The early 1990s began a renaissance of animation on television. The Simpsons and The Ren & Stimpy Show became huge pop-culture successes, and Liquid Television introduced viewers to Beavis & Butthead and Aeon Flux. Yet, there were also plenty of shows that failed to catch on, such as Fish Police and Capitol Critters.
One of the more unusual series during that time was the amusingly weird and bizarrely drawn Duckman, adapted from Everett Peck’s Dark Horse comic. It was developed in part and executive produced by Ron Osborne and Jeff Reno, who wrote and produced Moonlighting. The company Klasky Csupo, known for their work on Rugrats and The Simpsons, produced the animation. The series’ humor successfully alternated between brows and was filled with a lot of pop-culture references, some of which might be too dated. It aired four seasons from 1994-97 on USA Network, and starred Jason Alexander during his Seinfeld run as the title character, a sex-obsessed, wisecracking private eye, who was either so stupid or so single-minded it didn’t occur to him a woman he hits on at a Lamaze class might be seeing someone.
Duckman is quite literally an odd-looking duck with his slender head, teeth in his beak, and a pair of eyeglasses that appear to contain his pupils and have his eyebrows floating above them. He is a widow, but has help raising his children, one of whom is a Siamese twin named Charles (Dana Hill and later Pat Musick) and Mambo (E.G. Daily), from his sister-in-law Bernice (Nancy Travis). On the job, his partner is a pig named Cornfed (Gregg Berger), who speaks like Jack Webb from Dragnet and usually solves the cases in spite of Duckman.
The final two seasons, both of which were Emmy-nominated, have now been released on DVD with the episodes presented in order of their original air date. The video transfer looks poor and likely the source was not well maintained. Dirt is occasionally evident, picture clarity isn’t always sharp, and digital noise can sometimes be seen.
As usual CBS/Paramount DVD releases with some episodes have been altered from their original versions, and before “They Craved Duckman’s Brain!” a title card appears reading, “If you have any idea who altered it, please let us know. We’re really mad.”
Special Features include a 15-minute video of the original animatic drawings and animation from the unaired pilot with commentary by Peck and Berger, who talk about the creation of the show. There is also “Walk Cycles, Expressions, Storyboards, and Pencil Tests” and selected storyboard scenes from the pilot “I, Duckman,” neither of which are really special.
I am surprised Duckman isn’t currently airing somewhere because it reminded me of a better version of Family Guy and would likely be a hit with fans of that show or anyone in a black-lit, smoke-filled dorm room. Fans of the show should revisit it, and those that don’t know it should check it out.