines or situations gravitas. I didn't know what his real role was going into the episode, but looking back on it, he was an absolutely inspired choice.
I'll admit, I'm glad most Eureka episodes aren't like "O' Little Town" - not every story can be a full-on, hourlong whimsy overload. But this is an episode that is an awful lot of fun for what it is, and one of the more successful televised blendings of science fiction and Christmas. Honestly, considering how much fun Eureka had with Christmas, it seems a shame that they haven't done more holiday episodes. I'd love to see what they could do with Halloween, for a start.