So with Penis & Giuseppe Rolando’s partially lost filmography on my mind lately, I decided to try to seek out some obscure nostalgic media again. Every few years or so I give the internet another sweep, and in the last ~13 years I’ve been able to track down the majority of old Nickelodeon shows I grew up with. Some were harder to find than others, but at this point there’s maybe 5 which have managed to avoid my collection in their entirety. One of these is Eureeka’s Castle. I would be lying if I said it was my favorite show when I was a kid, but that’s only because it went off the air when I was still very young. I do distinctly remember seeing it though, and how much it stood out because of the puppets.
I’m not going to describe the premise of the series in-depth, partly because there’s so little information out there but mostly because I want to focus on the main character. Basically there’s Eureeka the Wizard, Magellan the Dragon, Batley the Bat, Nick Nack the vendor, Bogges and Quagmire who guard the castle moat and they all reside in this inexplicable “castle music box” owned by a giant who lives in a field somewhere. RL Stine, of Goosebumps fame, wrote and developed the series. He himself, in this fantastic interview, even says not to worry too much about the logistics of how this world works. Are they held prisoner by the giant, what’s the outside world like, how did they all meet each other and why do they live together? We will never know; the creators just intended it as a fun setup for this “medieval fantasy version of Sesame Street.”
Anyway, a small handful of episodes (about 11 out of maybe 90 that were produced, mostly the ones released on VHS back in the 90’s) managed to hit YouTube, so I decided to check them out over the last three days and maybe forget about the existentially dreadful state of America for a bit. Speaking as an adult, I really enjoy the show for what it is…but you know what had never occurred to me before? How precious Eureeka’s character design was! I love her bangs (why don’t more people wear their hair in bangs???) the inexplicably satanic goat horns, the random ponytail on the one side and the way her hair’s like a pale, understated rainbow
Nickelodeon’s Most Wholesome Character?
I just shared the best episode directly above. But this scene below of Eureeka putting Magellan to bed is by far my favorite individual skit. Now, it’s very unclear, at least from the scant selection of episodes we still have, what Eureeka’s official relationship to the rest of the cast is exactly. She seems very maternal towards the other characters, and if you look closely she has bags under her eyes implying the long hours taking care of them. Eureeka reads her companions bedtime stories, mediates fights and comforts anyone if they’re upset. During the end credits, she even gathers everybody together and serves them all lunch. In this particular sketch, I love how, annoying as Magellan may be, as soon as Eureeka realizes she never said “good night” to him, she comes back apologetically to do it in person. (She even calls him “my little dragon” which is the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen!)
My only significant criticism is that, at least in these episodes we have access to, there isn’t very much of Eureeka herself in her own show. Like 66% of the time, it’s Batley & Magellan (sometimes joined by Nick Nack.) And if not them, it’s Quagmire and Bogge. The title character only plays a prominent role in maybe one skit per episode on average. For me, that’s a waste because, as I said before, her persona is the most interesting by far. For example, I liked the visual gag in the episode “Don’t Touch That Box!” where Eureeka contacts another wizard through a crystal ball which comes with a touch-tone keypad like a modern phone. I wanted more of that kind of tongue-in-cheek world-building. According to the scant descriptions of her personality online, Eureeka’s supposed to be a struggling Wizard-in-Training who often bungles spells. I wanted to see more of her magic and the hi-jinx that could ensue as a result, but none of the surviving episodes show that except this one.
What really puts Eureeka over the top is the voice which puppeteer/voice-actor Cheryl Blaylock uses to portray her. She has a very soft-spoken, nurturing tone that’s calming to listen to. I’d almost call her the female counterpart to Blues Clues‘ Steve or Mr. Rogers in her ability to soothe the viewer into a sense of trust towards their televised host. It contrasts well with Eureeka’s potentially cacophonous appearance and gives her character the perception of shyness, which I find endearing. It’s up there with Kathryn Beaumont in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland as my favorite performance of voice acting. I could swear while watching that I’d heard her voice before but unfortunately she hasn’t as much work outside the show as I would have expected. Puppeteering has unfortunately become something of an under appreciated lost art due to the cost and complications. Cheryl Blaylock deserves more fans and recognition and I hope this post would contribute in some small way towards that.
This show is so rare that Wikipedia doesn’t even have plot synopses, titles or production info for the vast majority of episodes. It’s a damn shame because this could really flourish on Netflix with the next generation. Nickelodeon needs to treat the fans and creators which made them a household name with a little more respect and release the buried programs they’ve allowed to rot in a vault somewhere for decades. I noticing when uploading the aforementioned two clips on my alternate YouTube account that they were not copyright stricken at all, despite the fact that this was one of Nickelodeon’s first big productions and one of their early hits. I care more about this (and Just for Kicks, which also hasn’t been taken down yet) than Nick does themselves, and that’s just really sad.
For all the good it’ll probably do, I would like to write to Nickelodeon and ask them to release the series. I can only guess that the reason it hasn’t been done already, even as more obscure Nick programming gets a comprehensive DVD boxset, is because of the segments where they played imported European cartoons and educational short films. I imagine that must be a copyright nightmare, but you know what? If you have to, just edit them out and release the host segments by themselves! Or release the DVDs as a made-to-order model where the buyer has to promise they’ll be responsible if they leak those segments. Tell us who owns each of those short clips and put the onus on us to contact them and receive permission to buy the set. I’ll do any of that, just please release the series to the fans who actually care about it already!
Anyway, I know it may seem weird to devote so much attention to a forgotten preschoolers’ show and a tragically underused puppeteer/voice actress. But we are all dealing with a lot of shit between the 2020 craziness, rising political tensions, losing healthcare protections, murderous cops roaming around and Trump saying stupid shit on the news. We’ve got all that, plus the modern trend of dark gritty TV dramas and often mean-spirited adult animated sitcoms the last decade. (For the record, I enjoy those too, I’m just saying it’s nice to have a change once in awhile.) So, in that environment, it’s nice to escape to a comforting fantasy world with kind-hearted characters who are loving to each other. Even if it’s imperfect and incomplete. ❤