“Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man” (1994 – 1997)
Created by: Everett Peck
Featuring: Jason Alexander, Gregg Berger, Nancy Travis, Dana Hill, Pat Musick, E.G. Daily, Dweezil Zappa
Duckman: “Did I ever tell you my Dad’s last words to me”
Cornfed: “Careful, son, I don’t think the safety is on.”
Duckman: “Before that.”
Never one to look back on ‘the good old days’ as there is little to be gained, especially when viewing older television shows, which on the most part have not aged very well I was extra pleased to see that one of the great adult animated shows “Duckman” (1994-1997) was being released on DVD, to, hopefully, a new audience which this hilarious as well as truly groundbreaking show deserves. Before the proliferation of more grown up animation there were only a handful of similarly veined shows viewers could turn to in the 1990s, of course those shows like this one broke rules, commented on the day as well as being truly funny. You may recognize the names, “Beavis and Butt-head” (1993-2011), “The Maxx” (1995), “Aeon Flux” (1991-1995), “Ren and Stimpy” (1991-1996) and “The Critic” (1994-1995), these were all in different ways genre defying as well as genre breaking something that happens all to rarely in the homogenized present we find ourselves in. Of course, some of these shows were more successful than others with the nadir being “Beavis and Butt-head” and “Ren and Stimpy”, but my personal favorite was always “Duckman”.
“Duckman”, the series centers on Eric T. Duckman (voiced by Jason Alexander), a lascivious, widowed, self-hating, grouchy anthropomorphic duck who lives with his family in Los Angeles (as mentioned in the episode “Bev Takes a Holiday”) and works as a private detective. The tagline of the show, seen in the opening credits, is “Private Dick/Family Man” (“dick” is a triple entendre).
Main characters include Cornfed (voiced by Gregg Berger), a pig who is Duckman’s Joe Friday-esque business partner and best friend, Ajax (voiced by Dweezil Zappa), Duckman’s eldest, mentally-slow teenage son; Charles (voiced by Dana Hill and later Pat Musick) and Mambo (voiced by E. G. Daily), Duckman’s Conjoined twin child genius sons whose heads share a body; Bernice (voiced by Nancy Travis), Duckman’s sister-in-law and the identical twin of Beatrice who is a fanatic fitness buff and hates Duckman with a passion; Grandma-ma (voiced by Travis), Duckman’s comatose, immensely flatulent mother-in-law; Agnes Delrooney (voiced by Brian Doyle-Murray), Grandma-ma’s doppelgänger who kidnaps her and poses as her for several episodes; Fluffy and Uranus (voiced by Pat Musick), Duckman’s two Care Bear-esque teddy-bear office assistants.
Everett Peck is the sole creator of the television show, his drawings have appeared in The New Yorker, Playboy and Time, as well as numerous books, comics and movie posters. He has participated in gallery shows in Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., and has written animated cartoons for Rugrats and The Critic. “Duckman” was originally created as a comic book that was first published by Dark Horse in 1990, in 1994 Duckman was turned into an animated series.
The show was animated by Clasky-Csupo, and like their better-remembered, kid-focused shows “Rugrats” (1990-2006) it has an expressive, super-deformed art style that’s somewhat reminiscent of independent syndicated comics like those of Lynda Barry and early Matt Groening. The opening credits are super 90s with colorful collages and very stilted drop-frame animation, in this case with a backup theme by Frank Zappa, whose son Dweezil voices Duckman’s charmingly vacant surf-speaking son Ajax.
Like “The Critic”, “Duckman” encounters random celebrities at times. Like “Ren and Stimpy”, he’s insanely, cartoonishly violent, mostly to his two assistants, Fluffy and Uranus; Care Bear parodies who are sweetly naive and always bounce back from whatever lethal end they meet at their boss’ hands in any given scene. Like “Aeon Flux”, the show was not shy about showing as much animated female flesh as could be gotten away with. But all that was just sizzle on the steak: Duckman balanced the humor with pathos, rubbing in the fact that the lead character’s life is miserable, but also that he loves his three sons and deeply mourns his wife.
And then, at its best, “Duckman” contained utterly scathing satire that would raise eyebrows even today. Satire is extremely important to animation espepcially those series from the 1990s, it is a technique employed by writers to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society, by using humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule. It intends to improve humanity by criticizing its follies and foibles.
In the intervening years, either by way of generational change, or just increasing conformity, we’ve lost that desire to mock. Cartoons today are safe. They may proffer to highlight social justice issues, or even raise awareness of important causes, but they do so in a neutral inoffensive manner.
Televison shows like “Duckman” are important beucase its seems like we have lost the tendancy to create proper satires espceiclly in animation. Shows (even web series) are focusing more on entertainment. Animation and cartoons in general are the perfect vehicle with which to mock the deservedly mockable. Politicians, silicon valley wonks, terrorists; all are so very ripe for plunder yet remain untouched. Has western society embraced a degree of political correctness that emasculates satire? It seems that way doesn’t it? Of course provoking unwanted responses isn’t helping. Not everyone enjoys having their faults and weaknesses exposed and many are wont to seek revenge on those who do. Yet animation’s unique place in the entertainment and art spheres means that it can tackle such complex issues without losing its humurous appeal. Satire is the most accessible way of doing so, and it’s a shame it seems to have vanished form contemporary shows and films. Here’s hoping it comes back.
Interestingly there are reasons why animal based animations are popular as well as extremely popular and they are:
– The so-called ‘Bambi effect’ suggests that humans find animals easier to empathise with, rather than other humans, on account of their ‘cuteness’. Indeed, this phenomenon could also possibly be explained by Sigmund Freud’s theory that as children we consider ourselves equal to animals and so find it easy to empathise with them. Although this perception often does not last into adulthood, it still positively impacts upon adults’ attitudes towards animals.
– Animated animals, even more so than animated humans, are able to transcend these arbitrary distinctions to become universally appealing.
– They are universal without being bland. However, their universality does not make them bland. Because they are not human, they can be attributed other interesting and defining characteristics that do not have cultural significance.
– Animals are similar enough to us to allow us to empathise with them, but not so similar that we feel their pain as if it were our own. This means animated animal characters provide an excellent way to explore difficult topics whilst maintaining a slight emotional distance.
– Unlike human stereotypes, animal species stereotypes are unlikely to offend audiences. By using animated, anthropomorphized characters, animators are able to use stereotypes to humorous effect. Animal stereotypes can simultaneously provide satirical humour to adults and appear humorous to children simply on account of their ‘silliness’ or ‘cuteness’.
– As much as the use of species stereotype can be important in helping to provide humour and further the plot, subverting tropes is also an effective way to create humour.
– As human beings we like to consider ourselves as being at the centre of the universe. This leads us to assume in our narcissism that all species have the same characteristics as us and so we project our characteristics onto animals almost unthinkingly.
– Humans expect less detail in the depiction of animals than they do in the portrayal of humans. This means that animated animals can function as allegories in a way that human characters could not.
– A lot of the comedy of animation tends to derive from exaggeration. It is much easier to achieve this without causing offence when the characters aren’t human.
All in all “Duckman” was not only an entertaining show but one that spoke to people in terms of society, celebrity, economics and politics of the time. What is unique is that with the intervening years as well as the changes in technology this show still stands up as well as having something to say about the world we live in today.
“Duckman” is available now on DVD and is worth checking out.
- “I, Duckman”– Feeling underappreciated by his family, Duckman hunts down the man mailing him bombs thinking he’s the only one who cares.
- “T.V. or Not to Be”– Duckman is hired by a televangelist to find a missing painting and has a near-death experience after being captured and suffocated with cellophane.
- “Gripes of Wrath”– Duckman takes his children to the unveiling of a supercomputer named Loretta. However, during the unveiling, Loretta overhears a comment Duckman makes and alters reality to make everything go Duckman’s way… for a while.
- “Psyche”– Feeling insecure about himself, Duckman gets plastic surgery for his bill. Not long after, two buxom blondes hire him and Cornfed to investigate why they only attract men who only want them for their bodies causing Duckman to have a crisis of conscience.
- “Gland of Opportunity”– After an accident at an amusement park, the cowardly Duckman has the adrenal gland of a daredevil transplanted into his body giving him a new outlook on life.
- “Ride the High School”– Ajax is offered a scholarship to an exclusive boarding school, which Duckman sends him to, unaware that the scholarship is part of a plan by his arch-nemesis King Chicken.
- “A Civil War”– Duckman gets jealous when his family showers Cornfed with attention, so he fires him during their next case: a death investigation for an insurance company.
- “Not So Easy Riders”– To escape paying years of Duckman’s back taxes he and Cornfed flee on motorcycles.
- “It’s the Thing of the Principal”– Ajax and his vice-principal fall in love and elope, leaving Bernice and Duckman to track them down, posing as a married couple themselves.
- “Cellar Beware”– A home security expert gets Duckman to buy an elaborate security system—the “Interlopen Fuhrer 2000″—which first fails to prevent a burglary, then locks the whole family in the basement.
- “American Dicks”– An episode of the reality show American Dicks films a day in the life of Duckman (chosen as the only agency not affected by a nationwide detective union’s strike) as he and Cornfed try to find the mayor after he’s been kidnapped.
- “About Face”– Duckman dates an ugly woman whose voice he fell in love with when calling 911. People’s reactions, however, prompt her to seek a full makeover, making her gorgeous to everyone.
- “Joking the Chicken”– A group of rude stand-up comics hire Duckman to stop Iggy Catalpa; a clean, mild-mannered, politically correct comedian whose bland, inoffensive brand of comedy becomes a sensation, thanks to his agent — King Chicken.
- “Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.”– Duckman becomes a national hero after saving the President from an assassination attempt, until it’s revealed that his “heroics” were an accident and he was merely trying to grope two women. Nonetheless he capitalizes on his newfound fame, penning a film for USA and planning a run for the Senate.
- “Married Alive”– Bernice returns home from a European vacation and announces that she is marrying a self-made billionaire who plans to take her, Grandma-ma, and the kids away with him to Switzerland, leaving Duckman alone.
- “Days of Whining and Neurosis”– Duckman and Cornfed go undercover at an exclusive celebrity-filled health and rehab spa to investigate the murder of a doctor. While there, Duckman detoxes from his various addictions.
- “Inherit the Judgement: The Dope’s Trial”– In search of a free clock radio, Duckman takes the family across five states through the desert. On their trek they wind up in the small town of Coopville, where everyone is related, King Chicken is the sheriff, and Duckman is put on trial for heresy.
- “America the Beautiful”– In an episode “not recommended for small children or certain Congressmen from the South” that’s “full of heavy-handed and over-obvious allegory” (according to the beginning disclaimer), a multi-ethnic group of children hire Duckman and Cornfed to find their idol, a gorgeous model named America. The investigation involves speaking to four of her ex-boyfriends, men who represent American life in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, while Duckman falls deeper in love with the idea of her.
- “The Germ Turns”– At a new age fair, Duckman gets a visits from his dead mother (voiced by Katey Sagal)–reincarnated as a highly infectious germ because of how terrible of a mother she was. Hoping to escape the same fate, Duckman begins smothering his sons with affection, much to their chagrin.
- “In the Nam of the Father”– The son Cornfed never knew he had arrives at the office and Cornfed travels back to Vietnam to find the mother and the truth. Duckman takes his family along on the trip for a much needed vacation and must also deal with the flashbacks he is experiencing.
- “Research and Destroy”– When Ajax shows a natural talent for poetry, Duckman gets him to sign a contract for a greeting card company in search of a new writer.
- “Clip Job”– Henry Melfly (voiced by Ben Stiller) kidnaps Duckman; blaming him for the decline in moral, family-friendly shows, resulting in a clip show as he argues his point.
- “Noir Gang”– In a black-and-white, film noir-style episode, Cornfed and Duckman fall for the same woman — femme fatale client Tamara LaBoinque (voiced by Bebe Neuwirth) — raising conflicting feelings in Cornfed.
- “Forbidden Fruit”– The family hires a French live-in tutor (King Chicken in disguise) to help the children with their study skills and social development, who sues Duckman for sexual harassment after he gives her an apple, which, according to Judeo-Christian ideology, is considered sexual as the apple is the forbidden fruit Eve ate and tempted Adam with. Ostracized by the public, Duckman is forced to hide out with Fluffy and Uranus while a feminist group begins forcing pro-female political correctness on the town.
- “Grandma-ma’s Flatulent Adventure”– When the family fears they can no longer care for Grandma-ma, they decide to place her in a retirement home. Unfortunately, Duckman loses her while dropping her off, sending her on a wild adventure, which ultimately kills her.
- “Color of Naught”– Tony Sterling (self-made millionaire and entrepreneur) and his assistant/supermodel Angela (the 911 operator from “About Face”) begins advertising “Beautex”, a beautifying cream to the city and its denizens. In truth, however, Sterling is King Chicken and Beautex (which doesn’t work on Duckman) is a virus which eventually devolves everything it touches.
- “Sperms of Endearment”– After caring for a small girl (that calls her “mom”) in the park, Bernice decides it’s time to have children of her own. Her hunt for a father doesn’t go well, however, so she settles on artificial insemination— with sperm that turns out to be from Duckman.
- “A Room with a Bellevue”– After an incredibly bad day, Duckman simply wants to make it to Charles and Mambo’s birthday dinner, but gets pushed too far by a dry cleaner. His ranting in the street (without wearing a starched collar) gets him arrested and committed to a state mental hospital for thirty days, where he settles into the routine and decides to stay, forcing Cornfed to break him out.
- “Apocalypse Not”– While everyone in the city goes underground for a disaster preparedness drill, an oblivious Duckman thinks he’s the last man alive and wreaks havoc — until he finds a beautiful, deaf gymnast and falls for her. The trapped city folk, meanwhile, begin to turn on each other during their attempted escape back to the surface.
- “Clear and Presidente Danger”– Duckman scams a vacation to a South American country, where a passionate Duckman rant about pay toilets leads to a people’s revolution and has him installed as dictator. After his first hundred days he’s just as corrupt a leader as the government he replaced, and it’s up to Cornfed to lead another revolution to bring him down.
- “The Girls of Route Canal”– Charles and Mambo ask Duckman to tell them how he won over their mother to help build their confidence in approaching their dreamgirls. The story he tells turns out to be a spoof of The Bridges of Madison County.
- “The Mallardian Candidate”– Iggy Catalpa hires Duckman to investigate a conspiracy: every time he does his laundry he loses one sock. However, the case is actually a ruse to kidnap Duckman and turn him on Cornfed by Catalpa’s World Domination League.
- “Pig Amok”– Because of a previously unknown genetic problem, Cornfed has 24 hours to lose his virginity or he will die. After he fails to connect with multiple women (thanks to Duckman’s sleazy pick-up lines), Bernice has sex with him to save his life, but Cornfed thinks Bernice is in love with him.
- “The Once and Future Duck”– Ajax accidentally opens a rift in the time/space continuum with his clock radio, bringing various future versions of Duckman to the past to see him, all different depending on different decisions he can make, causing him to fall into a paranoid spiral.
- “The One with Lisa Kudrow in a Small Role”
“Planet of the Dopes”– Feeling unappreciated by his family, Ajax leaves the house for a walk and is abducted by two redneck aliens from the planet Betamax. On Betamax, Ajax is treated like a genius and worshiped as a deity, while on Earth, Duckman realizes he knows nothing about his son — or any of his family.
- “Aged Heat”– After his family mocks his detective skills, they refuse to take him seriously when he accuses Grandma-ma of acting suspiciously, though she has, in fact, been replaced by Agnes DelRooney (voiced by Brian Doyle-Murray), a robber who looks just like her.
- “They Craved Duckman’s Brain!”– Duckman is cast in a hospital educational film. After being left in an active MRI chamber for hours, a mutant part of his brain grows an isotope that can cure cancer, which everyone wants.
- “The Road to Dendron”– In a parody of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope “Road to…”films, Duckman and Cornfed chaperon Ajax’s class trip to the Dendron in Sudan, where Ajax is kidnapped and held hostage by a Sultan, his Fakir, and a beautiful princess.
- “Exile in Guyville”– In a distant future, a mother’s (voiced by former Fridays cast member Maryedith Burrell) bed-time story for her son involves Duckman and Bernice leading a nationwide division of the sexes after Bernice lambastes Duckman for developing raunchy lingerie with no thought to what a real woman would want to wear.
- “The Longest Weekend”– Fed up with the shabby treatment of local government, Duckman and his North Phlegm neighbors form a block association to take on the nearby Dutch Elm Street block association–which has been lobbying the Mayor’s office–eventually leading to all out war.
- “The Amazing Colossal Duckman”– Duckman contracts a very rare blood condition through a unique combination of chemicals which causes his blood to literally boil and his body to grow several inches every time he gets angry. After exploiting his new stature for a while, he realizes he is unable to control himself and exiles himself to a secluded island.
- “Cock Tales for Four”– Duckman and Bernice attend a dinner party to meet Ajax’s new girlfriend Tammy’s parents, King Chicken and drunken wife Honey. Over the course of the evening their relationships change in unexpected ways.
- “Dammit, Hollywood”– After seeing a bad movie Duckman sneaks into the studio head’s office to get his $7 back. The studio head, however, makes him an executive to sabotage the studio.
- “Coolio Runnings”– Duckman adopts rap star Coolio (voicing himself) as his son to compete in the local father/son games over Ajax, hurting Ajax’s feelings.
- “Aged Heat 2: Women in Heat”– Duckman is arrested for killing Fluffy and Uranus again and accidentally sent to a woman’s prison. There he becomes the star attraction of an illegal dance ring, until another girl arrives and bumps him from his slot.
- “All About Elliott”– Duckman and Cornfed hire the college-aged Elliott (voiced by Chris Elliott) to be their office intern. Immediately he warms himself to Duckman by feeding his destructive side and pushing Cornfed away by sabotaging his personal life and commitments.
- “From Brad to Worse”– Duckman is reunited with a man he made homeless 20 years ago and decides to try to help him get back on his feet.
- “Bonfire of the Panties”– Cornfed, Charles and Mambo create an aphrodisiac to revive Duckman’s waning love life. When he forgets to wear it, Courtney Thorne-Smith(voicing herself) falls for him, but the family isn’t sure what to believe.
- “Role With It”– Duckman, his family and staff, vacation together at an Indian casino, during which they’re approached by a psychiatrist who offers them treatment involving roleplaying to prevent them from what she sees as inevitable violent self-destruction and uncovers real issues among them.
- “Ajax and Ajaxer”– While investigating a laboratory, Cornfed accidentally ingests a “Get Dumb” potion, which lowers his IQ to the point that he becomes best friends with Ajax, who is feeling left out of his family again.
- “With Friends Like These”– After convincing himself again that he’s having a surprise party only to come home to just Cornfed, Duckman realizes he has no friends. Vowing to use his clean slate and try again to be the “best friend possible” he stumbles upon a group of culturally diverse, laugh tracked, 20-somethings at a coffee shop who immediately take a shine to him.
- “A Trophied Duck”– Duckman drags the family to Dickcon ’97 in San Francisco to see him get an award. Unbeknownst to him, he’s actually being set up by Lauren Simone, a rival from his days at “Don Galloway’s Famous Detective School”.
- “A Star is Abhorred”– During a night out, Bernice becomes an angry female music starafter yelling at Duckman for insulting her singing at a karaoke. Her life begins to go downhill, however, when she and the family go on tour and she gets sucked into the rock & roll life style.
- “Bev Takes a Holiday”– Continuing from the previous episode, Bernice travels to Washington, D.C.to assume her new role as Congresswoman. Meanwhile, Beverly—long lost triplet of Beatrice and Bernice—hires a detective to find her family and seeks them out. Duckman spots her spying on him and, mistaking her for Beatrice, runs to her, only to be struck by a bus. In the hospital, Bev must pretend to be Beatrice for Duckman’s sake when he wakes and mistakes her for same.
- “Love! Anger! Kvetching!”
“Ain’t Gonna Be No Mo No Mo”– On the night of a big poker game Duckman has planned with Joe Walsh, Bob Guccionne and others, his Uncle Mo arrives and claims to be dying from heart cancer.
- “Duckman and Cornfed in ‘Haunted Society Plumbers'”– In an episode with hints of Marx Brothers, Three Stooges, and Martin and Lewis classics, Duckman and Cornfed—temporarily plumbers—are hired as at a high-society party celebrating the unveiling of a “cursed” jewel: “The Sharon Stone”. Before the ceremony, though, the stone goes missing.
- “Ebony, Baby”– Cornfed goes on vacation—his first in 11 years—Duckman works as the sidekick to a black female private investigator Ebony Sable (voiced by Tisha Campbell) who gets him involved in a world of murder, power, lust and blaxploitation clichés.
- “Vuuck, as in Duck”– Duckman inherits a AAA baseball team as the last minute action of owner Gene Vuuck—who overhears him bemoaning the current status of the game and decides he’s a “real fan”—who is trying to keep the team out of the hands of a banker. Unfortunately, the team has no following and is losing money rapidly so he replaces the whole team with supermodels.
- “Crime, Punishment, War, Peace, and the Idiot”– Beverly asks Bernice if she knows anything about Grandma-ma’s life, prompting Grandma-ma to begin a series of flashbacks of her life, with the main cast filling in for past friends, acquaintances and lovers.
- “Kidney, Popsicle, and Nuts”– Duckman is in need of a kidney transplant from a blood relative, but the children are out for various reasons (Ajax doesn’t have any, Charles and Mambo share one) so he turns to his cryogenically frozen father whom, it turns out, wasn’t his father at all. He tracks down his real father (voiced by Brian Keith), a paranoiac in the sticks with his “own country,” and while he’s staying with him a standoff with the government develops.
- “The Tami Show”– Duckman backs his car into Tami, a cute girl who claims her family died in a sleighing accident leaving her on her own. The family invites her to stay with them and she quickly begins incapacitating Bev and taking over the family.
- “My Feral Lady”– A depressed Duckman purchases a mail-order bride, but upon delivery finds her to be a feral jungle savage. With Cornfed’s help, Duckman attempts to turn her (Kathy Lee) into a proper lady he can marry.
- “Westward, No!”– While the boys are visiting Beatrice in D.C., Cornfed invites Beverly to a catfish ranch in Louisiana owned by his Aunt Jane (voiced by Estelle Getty), and a jealous Duckman tags along. After getting the ranch hands fired, Duckman and the gang must help the foreman, Big Jack McBastard (voiced by Jim Cummings), drive the 2,000 head of catfish to Texas.
- “Short, Plush and Deadly”– During a taxpayer financed dream vacation Duckman, Cornfed, Fluffy and Uranus are kicked out of camp, stung by bees, and lost. The bee stings paralyze Cornfed and cause his head to swell, but turn turning Fluffy and Uranus into large, homicidal monsters. It’s up to Beatrice and Beverly to find and save them.
- “How to Suck in Business Without Really Trying”– Duckman sells his last name to the VarieCom corporation for $1,000, which he immediately wastes, leaving him penniless and jobless.
- “You’ve Come a Wrong Way, Baby”– After catching Mambo with a cigarette in his mouth, Bernice challenges the tobacco industry on the floor of Congress. During testimony she’s invited to a tobacco plantation by Walt Evergreen (voiced by Jim Varney)—president of an unnamed tobacco company—which doesn’t go well for the family.
- “Hamlet 2: This Time It’s Personal”– Duckman sees the ghost of his Uncle Mo, who says that Duckman’s father was murdered by King Chicken and Duckman should take revenge. To do so he decides to act crazy to get King Chicken—with whom he has formed a truce to allow King Chicken time around Bernice—to admit his guilt so he can kill him with impunity. Cornfed realizes that Duckman is living out the plot of Hamlet, which will eventually lead to his death.
- “Das Sub”
“Class Warfare”– Convicted of fraud, Duckman is sentenced to 5,000 hours of community service, but accidentally finds himself substituting for a teacher he injures and teaching a group of intellectual high schoolers how to be “street smart”.
- “Where No Duckman Has Gone Before”– A Star Trek parody where Captain Duckman (as Captain Kirk) does battle against King Khan Chicken in an episode similar to “Arena” among others.
- “Four Weddings Inconceivable”– At the wedding of Dr. Stein, a series of emotional epiphanies lead to an amazing set of marriage proposals: King Chicken proposes to Bernice; Cornfed proposes to Beverly; Duckman proposes to Honey, King Chicken’s ex. After arguments between the principles, Duckman volunteers to make the arrangements for the triple wedding, purposely putting any blame on himself. Despite his arrangements, the ceremony goes off without a hitch — until Duckman’s supposedly deceased wife, Beatrice, returns.