Duckman: Seasons Three and Four

Andrew Winistorfer

He’s more than a two-dimensional duck -- he you may gross you out, but you can’t help but acknowledge he has a conscience.


Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Jason Alexander, Nancy Travis, Gregg Berger, Dweezil Zappa, E.G. Daily
Network: USA Network
First date: 1994
US Release Date: 2009-01-06
Last date: 1997

In a lot of ways, the late night USA Network cult hit Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man was ahead of its time. It featured a foul-mouthed duck (voiced by Jason Alexander) who slept with well-endowed blow-up dolls, forgot his kids’ names, and worked as a private eye when it’s painfully clear he couldn’t solve a case if his life depended on it. The show was rife with obtuse pop cultural references (like copious Joe Walsh, Bob Guccione, and Ice-T cameos, random shout-outs to old movies, and winking nods to classic shows and films through plot), and in-jokes that are repeated with little regard to whether or not the viewer has ever seen an episode.

It also made time to mention the fact that no one was watching the show, that the budget was shoestring, and the stories made no sense. In short, it was an Adult Swim cartoon. But its finale predates Adult Swim by four years. Call it bad timing. Thus, Duckman was relegated to viewing blocks dominated by stoners, and destined to land in the cult fave bin of history, alongside 3-South, Undergrads, and Daria.

But thanks to DVD, the show can try to find a larger audience (albeit probably in vain), as it’s third and fourth seasons have been released as a mammoth 7-disc, 48-episode set, that captures the show in all of its ramshackle glory. The set’s extras are rather paltry, comprised mostly of old animation boards, but with 48 episodes, extras are hardly a concern.

Like most animated shows, there really isn’t a “typical” episode of Duckman -- the episodes bounce around between: focuses on Duckman’s family (he lives as a widower with his sister in law Bernice (voiced by Nancy Travis), his dimwitted son Ajax (voiced by Dweezil Zappa), and his brilliant conjoined twin sons Charles and Mambo (voiced by E.G. Daily); between Duckman trying to solve a case (he never does anything but slow down his partner, Cornfed Pig (voiced by Gregg Berger); between Duckman messing up a community (whether it be his own, or a Latin American country he becomes the dictator of), and; between Duckman trying to get laid. There are also Dostoevsky-referencing episodes. But the plots are really meant to set-up Duckman to do his “you thrust you pelvis, hah” dance and hopefully by episode’s end, learn some valuable life lesson.

While watching Duckman, it’s immediately striking how much Family Guy is indebted to the exploits of Duckman. Duckman proved that you could do subversive cartoons tailored towards adult audiences, and they didn’t have to be The Simpsons. It proved you could commit to spending too much time on in-jokes (think of the chicken and Peter fight in Family Guy), and that no pop culture reference is too random for the audience.

But there’s one crucial difference: while Family Guy seems content to coast along in its nihilistic pursuit of randomness and nothingness, Duckman actually had heart. Sure, Duckman is a lout and a pervert—he tries to design a bra that makes women’s breasts look bigger, watches Ukrainian bondage videos regularly, refuses to wear pants, and should be under arrest or dead for a bevy of sexual harassment charges—but the show makes him into a sympathetic character, thanks to him worrying he’ll never find another woman to love him.

(There are a couple of particularly heart-felt episodes revolving around this topic, including one where Duckman dates Courtney Thorne Smith.) He also worries that he’s not a good father, and that he might not be good at his job. Duckman is more than a two-dimensional duck, he’s a fully fleshed out character that you may gross you out, but you can’t help but acknowledge he has a conscience—a trait you don’t often find in the heroes of animated shows.

The set ends with the series finale, which was purposefully a cliffhanger meant as one final joke on the part of the series’ writers. In the episode, it is revealed that Duckman’s wife has been alive all along, and his partner knew the whole time, after Duckman has married his arch-nemesis’ ex-wife. The writers never intended to write a follow-up (as evidenced by the closing caption “To Be Continued?”)—thus the series ends with an enormous question mark, the revelations left to go unanswered.

Overall, Duckman is a solid animated series that deserved better attention than it received. This DVD can’t change that, but it does highlight the fact that Duckman is an underappreciated precursor to the current subversive animated TV shows fans hold dear.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.