Eureka's Christmas special took the show into the realm of animation, with incredible results. The episode was a minor masterpiece, a thrill ride that was equal parts exciting, emotional, and hilarious. And we've got the best parts to share!
Carter's talking house S.A.R.A.H. recounts a possibly non-continuity tale of a past Christmas, sidestepping the fallout of the big season-ending cliffhanger. Carter, Allison, and their kids are spending Christmas together, and in an effort to make the holidays perfect for Allison, Carter has teamed up with Henry and Fargo to provide Eureka with a white Christmas.
However, because this is Eureka, everything goes horribly wrong, and thanks to some super-photons interacting with an interactive holobook Allison's daughter Jenna got for Christmas...well, everyone ends up as animated versions of themselves. The race is on to get everything back to normal before reality totally falls apart, all while battling giant ninja snowmen and jumping through different animation styles. That's really all you need to know about the plot.
"Do You See What I See" reminds me of last year's two best Christmas specials, Doctor Who's " A Christmas Carol" and the Community episode "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas." Like the former, this episode takes the show's normal sci-fi craziness and ramps it up to ridiculous levels, relying on the viewer's Christmas cheer and the infectious fun of the episode itself to paper over the fact that the story doesn't really make any sense. And, like the latter, this episode is a sustained homage to animated Christmas specials, complete with characters discussing the thematic meaning of their claymation doppelgangers.
While last year's special, "O Little Town", was maybe a little too obsessed with Christmas for its own good, "Do You See What I See" is all about making the most of the show's new animated format, and it does not disappoint. The initial computer animation sequence is mostly just there to serve as a transition between the live-action and what's to come, but everything that follows is pretty much one big triumph.
The very next sequence, in which they turn into old-school, 60-style animated characters, fully embraces the format, complete with four-fingered hands, cartoon physics, and anthropomorphic everything, including Carter's long-suffering jeep - voiced quite excellently by The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons - who makes the most of this rare opportunity to give the sheriff a piece of his mind. Also, his name is Carl. Check it out:
After Carl's Festivus-style airing of grievances, Carter and Andy are left to fight a bunch of snowman ninjas, otherwise known as sninjas. It's about at this point that it becomes clear this episode isn't primarily concerned with Christmas - this is more about having a goofy fun time that throws away all the rules and structure that Eureka normally sticks to so closely. This is officially the sort of Eureka episode where a sninja fight sequence ends with them hanging off a talking helicopter, dispatched one by one as they repeatedly hit a bunch of trees. I am so OK with that.
The episode just generally goes for broke, getting the absolute most out of its cartoon, claymation, and anime sequences. They are all clearly the work of people who both love and understand the various forms, and Eureka's transition from live-action to animated is surprisingly seamless. It isn't necessarily guaranteed that live-action actors are competent voice performers, but the cast all acquit themselves well, with Colin Ferguson proving he can be just as hilariously pissed off in animated form. And, as an added bonus, the episode sticks in quick glimpses of a bunch of other iconic animation styles, including Peanuts, The Simpsons, South Park, and Scooby-Doo. All they needed was Bruce Timm's DC animated style to complete the set:
If this special had decided to just be a full-on romp, filled with crazy fight sequences and meta jokes about the different styles of animation, then the episode would still be a rousing success. But the episode also includes some real emotional stakes, particularly with Jo. Initially irritated by her "Jo White" Disney princess getup and cadre of singing birds, she becomes genuinely upset when the latest animation shift makes the birds disappear, wondering whether these most likely imaginary birds will make it south for the winter.
Her old friend, Matt Frewer's Taggart - who, it should be pointed out, is now a giant polar bear - comforts her about both the birds and her brothers, who are all deployed overseas, telling her it's still OK for her to enjoy the holidays and occasionally want to feel like a princess. It's a sweet moment that's helped along by the expressiveness of their claymation counterparts, and it tackles some of the potential melancholy of the holidays without going down quite as treacly a road as last year's special.
Much like Community did with its claymation episode, the characters take some time to ruminate on the meanings of their animated incarnations. Henry's pullstring is initially just a knowing joke about his proclivity for long technobabble explanation, while Fargo's transformation into a bobblehead seems like just the universe's latest jab at his easily bruised ego. Fargo tries to get into the deeper thematic content of all this, but Henry isn't buying it:
Admittedly, this year's special doesn't completely jettison the more saccharine elements of the show's previous efforts, which is most obviously seen in Chris Parnell's Dr. Drummer, who almost certainly is the real, actual Santa Claus. While I didn't exactly dislike that aspect of last year's episode, it was pretty ridiculously syrupy, and I'd say his brief appearance is handled a little more gracefully here, even if it doesn't give Parnell too many opportunities for his usual comic awesomeness.
What it does provide, for some reason, is an opportunity for Edward James Olmos to play a talking sled dog, who gives Andy some sage advice on why it's good to be an individual and not always part of a pack. It's kind of a random moment - Andy's loneliness is alluded to before, but I wasn't expecting an entire scene addressing it - but it's a nice little vignette, and I appreciate the general craziness of this episode that it can pivot from Carter and Allison discussing how to save the day with a scientist who is probably Santa to a robot receiving a pep talk on individuality from a talking dog voiced by Admiral Adama. Besides, it's still a way more coherent, dramatically rich character for Olmos to play than whatever the hell he was doing on this season of Dexter.
So yes, "Do You See What I See" is all over the place, but that's fine since everywhere it goes is so much fun. The big climax takes us into anime territory, as Carter, Jo, and their now flying jeep (which I can only assume is called C.A.R.L.) take on a gigantic ninja snowman who is terrorizing the town. The sequence is played much more straight than Futurama's recent takedown of Japanese animation, but there's still plenty of shout-outs and homages, and you can tell everyone involved had a blast making it. Besides, they even work in a brief reconciliation between Carter and his jeep:
This is one of Eureka's finest efforts, a giddy thrill ride that I would love to see become a Christmas staple in future years. It's a reminder of how exhilirating a procedural show can be when it breaks out of its format, and this one absolutely shatters it. If you haven't seen this episode, go watch it. If you have, go watch it again, preferably when it's actually somewhat close to Christmas, as I still cannot quite comprehend how December 6 is really part of the holiday season. This is a tremendous capstone to the generally stellar fourth season, and a great indication that as Eureka heads into its fifth and final season, this show will be going out on one hell of a high note.