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Duckman - Seasons One & Two
Jason Alexander has had a rather unique career. He's always going to be remembered as the always strung out George Costanza from Seinfeld, but with any justice, he'll also be remembered for his role as Duckman. Sure, The Simpsons appealed to kids as well as adults, and South Park was the first to draw major attention for its adult content, but Duckman was the first show truly meant for the older crowd.
It's hard to believe that it's been fifteen years since I would sneak staying up late to catch it on the USA network. As a kid, I didn't quite understand why the show was so brilliant. All I can tell you is that it was new, it was fresh, and it felt like a show I shouldn't have been watching at that age. Now that I'm twenty six, Duckman isn't just more relevant because I can understand its adult themed humor better. It remains relevant today, because it consistently provides harsh, in your face social commentary on topics we'll always be able to relate to.
I know the name Duckman probably gives you the mental image of some horribly bad take on Daffy Duck in a superhero outfit, but really, he's just a nobody. He's a detective, a working stiff that's just trying to get by and provide a living for his three sons. The eldest has the intelligence of a pet rock, and the younger two share the same body. If that doesn't make all of his hard work seem like a cruel joke, his wife passed away and he's forced to live with her twin sister and his comatose mother-in-law. He spends most of his time being ignored, or searching for the meaning of life by examining American culture through satire.
He's living through some extreme circumstances, but there's so much of his life, as well as his numerous rants about life, that everyone can relate to. There's nothing about Duckman that's perfect, in fact, there's quite a bit about him that's flawed. He's foul mouthed, selfish, crude, a bad father, a sexual deviant, lewd, completely incompetent as a detective, and he packs quite a temper. Sounding what many may say sounds like George Costanza during some of his most energetic rants, Jason Alexander brings these qualities of Duckman to life with perfection. You could almost take the duck seriously, but with his sad life creating a bias for most of his opinions, how can we take anyone seriously who can hardly even pay their cable bill?
That's where Cornfed comes in. He's a pig that assists Duckman, and by assist, I mean he does most of the legwork. He's good at what he does, and he has an extremely dry personality with a little bit of humor hidden under it. Besides the fact that he's a pig, he's a complete parody of Joe Friday from Dragnet. In the office they share together, their secretaries are even more bizarre. They're a couple of insufferably cute stuffed bears. They usually meet some form of demise since Duckman's temper is always flaring, but since they're stuffed, they seem to make it back episode after episode.
So it's not just the satire that can be crude and off the wall, the characters are amongst the strangest you may ever see in an animated show for adults. But with the vocal talents of Jason Alexander, Tim Curry, Gilbert Gottfried and more, everything pulls together well enough to create a decent blend of all that's weird with a strange sense of reality.
I almost feel crazy saying how grounded some of the basis for the show is, considering we have a two headed duck, a pig, and stuffed bears parading around. The animation style doesn't make me feel any saner for saying this show has any sense of reality either. Everything looks as if it were designed by a person that was on something through every stage of development. I'm pretty confident in saying that you've probably never seen anything like it.
If you have a tolerance for uh, 'creative' animation, and you're looking for something that's going to deliver the laughs through intelligence rather than through fart jokes alone, Duckman is for you. This show may not be for everyone, but I encourage everyone to at least give it a try, if not for at least the sake of trying something new.
This show was originally cut on film, so there are some minor inconsistencies. You'll see some specks and dirt from time to time on this 4:3 transfer. There's some very minor grain in some of the earlier episodes on the set, as well as some clips here and there that have an unnatural softness to them, or seem to have the color 'pop' less than they should. There's a slight touch of edge enhancement in earlier episodes. Interlacing is something that can be seen from time to time, but it's not persistent enough to take away from the viewing experience.
The issues are minor as I've said however, and for the most part Duckman looks very good on DVD for a show that didn't get a lot of love while it was on TV. The color palette retains its lush look, through great saturation that doesn't bleed. The black levels are accurately represented to enhance the contrast between dark and bright.
It's not as pretty as South Park or Family Guy appears on DVD, but we're talking about an older show that's based on film, not computers. And let's face it, the animation style was never meant to look 'clean' anyway. Despite the very minor issues that appear earlier on in the set, the transfer for this cult favorite is decent. Sure there are some minor issues, but what can you expect for a show that didn't get rave reviews before the time of TV on DVD revival stories?
There's a Dolby Digital stereo track available in English. The sound effects throughout the series are represented well from left to right, providing as good of an experience as you can through stereo. There's not a lot of bass or any emphasis at all during louder sequences, but I don't believe this is a result of the transfer. The show was on USA starting in 1994. It's probably fair to assume that the sound mix was never intended to be 'full'.
There's closed captioning, but no subtitles have been included for this set, which is a minor feature maybe to some, but it's a simple thing to include. There are many who need subtitles so there aren't black bars with text covering important aspects of the picture, and some simply like to use them when they need to have the volume low enough to not hear everything.
The first disc includes a commentary for the first episode with Everett Peck and Jason Alexander. It's not the easiest listen in the world, but it's not bad by any means. When Jason and series creator Everett are talking, they have some interesting things to say. They go back and forth between talking about the relevance of the show and how it was the only adult show on television at the time. Some interesting tidbits are in that aspect of the conversation, and they change it up occasionally to discuss what's actually going on during the pilot. There are some silences that keep the commentary feeling a little 'ho hum', but the biggest problem is that this is the only commentary available.
The single commentary on this set isn't bad, but would have seemed loads better if there were other commentaries to supplement this one. As the lone commentary for the entirety of the first two seasons on this set however, it's fairly disappointing.
Also included on the first disc are some promo spots. They feature the duck himself sitting at his cluttered desk, being his narcissistic and foul mouthed self. It's only about a minute and a half worth of short promo spots, but they're pretty entertaining.
What the Hell Are You Staring At?: A Special Investigation Inside Duckman, Private Dick/Family Man - This is a half an hour featurette that gives us much more insight on the shows brainstorming process, via interviews with various cast and crew. I breathe a sigh of relief knowing there's a feature on this set that details such important details, because I was a little worried after hearing the commentary on disc one.
Designing Duckman: Inside the Creation of an Anti-Hero from Comic Book Character to Screen Star - Exactly as the featurette title suggests, we're given information on Duckman that details the artistically creative steps that molded the world we see in the show. We get to see everything from early artwork that was scrapped in favor of the designs we see in the finished product, and it's pretty interesting to see what some of the characters could have looked like. This feature runs close to thirteen minutes.
Six Degrees of Duckman is an interactive feature, which lets you choose one of the numerous characters from the show and get to know them a little better. You can see written biographies, likes and dislikes, and even a short video montage that's sort of like a highlight reel. It's a good way to introduce the audience to information that's usually presented in a text only format, and I can appreciate that they may want to fill in new viewers about certain aspects of each character. However, this interactive feature could have had a better presentation, as the information is still text driven and fairly dry.
This disc has no special features.
The main menus on these discs look fine, but there's something that seemed a little sloppy. When you select an episode to play, we get to hear a short clip from the show. Unfortunately, they cut off abruptly, and it's something you're going to notice.
All in all, we have a few interesting features, but it would have been nice to have a lot more. There are plans to release the last two seasons on DVD fairly soon though, so perhaps we'll get a bunch more there. I wouldn't hold my breath though. At least this set wasn't given a bare-bones treatment. Fans of the show will surely appreciate what's available, but I can guarantee they'll crave more.
Duckman definitely isn't safe for prime time where all the children can see it. Unlike the earlier days of South Park, or the entirety of the Beavis and Butt-Head series, Duckman doesn't use adult themes or language for the sake of doing so. It's rich with satire on issues that everyone can relate to, and a lot of the adult humor stems from that. The dialogue is smart, even if the characters always aren't, and we should consider ourselves lucky that there was actually a network that dared to air a show like this. Foul language, sex, crime, bad parenting, all wrapped up in a nice little package that's surprisingly smart and witty. That's what the real challenge is with any show that wants to not just be relevant today, but for 'whenever'. Duckman does just that, as I find this show to be just as relevant as when I saw it, if not more so because of the age I was when I first started watching it.
I recommend this set. The show deserves in my opinion a high recommendation, but this show isn't going to tickle everyone's fancy. My wife sat down to watch this for example, and although she didn't dislike it, it wasn't a show she'd hop on the couch to watch with me at a drop of a hat's notice. The extras have some good information, but the ball was dropped on the amount of content, as well as some of the presentation. It wouldn't have been such a bad thing for the MSRP to be a little lower to ensure a better life finding new fans on DVD, either.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!