Finally, at long last, Duckman is available on DVD!
I’ve mentioned the show before–I thought including the fact that there was no legal way to buy the series, you had to give money to bootleggers, but if I did, I can’t find that post.
Jason Alexander plays Duckman, a widowed, incompetent, skirt-chasing detective in a world that is a mixture of humans and anthropomorphized animals, sort-of trying to raise his family (a big dumb kid named Ajax, voiced by Dweezil Zappa and his conjoined genius twin sons voiced, originally, by the late Dana Hill and the always marvellous E.G. Daly).
It’s kind of a super-dysfunctional, depressing extension of “The Simpson’s”. In fact, Klasky-Csupo, the original Simpsons animators, created “Duckman”. Imagine Marge dying on Homer, and Patty and Selma moving in, and you’ve got a start. Also, imagine Springfield as a more realistic, gritty, big city where almost everyone is selfish, greedy, short-sighted and cruel.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
And yet, for me, this series truly worked. If you look at Homer Simpson, the engine that drives that groundbreaking television show, you see a person who’s really rather despicable. He’s stupid, mean, greedy, lazy, violent and on and on and on. He’s not only dangerous when he means well, he often just plain doesn’t mean well. Yet beyond the brilliant writing of the early years, it must be confessed that the show succeeds because we identify with homer.
We identify with his flaws and appreciate his redemption through his approximately once-per-episode acts of love. And we’re hopeful that others can see the good in us, despite our flaws, and find something like the love Homer gets from Marge or Lisa and Maggie, or even Bart. (One of the reasons the show has gotten stale is that it’s harder to believe in redemption when nothing changes, and the show has played out its own staticness both as humor and meta-humor.)
“Duckman” goes further. Duckman is driven by selfish short-sighted lust and avarice, much like Homer, and his redemption is much smaller and more fleeting. Duckman’s world is darker: Unlike the sort of patchwork, plot-convenient history of “The Simpsons”, Duckman’s history is part of his makeup. He was started down the road to debauchery by his flighty, cruel mother.
By the time he’s in high school, he’s become enough of a tormenter himself to create an arch-rival: King Chicken (voiced by Tim Curry!).
As an adult, he’s locked in a depraved downward spiral until he meets his wife Beatrice, one of the few truly pure characters of the show.
When she dies (before the series starts), he continues his descent into boozing, floozing, and generally being a jerk.
The world is the much bigger jerk. While Duckman brings his problems on himself, it has to be said that the world is gamed against him. Parking laws so convoluted no one can read them. Taxes. Obsessive neighbors. Vacuous celebrities.
Any reform he tries is met with a big smackdown by the universe. Whereas Homer is just lazy, Duckman has the character to fight against the machine. He just doesn’t have the wherewithal, physically, financially or psychically to win, nor even to survive a brush with life’s many irrational obstacles in tact.
At a time when it was actually pretty edgy, Duckman was relentlessly politically incorrect, and the show never missed an opportunity to have a ridiculously over-endowed sex kitten giggling over some lurid double-entendre.
Jason Alexander’s broad voice work does the trick here. Whether happy or raving or depressed or afraid (Duckman’s signature yell is “Dwaaaaaaaaa!”) Alexander makes this the performance of his career. (Duckman is far more lovable than George Costanza.)
I was pleased to see that he’s listed on the special features, since back 10+ years ago or so, when there was supposed to be a Duckman game, he stopped it because the voice was so wearing. (Which may be code for “give me more money”, but either way the game was killed.)
The series ended on a damned cliffhanger, too, but perhaps the series DVDs might spur some interest in a movie that could provide some closure.
Others in the standout cast include Greg Berger as the incredibly deep-voiced Cornfed Pig, the Watson to Duckman’s Holmes, except that he’s super-smart, competent in a wide-range of fields, and a virgin. Nancy Travis plays Duckman’s sweet wife Beatrice in a couple of episodes, but primarily is the voice of the ultimate harridan Bernice, her sister. Ben Stein is the insufferable PhD neighbor who can’t help but constantly remind everyone he’s a PhD.
Guest stars included John Astin and Bobcat Goldthwait as recurring characters, and an assortment of oddities from Courtney Thorne-Smith playing herself to Maureen McGovern as the singing voice of Ajax.
I couldn’t, in good conscience, recommend this to everyone. It’s just too sleazy, too cynical, too dark. (Of course, I couldn’t recommend a non-sleazy, uncynical, light movie for everyone either.)
But I recommend it for me. And can’t wait to pick it up!