Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dwelling on DuckTales #5: DT25, "Where No Duck Has Gone Before" (Wednesday, Sept. 23, 1987)

Many apologies for not having this posted Thursday night. Apart from sacking out after Colbert on Thursday (not planned), I ended up finishing a spec script about space zombies on Friday. It's better not to ask about that, but it's certainly ironic in light of the episode covered in this column. Anyway, that took most of the afternoon and evening, and lemme tell ya...writing radio shows is harder than you may imagine! It was fun, though...almost as fun as what we're about to cover. 

Then, Saturday was jam-packed with other commitments and "stuff." I'm also finding out that these columns can't be composed in a few hours. Leave it to me to make a DuckTales retrospective more complicated than it needs to be...

Speaking of which, all of the previous DT25 columns can be found here, here, here, and here.

******
  

Kids of all generations have had live-action TV shows replete with non-stop happenings and enough plot holes to fund an international Swiss cheese factory.

In the nineties, this multi-colored rainbow of earnest silliness was popular (and still is)...


In the eighties, we had this occasionally remembered effort at making history fun...


If the seventies meant Hanna-Barbara and Filmation cartoons with animation that could have doubled as slideshows, it also meant live-action Krofft shows that could have doubled as cartoons...


The sixties were rife with classic TV shows, some of which were in prime-time and many of which started out as serious science-fiction adventures, but morphed into campy sci-fi, mainly because of kids making this legendary tongue-in-cheek romp a smash hit...


...a smash hit that not only chewed its scenes, but also ate its cheese.
  
As kids revel in the adventures of these (cardboard-cutout) heroes and their (occasionally creative, often heavily manufactured) adventures, most adults sit by, scratching their heads, and wondering when in the hell they missed the generational train and got left behind in the square caboose. They just don't get it.

I used to shake my head at these adults, wondering why they couldn't have fun, or at the very least shut up while the kids were having fun. That is...until recently, when I've found myself shaking my head at the younger generations (now, to my great mortification, plural) and their choices in entertainment.

Turning 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 isn't as debilitating to one's fragile sense of mortality as realizing you're now one of "them," the vast collective of adults who don't get "them young'ins and their waste-of-space, emptyheaded TV shows. Why, when I was a kid, we had shows that blahblahblahblahblabbityblah."

Having caught myself saying this on numerous occasions, I have now started to hold my tongue, pausing to consider the immense joy and harmless fun many of these shows are bringing to the newer generations. I even try to "get" it. And sometimes I do...




...but many times, I don't...or at the very least, I struggle to "get" it...


(Although Herman Cain apparently did...


...and stands to rival William Shatner in the spoken-word department!)



As a result, I find myself relapsing back into the shows of my youth, because let's face it...nothing can compare to the fondly forged memories of childhood entertainment.

Heck, I'm even writing a 100-plus blog series on one of those shows.

****** 
That was a long way of introducing our third entry in DT25, "Where No Duck Has Gone Before," which concerns a cheesy kids' action show called Courage of the Cosmos


Every afternoon, Huey, Dewey, Louie, and their pal Doofus (in his first appearance on the daily DuckTales run), hover around the television to watch their TV hero, Major Courage, wage stilted, tight-suited action against aliens of all costumed types...


As luck would have, Scrooge ends up acquiring Duckburg Studios as payment on a debt from "those movie people." Duckburg Studios happens to be the very studios where Courage is filmed...


Upon arriving at the Studios, the Boys meet their idol for the first time...


...while Scrooge notices the notoriously cheap sets that are used for the show...

He informs Courage that the show is in dire straits. Their ratings stink, and if the show is canceled, the studio is absolutely worthless to him...


Scrooge plans on giving the show a major overhaul...

How major?

Major major, Major.  

This overhaul will come courtesy of Scrooge's (or as Courage calls him, SM's) science advisor, Gyro Gearloose (also a first appearance). Scrooge orders Gyro to make the new ship as real as possible, which Gyro jots down as "Make it real"...


Meanwhile, Launchpad (another daily first) has had it up to his beak with Courage. As LP explains it, the difference between the two of them is that he is a "real pilot, not some phony flyboy"...

Launchpad has had to endure the Boys' admiration for this guy too long. The instant animosity between professional hero and TV hero is mutual...


Courage is certain that LP is angling to get his job and that McDuck is considering replacing Courage with a real pilot...

 This may mean that everyone will actually be replaced....


So, Courage decides to get in Scrooge's good graces by buttering up his biggest fans, the Nephews and Doofus. At the unveiling of the new set...





...Courage goes out of his way to charm his new boss...


...even going so far as to personally stage a one-time only show for the gang. This involves appointing the Boys honorary Cosmic Cadets (on his TV show, of course)...


Launchpad insists on tagging along, while Gyro and Scrooge wait in the director's booth, although because he of his threat level, Courage gets rid of the pilot in short order...





As their adventure begins...


...it becomes readily apparent that Gyro, as he will often do throughout the series, took Scrooge's instructions to "make it as real as possible" a little too literally...



Well, you told me to make it as real as I could, so I did!

The ship blasts off...

...and Launchpad is the only one aboard who realizes that this isn't a TV show...





If I wanted to see the world, I would have joined the Navy!!

Meanwhile, the boys are having a (ahem) blast...

 But after a near-miss with an asteroid belt... 




...(courtesy of LP, but credited to Courage)...



  
When it comes to courage, I'm full of it!
  
...the ship is taken hostage by an alien vessel...



...run by Overlord Bulovan of the Plant Kronk...

 ...who is "in search of inferior lifeforms to conquer and use as fertilizer."

Their first candidate? You guessed it...









Bad acting technique, pal. Not so much body language. Let the eyes tell the story.


There! Much better!!

Sequestered to a cell...

 ...the gang comes up with an escape plan. Foregoing a disguise (as in Courage episode "The Prisoners of Floyd") and sabotaging their ship (as in "Attack of the Gerkins") and feeding them to Doofus...

...they settle on "the old sickness ploy"...


I make a lovely custard with this.

...a routine that has its drawbacks...





Thank heavens for alien cuisine...






Armed with the custard gun (...I mean, food synthesizer), they make their escape, but their second encounter with Bulovan proves enlightening for Courage...



What's the deal, Murray? You trying to make me look bad?



This is no studio! This is real!! This is crazy!!!



This face belong on lunch pails and T-shirts! I gotta get outta here!

And he does... 

...leaving Launchpad and the boys to face the Kronks...







With the Boys' faith in their TV hero officially canceled, the gang finds their way into the transporter room, where heads get confused...










But once order returns, the Kronks are sealed in the transporter room with the Nephews standing guard and Launchpad and Doofus figuring out how to pilot the ship...



Back on Earth, Scrooge and Gyro finally make contact with the Cosmos ship, only to discover that Courage is the only one aboard...


 Scrooge threatens Courage's job...
 ...but...

Forget it, McDuck! Remember! I've got a five-year contract!

Back on the Kronk vessel, Launchpad and Doofus, who has since reaffirmed his admiration for the professional hero (and genuine flyboy), figure out how to pilot the vessel home...


 ...even as the Kronks escape...

Thanks to Launchpad, though, he and the Boys arrive back at the Cosmos vessel and escape before the Kronks can slime them, too...





You've been saved by a real hero! Launchpad McQuack.

Returning to Earth, Courage of the Cosmos ends up being canceled anyway, the Boys learn that "Real heroes just do their jobs!," and Scrooge has Gyro turn the Studios into a science museum. But what of Courage's five-year contract?

 Git yer moon-rock candy!! 

Mr. McDuck, let me outta here! 
Sorry, Courage. Remember! You've got a five-year contract.

                                                                       Courage X

or

The Satire Within 

This third syndicated outing of the series is another great episode. Whereas "Send in the Clones" went for out-and-out domestic action and "Sphinx for the Memories"  majored in overseas supernatural adventure, "Where No Duck Has Gone Before" opted for a silly satirical romp. 

With the exception of one iffy bit (Scrooge smashing the console with his cane, followed by Gyro doing the same later on...it's a gag that goes nowhere and really seems out-of-character for both men), "Where No Duck" is a layered adventure with a solid moral. 

Aside: In our cynical times, these "solid morals" may seem obviously stated, but at that point in television-animation history, DT's handling of morals was considerably more subtle than how other animated fare was bludgeoning its audience with Taglines of Virtue. 

                             



The thrust of the episode, of course, is the Star Trek parody (see below). The story is well-structured and none of the gags seems cheap or forced (the Doofus-overeating gags notwithstanding...see below).

I especially enjoy Major Courage. You never quite hate the guy, even when he has made a complete idiotic coward out of himself. He provides a nice contrast to LP, especially since Launchpad, for all of his clumsiness, "gets" that this isn't a TV show. (Indeed we're well past the 3/4 mark of the ep before Major Courage realizes that the aliens are real, the alien vessel is real, and that a stunt guy isn't underneath Bulovan's green glob. This element makes him even more enjoyable.)

As we have become accustomed to seeing...or rather hearing...the dialogue is quite witty, and Launchpad and Courage get in a few good one-liners, some of which I included in the episode summary. I especially enjoy this exchange between Courage and LP...

Major Courage: You've captured...my ship. You've kidnapped...my crew. What do you WANT?

Overlord Bulovan: I am Overlord Bulovan. We come from the plant Kronk in search of inferior lifeforms to conquer and use as fertilizer.

LP: (shoving Courage forward) Well...here's the man for the job.

And a few lines later...

Bulovan: Give us the coordinates of Earth or we shall torture you and strip the data from your minds.

Courage: (shoving Launchpad forward) Well, here's the man for the job.  

All in all, "Where No Duck Has Gone Before" showed just how capable DT was of seamlessly shifting tone from one episode to the next. Of course, we haven't arrived at some of the earlier produced episodes where this was still being worked out, but as it stands now, DT has spent its first three days in syndication showcasing a varied and impressive approach to storytelling. (Refer to Chris Barat's blog as he is covering the series in production order.)

Sancho Doofus

or

Doocho Panfus 

Joe Torcivia and Chris were the first ones (to my knowledge) to point out Doofus' function in the TV series as Sancho Panza to Launchpad's Don Quixote.

In fact, I really, really like that description of both characters. If you've never read the classic book (I haven't) or seen the classic play, you owe it to yourself to read/see one or the other. No doubt, you've heard this famous musical number...


However, this other famous number from Man of La Mancha really defines LP and Doofus' relationship. Wait for the Sancho solo. You could imagine Doofus performing this song in a Duckburg Community Theatre version of Man...


Doofus is a character upon whom one could heap large amounts of scorn. He's the stereotypical bumbling fat kid with the stupid name who will never be as smart or as noticed as the Nephews. They are leaders. He is a follower. They are main characters. He almost seems like a token tool for cheap gags and the mechanism for moronic plot twists that wouldn't otherwise work.

That's not completely inaccurate. But the DT writers, while not guiltless of using such tropes, usually put a little more effort into their supporting characters than that.

Every leader (or leaders) needs a follower, especially leaders like Launchpad who are always chasing windmills...

...or in his case, crashing into them. As long as you keep the Sancho Panza image in mind, Doofus becomes a likable character. Sure, maybe the fat/eating jokes are overdone in some episodes. And when written without the Sancho image, Doofus can be annoying.

But, as long as he is that character who follows Launchpad until the end and who tells the world proudly that he's LP's number-one fan and friend, Doofus works as more than just a fat kid with a bottomless appetite.  

One thing I want to keep an eye on as the series proceeds is whether Launchpad lost anything as a character when Doofus was phased out of Seasons 2 and 3. LP was sidelined by Fenton quite often in those latter eps. And in Darkwing Duck, ironically enough, LP assumes the Sancho role.

In the later DT seasons and in DW, Launchpad seems to lose his drive as a character. He seems to stop chasing after windmills and is more than content to be a sidekick character, the baboon who slips on the bananas when the episode has run short of throwaway jokes.

Should we find this to be the case, it isn't without its merits, because turning him into the sidekick as opposed to him having a sidekick transitions him nicely over to St. Canard.

Without Doofus, though, does LP become less complex and thus less interesting?..

I'm not saying anything definitive here, but as a Duck and DT fan, it's worthy of consideration.  

This is Doofus' first appearance in the syndicated run of the series, and the writer, Len Uhley, (for the most part) strikes the right notes. Doofus meshes nicely with the story and does reflect reality. In every gang, there seems to be a weight-challenged kid. Just look around your neighborhood.

Thankfully, Uhley uses this seemingly incidental and cliched character to bolster Launchpad's presence, using Doofus as the audience's way of seeing through the stumblebum persona of the pilot and to recognize that he is a real hero, willing to chase actual windmills/aliens, not cardboard set pieces.
Doofus' greatest role, however, would not come on TV. It would come in this comic-book story...

No, not that one! This one...

DuckTales #11, "The Once and Future Warlock"

Helluva story that issue and Doofus finally had a starring role worthy of Sancho Panza. 

(Aside: The first set of panels showcases one of Doofus' final indignities as a character--having his already-humiliating first name misspelled as Dufus...by a Disney comic-book legend, no less! And overlooked by Gladstone editors who probably didn't care enough to know...)  

LP Quixote

or

Launchpad McQuixo...nah, doesn't work...

This retrospective is becoming a little more LP-heavy than I had originally planned, but I do have a few more observations to make about our favorite pilot. 

DT's break-out character was not Webbigail (although she made her mark and ruined a few dresses...


It was Launchpad McQuack (at least in the first season). Out of the newest characters, he was certainly the one for whom the writers had the most fun developing material. Of course, as previously mentioned, we know that LP later ended up on...


...and occasionally popped up in non-DT comics in the Gladstone books (usually written by William Van Horn...who never quite got a handle on LP's full persona, IMHO).  

Speaking of LP's full persona, this first daily syndicated appearance by the pilot is an interesting choice. The episode really is his show. And unlike earlier episodes in the production order that focused on LP's dullheadedness, this episode showcased LP's three-dimensionality.  

Once again, Joe and Chris describe Launchpad best when they write in their Index, "as a 'professional hero' unencumbered by his own ineptitude...He completely outdoes the phony Major Courage, not through competence so much as through persistence. He's a flippant descendant of every 'wise-guy good guy' Harrison Ford ever played..."

Joe and Chris then observe how Launchpad in this episode teaches the boys what it means to be a real hero. This is an important point, because it highlights another facet of LP's character. Yes, he is a bit dense. Yes, he is incompetent. Yes, he is capable of great feats. But above all else, he is a good role model for the boys. We will see this time and time again in the series, especially with Launchpad's leadership in the Jr. Woodchucks.

In fact, the moral of the story is actually more nuanced than what the episode would have you believe. On the surface, it's about what constitutes a real hero. But Launchpad's extreme jealousy at the Boys' admiration for a TV star is intriguing. The episode doesn't really address this...unfortunately, because it is this need for self-affirmation that creeps into many of the first-season story lines featuring LP.  

Aside: "Hero for Hire" and "Top Duck" are two of the more outstanding episodes in which the writers do address this aspect of Launchpad's character.

Like his compadre Darkwing, Launchpad has a need to be loved. Even more than Darkwing, though, Launchpad has a need to be admired by younger people. In many of the Scrooge-less episodes, Launchpad is the grown-up in charge ("Launchpad's Civil War" and "Superdoo!" spring to mind), the leader or mentor the kids follow. 

He clearly seeks to be influential among the up-and-coming generation. He wants to be followed and respected. This could explain his jealousy toward Major Courage. The guy is quite obviously a phony, while Launchpad is just himself, unencumbered by a need for fame and fortune. He just wants (say it with me, Dangerfield fans) respect. Yet the Boys fall for the phony who is bound to let them down.

It is this complexity, this need for affirmation, that makes Launchpad more than just a buffoon and more than just a Donald stand-in. Basically, LP is a good guy, a good citizen, a good worker, etc. He takes Donald's Everyman in a different direction.

Much of LP's complexity is due to Terence McGovern's well-honed acting skills. The guy has an impressive resume and is still working steadily at age 70. Like the other DT actors, McGovern saw these characters as three-dimensional people, not as cartoon voices. As a result, their humanity comes through the feathered exterior.

The Cosmos Trap

or

The Naked Satire 

I wish that I was that smart of a blogger to say that I waited over a month to write about this episode because I knew that the 46th anniversary of Star Trek: The Original Series was Sept. 8, 2012, and I wanted this very episode to appear on that very weekend.

I'm not that smart. This is pure luck. But I love that I can review one of the greatest DT episodes of the series on the weekend when its satirical source material is celebrating its birthday.

Sometimes good fortune does shine down...even on blog postings. :-)

I suppose that other sci-fi series influenced this episode, and I think most pop-culture buffs are sharp enough to pick them out. But as mentioned earlier, this is primarily a Star Trek parody. There's the title of the episode (after the first ST episode filmed, third one aired); there's the cheapness of the TV budget; Major Courage's toupee (a la Shatner); the five-year contract (i.e., five-year mission); and a host of other little tributes buried throughout the ep. (That last part of the sentence, incidentally, is a subtle tribute to the first ST episode aired on Sept. 8, 1966.)

I still consider Star Trek: The Original Series to be the best of the Trek lot. To me, everything about it is iconic, from the uniforms...


 ...to the highly stylized acting...


I should clarify that I'm not being snarky. In that above clip, there's a lot of brilliant acting "stuff" going on.

There are the catchphrases...




...including The Mission Statement...


...which had a brilliant and touching realization in the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise...


The bad episodes (mostly from the third season) are just as infamous as the good ones are famous...





...and even though they're largely bad, they're still tantalizing too watch.

(Okay, a few of them are solid cures for insomnia.) 

But the good episodes...the good episodes are practically brilliant...





The series has not only impacted pop culture in the most obvious ways...


...and in not-so-obvious ways...



...but it has also inspired generations of scientists...


Does anyone of a certain age or cultural-awareness level not pick up their smartphones these days (in spite of their obvious kinks) without thinking about the TOS communicator?



...but there was also the social impact it had on the world. This was 1966, people! Minorities weren't treated as minorities aboard the Enterprise. Simply by being on that cheap, under-budgeted bridge, they showed glass ceilings of all cracks and opaqueness could be broken...





   

Many TV series have come and gone without a passing remembrance, but TOS will always live on. Like the Disney Ducks (and the TOS' erstwhile stars), TOS has a way of reinventing itself as time evolves.   
  
Next up: The Robots Are Coming!!! It's Thursday in the first syndicated week of DuckTales, and Duckburg is about to be overrun with a power-thirsty, world-conquering 'bot, followed immediately by Beagle-bots. But first, "Armstrong"...as with this episode's spaceship, Gyro goes a little too far with Armstrong the Robot. By week's end, he'll be 0-2 in the Robot department...

Until then, here's the Slovak version for your viewing pleasure...


3 comments:

  1. Pete,

    "As we have become accustomed to seeing...or rather hearing...the dialogue is quite witty, and Launchpad and Courage get in a few good one-liners"

    In retrospect, Len Uhley truly was one of the best WDTVA writers, precisely because of his clever sense of humor. It's to his credit that the humor translated well to all sorts of series. For corn's sake, he did a good episode of BONKERS! (Miranda Wright era.)

    "All in all, "Where No Duck Has Gone Before" showed just how capable DT was of seamlessly shifting tone from one episode to the next. Of course, we haven't arrived at some of the earlier produced episodes where this was still being worked out, but as it stands now, DT has spent its first three days in syndication showcasing a varied and impressive approach to storytelling."

    The first week of eps was particularly strong. I don't doubt that some thought was given to leading off the syndicated package with high-quality eps. A lot of the earlier, "softer" eps were broadcast later.

    "One thing I want to keep an eye on as the series proceeds is whether Launchpad lost anything as a character when Doofus was phased out of Seasons 2 and 3."

    If the DT crew had it all to do over again, I think they'd reconsider making Bubba a regular and instead do more Launchpad-focused episodes.

    "Helluva story that issue and Doofus finally had a starring role worthy of Sancho Panza.
    (Aside: The first set of panels showcases one of Doofus' final indignities as a character--having his already-humiliating first name misspelled as Dufus...by a Disney comic-book legend, no less! And overlooked by Gladstone editors who probably didn't care enough to know...)"

    Actually, I'm just as surprised that Lockman forgot that Doofus was NOT an adult. He did use Doofus a number of times in Studio scripts, after all.

    And, yep, Doofus' Harry Potter turn was one of the numerous high points of "The Gold Odyssey."

    "Like his compadre Darkwing, Launchpad has a need to be loved. Even more than Darkwing, though, Launchpad has a need to be admired by younger people. In many of the Scrooge-less episodes, Launchpad is the grown-up in charge ("Launchpad's Civil War" and "Superdoo!" spring to mind), the leader or mentor the kids follow.
    He clearly seeks to be influential among the up-and-coming generation. He wants to be followed and respected."

    The respect theme also ties in to "Hero for Hire" (LP wanting to prove himself by going into business as a hero) and "Top Duck" (LP wanting to impress his family and not embarrass himself). The very best LP-focused episodes seem to grasp the truth of what you're arguing here.

    Chris

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    Replies
    1. Hey Chris!

      Interesting note on Uhley. It's been eons since I've viewed a BONKERS ep. I always had a soft spot for the Bobcat, even if the series suffered mightily in comparison to its predecessors. DTVA never really seemed to know what it wanted the character to be. And nowadays, he's rarely remembered.

      I have no doubt that the producers gave a lot of thought to the syndication order (although I'm puzzled by their decision to air "Armstrong" and "Robot Robbers" back-to-back). Following your (exceptionally done) retrospective, I 've realized just how much exploration and discovery was being performed in their earlier productions.

      As a stage actor, I can tell you the discovery process during rehearsals for a character is filled with missteps and mistaken judgments along the way. When you're in television, because of the schedule, this is the case also, it's just exposed for all to see because of deadlines and budget. Although the earlier eps are interesting to view from a development perspective, it was wise to spread them out within the syndication order.

      The "Lockman Dufus" story has always baffled me. It was one of the oddities that became more frequent as the Gladstone Series II run progressed.

      In looking at DT again, I've gained new respect for the first-season Launchpad. Ironically, this may translate into my respect diminishing for the later-ep and Darkwing LPs.

      Delete
  2. Pete:

    Every time I read one of these, I get the distinct impression that you’re trying to outdo the ultimate DT Index that Chris B. and I did all those years ago – and that you’re succeeding! Wonderful job, again!

    Unlike some of the early (in production order) eps that Chris is reviewing at his blog (“Money Vanishes” and “Pearl of Wisdom” excepted), the early “air-date order” eps that you’ve been reviewing are the ones I like best – and can watch over and over. This is the best one of them so far! An absolute GEM, and small wonder DTVA chose to showcase it (and Launchpad) early on.

    I like the marginally more heroic LP, than the dumber, shallower version that would follow. Though I certainly had fun writing him the latter way in “The Last Auction Hero” (Uncle Scrooge # 397).

    SpongeBob has many of the elements that folks like us LIKE in our animation. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it, as you know from my Blog. SpongeBob's been around since 1999 – and still going strong! Everyone should give it a try. Herman Cain, on the other hand, has proved too juvenile for my tastes, and I stopped watching him before the end of his first season!

    Never liked that voice for Gyro. He should sound more like Harvey Korman as The Great Gazoo!

    Courage was a magnificent presaging of the self-parody that William Shatner would become in real life!

    “When it comes to courage, I’m full of it!” -- Perhaps the best line of the entire series!

    Loved the designs of the aliens and especially the ships – and the wild careening and bouncing off planets, etc. at the end.

    Kudos to Two Writers: Len Uhley and Pete Fernbaugh!

    Joe.

    ReplyDelete