Rubrics and Tendrils of Richard Gehr

23 March 1994


I was sold on Duckman , USA's new "adult" animated series (Saturdays, 10:30 p.m.), about halfway through "I, Duckman," the premiere episode. Duckman, a disorderly private dick (catchy catch phrase: "What the hell are you staring at!"), is in the attic of his dead-end home in the shadow of a crowded Los Angeles freeway. There he's forcing his partner Cornfed, a pig, to watch home movies in hopes of getting to the bottom of Duckman's feelings of ennui. As Cornfed looks on helplessly with bound limbs and eyes pried wide, the Klasky Csupo animating team recapitulates Duckman's cartoon phylogeny with remarkably faithful and emotionally effective takeoffs on Steamboat Willie , Popeye the Sailor Man, Yogi Bear, and (former Klasky Csupo clients) the Simpsons. This edgy, thoroughly bizarre scene hinted at a level of tour-de-force animation the show's subsequent episodes have delivered

While Duckman is basically written as one more insult-ridden sitcom about an ineffective single father and his irritating family. Jason Alexander does such a great job as the voice behind the pissed-off, self-denigrating title character, however, it makes you realize how cool an animated Seinfeld could be. ("So what's the deal with Goofy and Pluto, anyway? They're both dogs, yet Goofy can talk and Pluto can't. That doesn't seem fair.") Duckman likewise thrives on its supporting characters. Duckman lives with Bernice, his dead wife's aerobically augmented shrew of a sister; flatulent Grandma-ma; and his mutant children: the dim yet sensitive valley boy, Ajax (voiced by Dweezil Zappa, whose late father provides incidental music), and eggheads Charles and Mambo, two one-eyed duck heads attached to a single body. Duckman and the philosophic, Joe Friday-ish Cornfed's secretarial staff consists of Fluffy and Uranus, a squeaky-voiced pair of disposable stuffed bears that could have been ripped from the panels of Doug Allen's Steven .

Angular, nervous, and crammed with animated content, Duckman feels like the first successful translation of MTV's gaudy Liquid TV esthetic into the mainstream. There's too much content to catch all in one viewing, but whether or not it's all worth catching is the question (Cornfed to Duckman: "Either you're babbling, or you just told me in Cherokee that my scrotum is many-colored"). Most of its satirical objects--Hannibal Lecter, televangelism, modern art ("that's Crisco, our greatest wrap artist")--are obvious. Yet how many shows (apart from The Simpsons , of course) would risk involving God in their nonsense? When Duckman ascends to Heaven in the televangelist-bashing second episode ("TV, Or Not TV"), He buys Duckman a pina colada and jots down the meaning of life--on an Etch-a-Sketch. When Duckman returns home, anxious to share his experience with his family, they become suddenly more interested in their TV.

"I see," says the Supreme Being, from His inner-tube POV. "They're saying television is worshipped like a religion. I hate message shows." Click.