February 12, 2020
(The Channel Awesome logo is shown, followed by NC title sequence)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. Animation for adults has come a long way, hasn't it?
(A shot of Nami from One Piece is shown)
Beavis: (audio from Beavis and Butt-Head) Bo-yo-yo-yo-yoing! (Butt-Head is heard chuckling)
NC: (slightly annoyed) In other ways, too.
NC (vo): You turn on the TV or stream, and you'll find tons of animated shows that aren't meant for kids at all, and many of them have a lot of comedy that's as top-notch as anything live-action, if not more. The history of this goes back as early as (A shot of the following is superimposed...) Gertie the Dinosaur, enchanting both children and adults.
NC: And in some respects, there's always been something for adults in animation, even when it was seen as kid stuff.
(A clip of Pinocchio is shown, displaying the multiplane camera panning through the town while doves are seen flying around the rooftops)
NC (vo): Disney always showcased technical and artistic beauty...
(Cut to a clip of the Looney Tunes cartoon Rabbit Fire, showing Bugs and Daffy arguing what season it is, duck season or rabbit season)
NC (vo): ...while Warner Bros. always showcased clever and timeless writing.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of The Flintstones)
NC (vo): Though The Flintstones was more kid-centered; it demonstrated that prime-time animation could be accomplished...
(Cut to footage of modern prime-time cartoon shows that The Flintstones had spawned)
NC (vo): ...opening the door for such groundbreakers as Simpsons, South Park, Rick and Morty, BoJack Horseman, and that's just to name a few.
NC: Even animated kids shows seem more adult.
NC (vo): Sneaking in more edgy humor, dealing with mature subjects, and even challenging the way both children and grownups perceive the world. Of all the shoes I've mentioned, though...
(The opening to Duckman is shown)
NC (vo): ...there's one that's often overlooked. And though it didn't get as much attention, it was no less ahead of its time.
NC: (crosses arms) That's, of course, the charming...
Duckman (Jason Alexander): What the hell are you staring at?!
(Duckman's grandma breaks wind)
NC: ...politically correct...
Cornfed (Gregg Berger): Get a grip on yourself. Let me rephrase that.
NC: ...beautifully animated...
Duckman: You thrust your pelvis! Hoah! You thrust your pelvis! Hoah!
NC (vo): Chances are, you've heard or at least seen clips of this show at some point, but it's rarely talked about or placed in the same category as...
(Cut briefly to a clip of Rick and Morty)
NC (vo): ...a lot of these other trailblazers.
(Cut back to Duckman)
NC (vo): When you analyze the comedic style, you can see a ton of influence for a lot of hit adult animated shows today. Running from 1994 to 1997 on USA Network, it was the brainchild of (Image of the following is superimposed...) Everett Peck...
(Cut to a shot of a Duckman comic book, where the show originated)
NC (vo): ...who originally started out as a comic book for Dark Horse.
(Cut back to a clip of Duckman and then to the logo for the studio that created it: Klasky Csupo, Inc.)
NC (vo): He ended up developing the idea for a then-new animation company called Klasky Csupo.
NC: And if that name or animation style seems familiar, your '90s are showing.
NC (vo): A lot of memorable shows came from this studio including (Shots of the following are superimposed...) Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Rocket Power, Wild Thornberrys, and a tiny little hit called Rugrats. Their style was easy to recognize among children's programming, but Duckman was one of their few adult shows. So a lot of kids that grew up with these hits might not be as familiar with it. But trust me when I say it was doing a lot of what some of your favorite shows today are doing long before they were ever greenlit. The show centers around Duckman, played brilliantly by Jason Alexander, who's a private dick, family man, and all-around perv.
Duckman: You can stuff the prime directive where the solar system don't shine! We're talking orbital orgy!
NC (vo): His wife Beatrice dies by... Oh, let's just allow her to explain it, shall we?
Beatrice: (to Duckman) When your cigarette punctured the Bullwinkle float and he started losing helium until his antler dipped into the clown car and sent it crashing into Puff the Magic Dragon, who bounced off Snoopy and knocked me into an open manhole, I realized this could happen to anyone.
NC (vo): And she leaves all the money to her sister Bernice, who hates Duckman's guts. So he moves in with her as well as with her nonverbal grandma, who literally communicates through farts.
(Bernice's grandmother emits flatulence)
NC: (looking visibly uncomfortable) It's, uh... It's... Just stay with me.
NC (vo): He has three kids, though if you ask him, he might say "two and a half": a dim-witted son named Ajax and a pair of genius Siamese twins named Charles and Mambo. His detective job has him teamed up with a stern, no-nonsense partner named Cornfed, clearly satirizing Joe Friday from Dragnet...
Duckman: My life insurance is canceled!
Cornfed: Could it be because you attempted to defraud them ten times last month by falsely reporting your own death?
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Dragnet)
Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb): There's nothing wrong with marijuana. Well, there's nothing wrong with a gun, either, until you pull the trigger.
(Cut back to Duckman)
NC (vo): ...and two cuddly assistants named Fluffy and Uranus. What's their story? They're two cuddly assistants named Fluffy and Uranus.
Fluffy (Pat Musick): It's a miracle! Every time a new leaf grows, every time a newborn baby cries...
(Duckman irritably kicks Fluffy into a shredder and shred it to bits)
NC (vo): Oh, and they often get mauled or murdered, always appearing in the next episode.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of South Park)
Stan: Oh, my God! They killed Kenny!
NC: (holds up hand) We'll get to that.
NC (vo): The show, as you would imagine, is quite surreal. At the time, animation was certainly trying new things, and it wasn't uncommon to hear a question like (A shot of the Simpsons family is superimposed) "Hey, why are the Simpsons yellow?" Now, it doesn't even cross our minds, but in the early '90s, there was...
(Shots of '90s animation are shown, including Ren and Stimpy, Daria, Beavis and Butt-Head and South Park)
NC (vo): ...kind of this new wave of experimenting, as the upcoming generation had a hunger for anything weird, disruptive and cynical.
(Cut back to Duckman)
NC (vo): Duckman checked off all those boxes, but...big deal, lots of shows did at the time, right?
(Two more clips are shown of...)
NC (vo): Like Beavis and Butt-Head and Ren and Stimpy?
(Back to Duckman)
NC (vo): Well, while those shows are influential in their own right, listen to some of this writing, as well as the delivery from the actors, and tell me if it sounds, for a lack of a better term, modern.
(A montage of the dialogue in question is shown, alternating between Duckman and other animated shows)
Cornfed: Interesting how the need for substance is in an unexamined life oftentimes breeds gullibility.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Rick and Morty)
Morty: (to Rick) I think the word has just become a symbolic issue for powerful groups that feel like they're doing the right thing.
Duckman: You know the drill: if you make a mess, push it all into a little corner so it looks like you cleaned it up and don't let the police in without a warrant.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of BoJack Horseman)
BoJack: (talking on his cell phone) Jesus! Why does Cantaloupe think every time he gets invited to a party, he can bring along his dumb friend Honeydew? You don't get a plus-one, Cantaloupe!
Duckman: (to Cornfed) Check out the nightcrawler I found in the bus station men's room. Three vibrating speeds: slow, medium and loss of consciousness.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Bob's Burgers)
Felix Fischoeder: I have to get up there and start living my new, amazing life as Felix Fischoeder, the condo king with the dark secret and a girlfriend.
(Cut to another clip of Rick and Morty)
NC (vo): There's a fast rhythm that's utilized in the dialogue of modern animation.
(Cut to another clip of BoJack Horseman)
NC (vo): It's quick, it's smart, it mixes complex words and ideas with simple words and ideas...
(Cut to another clip of Bob's Burgers)
NC (vo): ...keeping the energy high and having you guess what's gonna be said next.
NC: The genius of it is, it gives little to no time to let the joke sink in because it's already moving on to the next joke.
(Another clip of Rick and Morty is shown)
NC (vo): This type of writing being used more and more, as well as being sped up faster and faster.
NC: And this show was doing that over 25 years earlier.
(Clips of The Simpsons are shown)
NC (vo): Now, it's not to say shows like The Simpsons weren't playing with timing and quick jokes, but it was only at a slightly faster pace, which is one of the many reasons it caught on. It was new, but made sure you got every joke that they said.
(Cut back again to Duckman)
NC (vo): With Duckman, it didn't care if you missed a joke; it was too busy moving on to the next one, meaning you had to watch it again in order to catch everything.
Duckman: The only disease I've got is modern life; a schmuck-busting gauntlet of inefficiency and misery that's one long parade of put-downs, trickle-downs, shutouts, freeze-outs, sellouts, numbnuts, nincompoops, and nimrods!
NC (vo): In the age of streaming, downloads and... (A shot of a Blu-Ray disc is superimposed) still hard copies? ...this is not a new idea. In fact, it's encouraged, so you go back and see it again. But back then, if humor was this fast, it was seen as a little too advanced. People were done with their work days; they didn't want to pay too much attention or think too hard about a joke they just heard, let alone several.
NC: But now, it's the norm.
NC (vo): Another element is just how far it wanted to push being an adult show.
(Cut to a clip of an episode of South Park)
NC (vo): Keep in mind, this is before South Park...
(Cut to a clip of an episode Beavis and Butt-Head)
NC (vo): ...and during a time when shows like Beavis and Butt-Head...
(Cut to a clip of an episode of The Simpsons)
NC (vo): ...and The Simpsons were seen as shocking and controversial.
(Cut back to Duckman)
NC (vo): Duckman took it a step further and didn't care who it offended, often taking potshots at sex, gender, race, politics, and mixing it all with a healthy dose of good old-fashioned bad taste.
(An old black-and-white TV show featuring Cornfed is shown, in which a suburbanite father with a pipe is addressing Cornfed)
Narrator: We're to spend entire evenings together, watching warm, idealized families and nonthreatening singing and dancing minorities.
NC (vo): The reason this so often worked is because Duckman himself was a jackass. I mean, a duck. A duck-ass. You ever notice much they focus on (A collage of shots of Donald Duck cartoons is superimposed, emphasizing Donald's rear end (and Daisy's, too)) duck asses in Disney cartoons? Somebody question this!
NC: (hastily) Sorry, I get sidetracked.
NC (vo): Duckman is a horny jerk, often getting himself into trouble that his friends and family have to get him out of. But he also lives in an insane world, a world of extremes that rarely make sense. Whatever time period you live in, there's always going to be something hypocritical about it, because we're flawed and we'll never be perfect. Because of this, oftentimes, it's the people who care the least that will be the most honest. So it only makes sense that a self-absorbed jerk can get away saying things that are true because nicer people are too polite to say anything. So even though he's a scumbag, we side with him because he never lies about being a scumbag; he embraces it, and therefore, we know what we're getting is genuine.
NC: And even on that note, he does try to get better.
NC (vo): In some episodes, he tries to figure out why he's so awful. I mean, he is a father looking after three kids and trying to help out others as a detective. So there is a self-improvement that draws us to him as well, even if it is hidden behind a porno stash of flaws.
NC: And surprisingly, even a character who talks like this...
Duckman: No rectal probes, okay? I'm saving some things for my next honeymoon.
NC (vo): ...can have some incredibly poignant words that are just as meaningful today as they were back then. Honestly, even more so.
Duckman: (singing and dancing) You thrust your pelvis! (thrusts out his rear) Hoah! You thrust your pelvis! (thrusts out rear) Hoah!
NC: Again, stay with me on this.
(On that note, we go to a commercial break. Afterwards, the video resumes, cutting back to Duckman)
NC (vo): While Duckman had a lot of brilliantly raunchy and raunchily brilliant episodes, some of them hold such relevance in today's culture that it's hard not to be blown away by how strong, true and even moving some of them can be.
NC: One that really pops out at me is "America the Beautiful".
(Cut to footage of this episode of the show)
NC (vo): An episode about a group of kids who are looking for a model named America. She was beautiful and inspiring to them, but she seems to have disappeared. So you can guess where this is going.
Duckman: (to Cornfed, as they look at a portrait of America) She's beautiful. Timeless. But even more, look at the compassion, the wounded innocence...
NC (vo): Yeah, at first, it might seem a little too obvious, but they do it so cleverly, it's hard not to admire it. Duckman and Cornfed talk to several people who claim they know where America is, and each person represents a different decade of what the American Dream was perceived as. As they at first seem nice on the surface, more digging reveals an unfocused dark side that's taking advantage of America today and ironically doing more harm than good, understanding America's story the more and more they come across different people who abused her.
(In a black-and-white sitcom neighborhood, a grinning man is being interrogated by Duckman and Cornfed)
Man: Imagine that woman questioning my authority.
(The front door of the man's home opens and his wife appears, wrapped in cuffs and chains)
Wife: Dear, will the gentlemen be staying for dinner?
Man: (to his wife) Speak only when spoken to, kitten.
NC (vo): By the end, Duckman comes across America in a junkyard, still beautiful and kind, but tired and beaten down from all the people that exploit her.
America (Heather Locklear): (to Duckman) You only felt something for me after you thought I was gone.
Duckman: There have been times when I wanted to give up, but...if I do, how can I expect things to ever get better? Don't give up, America. You've got to keep going.
NC: While the writing here is easy to grasp, it's still nevertheless meaningful and will always have relevance.
NC (vo): It ends with all the kids finding her and singing a corny parody of "We Are the World" on top of a giant pile of garbage and destruction shaped like the United States.
NC: What's so brilliant about this is you can take this image in completely opposite ways.
NC (vo): Is it that our heroes are so blind to the fact that what they're standing on is garbage and there will never any hope? Or is it, despite all the terrible things that happened, there will always be optimistic people trying to make things better? To this day, I don't know how to accept this, and that just makes me love it even more.
NC: (crosses arms) But the episode that's definitely making the rounds on the Internet is one called "Joking the Chicken".
NC (vo): It opens with a politically correct comedian trying to win people over with non-offensive humor. As most comedians know, comedy without some form of misery is a contradiction: laughter is a coping mechanism to deal with pain so we can get on with our lives.
(Cut to a shot of the "He-Man Sings" video)
NC (vo): Whether it's the thrill of being out of your control...
(Cut to a shot of Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) on The Office, staring at something in open-mouthed shock)
NC (vo): ...or just being in an awkward situation, something always has to be out of place to get a laugh.
(Cut back to the "Joking the Chicken" episode of Duckman)
NC (vo): So the idea of taking out everything offensive goes as well as you may think.
Iggy Catalp (Eddie Deezen): (addressing the audience at the comedy club) So this medical caregiver of indeterminate gender says to his or her disabled, or should I say, differently-abled patient, "Why do you have a penguin on your head? They're endangered."
Audience member: (calling out) YOU SUCK!
NC (vo): Duckman's arch nemesis, named King Chicken, played by Tim Curry...
NC: The... (The number "1,549,367,026,849,127,943,084,152..." pops up) this number reason to love the show... Eh, he should be higher up. (A new number pops up: 2)
NC (vo): ...turns him [Iggy] into a hit by using a formula to manipulate the audience. Duckman sees the crowds howling with laughter at humor that has no misery in it whatsoever, and makes, in my opinion, one of the greatest speeches about comedy ever. Now, because YouTube is also...
(Cut to a shot of a YouTube video cut off by a "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim" message)
NC (vo): ...a funny place of misery...
(Cut back to Duckman)
NC (vo): ...I'm not allowed to play the entire clip without most likely getting hit.
NC: So I'm just gonna read, word for word, what he said.
(As Duckman speaks, the following message that he says pops up, with NC reading it...)
NC (vo): "It's precisely when humor is offensive that we need it the most. Comedy should provoke! It should blast through prejudices, challenge preconceptions! Comedy should always leave you different than when it found you. Sure, humor can hurt, even alienate, but the risk is better than the alternative: a steady diet of innocuous, child-proof, flavorless mush! Demand to be challenged, to be offended, to be treated like thinking, reasoning adults. And raise your children to do the same. Don't let a comedian, a network, a congressional committee, or an evil genius take away your freedom to laugh at whatever you want."
(Suddenly, NC hears voices offscreen objecting to this)
Voice 1: That's problematic.
Voice 2: I'm traitored!
Voice 3: I need my safe place!
Voice 1: I mean, actually if you had...
(They continue inaudibly and overlapping one another)
NC: You can see why this is still relevant.
NC (vo): I highly suggest finding the episode and hearing it yourself, as sure, I can read it, but to hear a comedic master like Jason Alexander say it with all the importance a true comedian can breathe into these words is chilling, to say the least.
NC: Yeah, when I said he's brilliant on the show, I meant it.
NC (vo): It would be so easy to see this writing as too preachy, but mixing in strange and off-color remarks with a comedian who truly understands the importance of delivering every word like he believes it with all his heart and soul, makes it pretty damn impressive. There's a two-minute-straight rant he gives in the episode "A Room With a Bellevue", and again, it's way too long to play here, but it's a speech explaining why his anger is seen by many as crazy, and it's both a sum-up of absolute madness and complete unfiltered reality, both at the same time.
(Snippets of Duckman's rant are shown)
Duckman: Somewhere, somehow, they all got chewed up and spit back out. They don't taste like living anymore.
Duckman: Even if you do look into the possibility of some fleeting pleasure, like, say, if some nymphomaniac telephone operators with the muscle control of Romanian mat slappers agree to a little strip...
Duckman: (yelling) ...I STILL DRAG MY SORRY BUTT OFF THE CEILING EVERY MORNING AND STICK MY FACE IN THE REAPING MACHINE FOR ONE MORE DAY!
Duckman: BUT DOES ANYBODY REALLY WONDER WHY ANYBODY IS HANGING ONTO SANITY BY THE ATOMS ON THE TIPS OF THEIR FINGERNAILS WHILE LIFE DIRTY-DANCES ON THEIR DIGITS?!?
NC (vo): It's actually kind of mind-blowing this show doesn't get more attention. It feels like it's so made for this time.
NC: (shrugs) But, part of that could be, they knew how to make everybody angry. (pauses awkwardly) Even their fans...? (smiles nervously)
NC (vo): What I'm referring to is the last episode (which is... "Four Weddings Inconceivable"), which some see either as a brilliant troll move or one of the biggest slaps in the face. To sum up what is a very complicated series of events: Duckman, Cornfed and Bernice are all getting married to their new loves, when suddenly, Duckman's dead wife appears. Since episode one, she's been confirmed as dead, and suddenly, there she is! The explanation?
Duckman: (stunned) You're alive!
Beatrice: Sure I am. Didn't Cornfed ever tell you?
Cornfed: (stammers briefly) Duckman, I can explain.
NC (vo): And on that note, it says, (The following words appear on the screen...) "TO BE CONTINUED..." – with a question mark.
NC: The show was canceled shortly after.
(Cut to a clip of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, showing an audience of Klingons all standing up to voice their reaction. Then cut back to Duckman)
NC (vo): Yep, this was never resolved, and the writer admitted they had no idea how they were going to get out of it. You see, the writing was kind of on the wall that this would be the last season, so in a last-ditch effort, they wrote in this cliffhanger, almost daring them to be canceled after such a bombshell was dropped. It didn't work. It was a Hail Mary without a prayer.
(Cut to a shot of the show's Wikipedia page, emphasizing a section reading "Fan Theories", which explains the cliffhanger)
NC (vo): The writer admitted he has no intentions of ever revealing what he personally had in mind, hoping to leave it to his heirs, or, as he put it, "The inevitable day when Duckman is revived."
NC: I guess I could be pretty pissed off by this, too, but honestly, it is kind of funny.
NC (vo): It's lead to a lot of fan theories about how this could have happened, and while some are super angry that they didn't take what they knew would possibly be their last episode and do something more meaningful, there's already so many episodes that did so already. I say it'd go out on what's essentially a middle finger, but it's such a great middle finger, as only Duckman could provide.
NC: After seeing so many great moments, can you see more why this show was so ahead of its time?
NC (vo): Doesn't it feel like something you would see now, not over 25 years ago?
(More footage of South Park is shown)
NC (vo): Look at the crude and shocking comedy of South Park that, yes, started with that short, but grew more meaningful allegories while working in said crude and shocking comedy.
(Now cut to more footage of Rick and Morty)
NC (vo): Look at Rick and Morty, with their fast dialogue, hateable main character and bleak outlook that still has us rooting for them despite being so pessimistic.
NC: BoJack Horseman? Christ!
(Footage of BoJack Horseman is shown)
NC (vo): A boozy, self-destructive sex sleaze who we side with because he lives in a crazy world populated by humans and animals. For God's sake, Duckman, Horseman, it's all right in front of you!
NC: Is this all coincidence? Maybe, but it doesn't change that Duckman was doing this all before them.
NC (vo): This was a show that was smart, yet silly; funny, yet lowborw; sympathetic, yet despicable; sensitive, yet not politically correct; took no prisoners, yet never apologized for it. At a time when animation is becoming more and more grown up, we seriously can't overlook this important stepping stone that, whether it inspired the shows of today or not, was already taking several of their steps years earlier. Duckman is hilarious. I couldn't recommend it more. There are DVDs being sold, and if you search for them, I'm sure you can find it streaming somewhere. Trust me when I say it's well worth the search. This show will offend, mock and laugh at most of the sensitivities that today's and possibly future cultures will bring us. And all I gotta say is, let's hope it continues to do so.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
Channel Awesome tagline – Duckman: You thrust your pelvis! Hoah! You thrust your pelvis! Hoah! You thrust your pelvis! Hoah!
(The credits roll)