Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Darkwing Duck

I have never seen an episode of Darkwing Duck in my whole, wide life*, with the possible exception of this one time I was visiting somebody or other in a hospital room, and I vaguely remember there was something on the TV that might or might not have been one. And fuck, memory works in really weird ways; could be there's something I'm just forgetting, though that would be super-weird.

*Yes, I'm putting this up at the same time as my first episode review, but I wrote this before watching that. I'm not fooling you, dammit!

But the point is, dammit, that I basically have no idea about this show. I couldn't tell you what any of the characters' voices sound like or what the theme music sounds like or anything. We will be rectifying that in the coming months.

I'll tell you upfront: my expectations for this show are unreasonably high. What is it? I'm not sure…partly, no doubt, because the episode that this show spun off from, "Double-0 Duck," was so great. Partly because I think the title character himself just looks so cool, with that sweet pimp-hat an' everything. Partly because I really want to see a young female character who's less useless than Webby. And partly because everyone keeps saying that Boom's Darkwing comics are so great, making me assume, in some inchoate way, that the show must be, too (also, I really want to read them. It makes sense to watch an entire show so you can then consume the related ancillary products, right?). And in addition to everything else, there's the occasional Gizmoduck appearance. There's far too little Fenton in this world, so I've gotta take what I can get.

Still, I also have a doubt or two. A superhero thing involves the guy fighting villains, right? It just seems potentially more formulaic than Ducktales was, and that could get old no matter how well it's done. Also, it's a fine line with superhero parodies. The guy has to be, you know, super, but he also has to be prone to bumbling-type situations, and while these things aren't necessarily contradictory, they certainly are very, very prone to coming across as such. Takes a light touch to make it work, and Ducktales has not always demonstrated that that's a Disney-cartoon strength (though I don't know how much the production/writing teams of the two shows overlap).

Nonetheless, I'm excited. There's the sense of novelty, if nothing else. Don't let me down, early-nineties-kids'-show!

Oh, and one other thing: the wikipedia article "List of Darkwing Duck Episodes" lists the three seasons as "Disney Afternoon," "ABC Season 1," and "ABC Season 2." This sounds stupid, so I'm just going to list them as seasons one through three. And you know what the funny thing is? There ain't nothing you can do about it!


  1. I think what keeps this show from becoming formulaic is the characterization. The heroes and villains are both so well-drawn (not in terms of art design) that we see Darkwing confronting not just his enemies, but his own personal flaws on an episodic basis.

    After all, Ducktales wasn't just about the "long-lost treasure of the week."

    I believe that your excitement is justified. I also think that on the whole, Ducktales has a much higher average level of quality than you give it credit for.

  2. Oh, and one other thing: the wikipedia article "List of Darkwing Duck Episodes" lists the three seasons as "Disney Afternoon," "ABC Season 1," and "ABC Season 2." This sounds stupid, so I'm just going to list them as seasons one through three. And you know what the funny thing is? There ain't nothing you can do about it!

    Fair enough, but just be aware that the reason that they're listed that way is because ABC "Season One"'s first run was concurrent with that of the 65 Disney Afternoon episodes. A couple recurring characters are even introduced in the ABC "Season One" episodes. (Note the airdates.)

    The episodes really should be listed chronologically by air date, not by WHERE they first aired, and as two seasons: the first with 78 episodes, the second with 13. (Though that doesn't solve ALL problems...)

    Or, let me put it another way: you'll probably wish you had seen "Fungus Amongus", "Something Fishy", "Tiff of the Titans", "Negaduck", and "Going Nowhere Fast"(*) before you saw "Just Us Justice Ducks" Parts One and Two. I mean, 20 years later, I still wish I had.

    *Avoiding spoilers, following "Negaduck" with "Going Nowhere Fast" would raise inevitable questions THAT WERE NEVER REALLY FREAKIN' ANSWERED. But at least you'd have the initial provocation of those questions out of the way for "Just Us Justice Ducks", which really assumes an understanding of certain, er, things on the part of the audience, and I would think works best that way. Not saying it's inaccessible otherwise, but if I can save someone else from being subjected to the fucked up order in which the episodes first aired, I've left the world a better place...

  3. What an odd and ungainly system. But okay--under your advisement, I will from now on endeavor to integrate the ABC episodes with the Disney ones according to airdate.

  4. Also recommend (and, of course, these are just my recommendations!) watching the syndicated episodes "Jurassic Jumble" and "Dry Hard" before the "Justice Ducks" two-parter, too. And "Whiffle While You Work" rightfully belongs not just in advance of "Justice Ducks", but also "Days of Blunder".

    The syndicated episode "Aduckyphobia" was produced as a follow-up to the first ABC "Season One" epsiode, "That Sinking Feeling". Okay, don't think I've left any of the crucial ones out...

    Well, it's worth mentioning that "Ghoul of My Dreams" works better after "Fungus Amongus" but before "Just Us Justice Ducks"...

    I say all this for chronological/continuity/story arc reasons. And it's not like I'm being dense in my nerdiness and insisting, "Oh, you HAVE to watch that episode about that villain's origin before you see any other episodes with that villain!" when, in fact, the origin is told in flashback. The production numbers reflect my advice, so there's a case that the airing order isn't a reflection of the creators' intentions. The Wikipedia episode list has the production numbers, but they'd have to be sorted out... Maybe I'll do it...

  5. "The production numbers reflect my advice"...except for getting "Going Nowhere Fast" in before "Just Us Justice Ducks", it appears. I stand by my reasons for it, though.

    Sorry if I seem overzealous about this, but the "random" order in which the episodes aired, thus enshrined as the "official" order, bugs me! I only mean to bring these factors to your attention as something that you might not have been aware of in making your decision about how you'd watch the series. It should go unsaid: do as you see fit. :)


  6. No, I'm glad for the advice. I have no problem with subverting the "official" order if it makes for a more satisfying experience.

  7. I think a sense of history is needed regarding Darkwing Duck vs. DuckTales, along with some consideration of the creative process.

    By the time Darkwing came along, Disney's television unit had already followed DuckTales up with two other 65-episode series, Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers and Tale Spin.

    Before DuckTales came along, Disney had only really produced two efforts (I think; going from memory here)--The Wuzzles and The Adventures of the Gummi Bears. That's a total of five series to precede Darkwing's debut, and DuckTales was a completely new direction for an already-new Disney endeavor. (That's not to slight Gummi Bears in the least...very good show and in many ways, laid the groundwork for the DuckTales approach.)

    It's easy to jump on a studio's earliest creative efforts without context and chastise it for any perceived creative lapses or pedestrian plotlines or moments of mediocrity. However, any creative effort requires some experimentation, some bad ideas that seem good at the time, etc.

    I say all of this to kind of caution against lauding Darkwing with an overabundance of superlatives at least without historical context.

    Disney TV animation had really come into its own by the time Darkwing came along, and it benefits from the creative experimentation (all of it quality and worthwhile viewing) that preceded it.

  8. As far as I can see (and I obviously can't speak definitively with only three episodes under my belt) the difference between DT and DW is that they've figured out an appropriate, consistent tone, and they aren't trying to pander to kids in dumb ways (of course, they could get much dumber later, in which case I would be wrong, but that's my impression so far).

    But anyway, New Criticism, Pete, is what I am trying to practice here, more or less. I understand there are historical factors at play, but I am going to praise/not-praise whatever I watch here purely on the basis of how much I enjoy it.

  9. I must have been a lot dumber than I thought I was when I was a kid, because I never once felt pandered to by any of the Disney television product. Still don't. The reason why I gravitated to these shows is because I felt respected. An interesting perspective you have, fellow Jedi. :-)

    Ah, yes, neo-criticism... I suppose I see the merit of it, but not the ultimate profit. What I've never understood is how you can fully appreciate something without understanding the context in which it existed.

    For example, when people dismiss the old Star Trek because of the cheap effects, they're missing the sheer brilliance behind what those producers were able to creatively accomplish within a limited environment. When you understand the circumstances under which those shows were produced, you realize that those effects aren't cheesy (like they appear to be to the modern eye)...they're brilliant.

    But I really digress... You have reason to be excited about Darkwing. Whether within its context or whether floating about in the Non-Contextual Ether, the series is a great ride.

  10. (While I would argue that there are pandering moments in Ducktales, "pander to" isn't what I was looking for--"failing to respect the intelligence of," let's say.)

    Mmm. I seem to recall we've had this debate in the past. The thing is, I can point you to PLENTY of moments in Ducktales about which I can say: that's really stupid, and the most likely explanation for WHY it's stupid is because the writers took the 'oh, it's just a kids' show, kids are dumb, it doesn't matter'" attitude (maybe it's not quite that--maybe they thought the audience was an indiscriminate one without specifically thinking of it as consisting of kids, but the principle is the same). And I do not think you would disagree with me regarding these moments. Not, obviously, that the show didn't have its moments--a fair few of them, in fact--but REALLY, now…

    Anyway, I'm not quite sure what exactly your criticism IS here. Is it just "you shouldn't get TOO retroactively critical of Ducktales as you write about Darkwing Duck, inasmuch as the one led to the other?" I suppose shots at the former ARE a little gratuitous at this point, but IF DW turns out to be a consistently good as I hope it does, it's going to be impossible not to feel a deep sense of relief.

  11. Not sure I'm criticizing anything, actually. I'm more or less just discussing...musing aloud using too many words, lol. I do that a lot.

    I think Darkwing actually employed a different type of storytelling than DuckTales did because of its inherent penchant for the bizarre and wacky. It didn't have to necessarily be as logical (you'll find this out) as DuckTales did because it employed a less-straightforward style of storytelling.

    If something was stupid, then it was meant to be stupid for our amusement. Whereas on DuckTales, it was more, "How could you be so stupid when you were so smart in the last episode?"

    The downside of Darkwing was that Disney got a little farther away from logical storytelling and adopted an "anything goes in the name of crazy and wacky comedy" with successive series like Goof Troop and Bonkers (both of which I like, but not to the degree of DT or Tale Spin or Rescue Rangers). At least in Darkwing, there was a core of sound storytelling involved with well-developed and well-rounded characters and situations.

  12. --Before DuckTales came along, Disney had only really produced two efforts (I think; going from memory here)--The Wuzzles and The Adventures of the Gummi Bears. --

    Actually there were three: The Wuzzles which bombed on CBS, The Adventures of Gummi Bears (which ended it's run in 1991; six years after it first aired) and there was Fluppy Dogs which never made it past the 45 minute pilot stage as it bombed so badly. Also there were actually seven series that preceded Darkwing Duck; you forgot The New Adventures of Winnie The Pooh which debuted in 1988 I do believe.