Reviews

Count Duckula - The Complete First Season

Tim O'Neil

Despite the sheen of ostensible family-friendly cartoon antics, the series consistently hinges on the trio's passive-aggressive loathing for one another.


Count Duckula - the Complete First Season

Cast: David Jason, Jack May, Brian Trueman, Jimmy Hibbert, Barry Clayton
MPAA rating: Not rated
Network: Thames
First date: 1988
US Release Date: 2005-10-04
Amazon affiliate
Amazon

Count Duckula is that rarest of children's artifacts, unassociated with a toy line or massive advertising campaign. It's also remarkably witty, to the point of seeming anachronistic (and yes, the cartoon is almost two decades old now). That it couldn't possibly have been made in the United States goes without saying. It is a thoroughly British production, by the same studio that produced the fondly remembered Dangermouse.

I remember liking the series when it originally came to U.S. TV -- back when Nickelodeon ran a good many "foreign" cartoons -- but had no clue how well it would hold up. To my great surprise, rediscovering the series on DVD has been a singular delight. Even given the unadorned nature of the set (the only bonus feature is a brief interview with the series' creators), this release is completely satisfying. This suggests that British children are much smarter than their U.S. counterparts, or American studios consistently underestimate their audiences. I can't say which is more depressing.

The titular Count (voiced by David Jason) is a vampire duck, the latest in a long line of blood-sucking fowl from the mountains of Transylvania. Except he's not, due to a slight error in the arcane ceremony that spawned him. He's a steadfast vegetarian. Attended by Igor (Jack May), a centuries-old family manservant who wishes nothing more than to steer the Count towards the family tradition of ghoulish villainy. Their nuclear family is completed by Nanny (Brian Trueman).

Despite the sheen of ostensible family-friendly cartoon antics, the series consistently hinges on the trio's passive-aggressive loathing for one another. Certainly, Nanny loves "Ducky-Boos" unreservedly, but both Duckula and Igor regard her as a moron (which she is). Igor and Duckula are forever at cross-purposes, and the constant stream of deprecating one-liners between them frequently crosses from drollery into outright hostility. Each acts as a foil for the others. Duckula is essentially well-intentioned (and often oblivious to the results of his own buffoonish actions), but he can also be petty, short-sighted, and, as the season progresses, increasingly sarcastic.

I am certain that only a small percentage of the American audience originally appreciated the barrage of imprecations aimed at the British class system. The classic dynamic of the foolish master and the longsuffering domestic (see: Wodehouse, P.G.) is buffered here by the fact that while Duckula can sometimes be endearingly naïve, Igor is also a scoundrel and murderous ghoul.

The "Rent a Butler" episode, for instance, features Duckula hiring out Igor and Nanny to a Nouveau Riche couple (literally, that's their name), with predictable consequences. Duckula sees only the profits to be made by renting out his domestics, without wondering who will feed him; meanwhile, Igor and Nanny are left to fend for themselves in a distorted fantasy of upper-class, Thatcherite-yuppie life. Why, their new masters wonder, is Igor so obsessed with blood-drenched food? "Dear Diary" even features Igor and Nanny selling their tell-all diaries to the media. The juicy memoirs of "downstairs servants" reveal the foibles of the supposed "master class," even when the employer is a hapless vampire mallard.

The series also attends cleverly to the macabre, enough to startle anyone who may be used to the leveling machinations of American standards and practices departments, who insure that most children's cartoons are scrubbed free of any hint of malevolence. Even given the violence of today's Saturday morning cartoons, Duckula's lingering on the process of ramming a stake through the heart of a blood-drinker seems wicked. This as the ancestral nemesis of the Duckulas, Dr. von Goosewing (Jimmy Hibbert), repeatedly attempts to shoot a wooden stake through the Count's heart (he doesn't succeed, obviously, but not for lack of trying).

Such violence is regularly mediated and contextualized by crisp writing. It's a rare episode that doesn't contain some sort of Abbot and Costello-esque "Who's On First?" routine. The "Who might you be?" exchange in "No Sax Please, We're Egyptian" is particularly pleasing (or cringe-inducing, depending on your constitution). The excellent "Mutinous Penguins" features a high seas adventure that combines penguins, frozen Vikings, Wagnerian Valkyries, and an unexpected submarine expedition. As this description might imply, Duckula shares a lineage with the greatest British situation comedies (appropriately, there's even a Fawlty Towers homage in "Hardluck Hotel"). The writers throw a dozen balls into the air to see them come crashing down on top of one another. When Duckula is firing on all cylinders, it achieves irresistible velocity.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image