Sunday, April 13, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 77, "My Mother the Psychic"

Though it was first broadcast at the end of the first full week of new second-season DuckTales episodes, "My Mother the Psychic" went into production immediately after the adventure-themed "The Land of Trala La."  In other words, it was the first ep of the Bubba-Fenton era that could truly be termed "normal," as opposed to a link in a multi-part epic chain or a tale that took the Ducks to an exotic locale.  Its sitcommy "vibe," complete with gimmick-driven plot and snappy, back-and-forth dialogue, foreshadows the approaches that will be taken in a large number of Fenton/Gizmoduck episodes to come, which isn't necessarily a bad thing -- though, over time, familiarity with the drill will breed, if not contempt, then certainly a casual, knowing nod from the audience.  DT's insistence on showcasing Fenton in such vehicles necessitated the further development of the ambitious accountant's familial and interpersonal relationships.  Hence, this episode's much-needed -- and, on the whole, remarkably successful -- attempt to habilitate Mrs. Crackshell.  Note that I said "habilitate," not "RE-habilitate."  Given the rebarbative characterization of Fenton's TV-addicted maternal ancestor throughout "Super DuckTales," she was starting pretty much from "ground zero" here insofar as audience affection was concerned.  It would take a real "shock to the system" to get Ma Crackshell off the dime and into a state of two-, if not yet three-, dimensionality... and that's exactly what this episode delivers.

I didn't know the Crackshells and the Horsecollars were related.

The last time we saw Fenton and his Ma together, of course, Fenton was reading her the riot act and getting her off her couch for the first time in... well, it's easy to believe that it's been quite a while.  Greg seems to be of the opinion that Fenton's "blow[ing] off of his mom for being a slacker" makes his subsequent lamentations over the duo's "debonding" here a bit hypocritical.  This seems rather harsh in light of the facts that (1) Fenton's moment of extreme asperity passes very quickly, (2) the harsh words were well and truly deserved, and (3) Mrs. Crackshell doesn't seem to hold any grudge as a consequence, happily accompanying Fenton and Gandra Dee to the drive-in as the serial fades out.  Furthermore, in every single "homecoming scene" in which the two had previously appeared, Fenton had shown his mother more basic respect than she frankly merited.  So, was Fenton starting "Psychic" burdened by an emotional debit?  Not hardly.

This was Alan Burnett's first writing job for DuckTales, and the future stalwart of innumerable DC Comics-related series (not to mention the scripter of DuckTales: The Movie) wastes little time in playing his strong suit, bouncing amusing three-cornered palaver between Fenton, the newly-psychic "M'Ma," and the first-intrigued, then-avaricious Scrooge to get the episode going.  Any concern we might be feeling for Mrs. Crackshell's well-being (that electrical shock, after all, was sold exceptionally well, both by the animators and by Kathleen Freeman's acting) whizzes right down the abbatoir thanks to the quick 180 Mrs. C. exhibits between comparing the Crackshells' relationship to that of "the world's most beloved automobile dealer and his faithful dog" (I guess that all Ducks really DO live in the Burbank area, after all) and dissing her only son (unless there's a fanfic or something out there suggesting something to the contrary) as a "leech."
 
There follow several equally funny and, truth be told, somewhat depressing conversations as Fenton tries manfully -- and vainly -- to convince his mother to abandon the "oppressive opulence" of McDuck Mansion and return to live with him.  If it's true that some people have to hit bottom before they can commence a complete rehabilitation, then these scenes mark the point at which Mrs. C. strikes her absolute nadir.  Some of the dialogue here is delivered in extreme long shots, as if the cameraman doesn't have the heart to zoom in on the breaking of the mother-son bond any more than is necessary.

Fenton's behavior during these talks isn't "vain" or "full of himself" (as Greg seems to intimate) so much as it's overwroughtWe'll soon see that Fenton is equally capable of overreacting to bumps in the road of his romantic life.  It's merely an additional facet of his hyperactive, go-getting, goal-oriented nature, the negative side of the insane persistence that keeps him popping up after being "disposed of."  The use of such buzzwords as "debonding" gives Fenton's reactions a semi-humorous flavor that they don't really merit.  When the "split" finally comes, it is, if anything, underplayed.

Unbeknownst to the clueless "M'Ma," Flintheart Glomgold and the Beagle Boys have doped out the secret of Scrooge's recent financial success, and Flinty (in his last appearance until a string of roles in the series' truncated final season) abducts her for his own purposes -- which, happily, explicitly amount to amassing enough money to overtake Scrooge as the world's richest Duck.  Considering the number of previous Glomgold appearances in which this very relevant point was not stressed or even mentioned, color me impressed with Burnett's character-related spadework.

Glomgold's latest plan is salted with several more dashes of high-tech than we typically associate with  the character.  The Ultra-Zoom-Spycam is but the least of these.  You really have to be impressed by all the trouble and expense that Flinty has gone to to create a device with the sole purpose of trapping Gizmoduck and slingshotting him "to the Moon."  A device, moreover, that, if all goes "well" from Glomgold's perspective, will only need to be employed ONCE (unless Flinty is expecting Scrooge to hire Iron Man as the next iteration of his bin-guarding system).  Glomgold's use of a hidden exit similar to that used by the 1960s TV Batman to escape a police dragnet is perhaps understandable on general principles, but a laser gun installed in his limo?  Glomgold's research division -- the same one that will provide him with the Metal Mites later on -- rendered the boss well and truly "locked and loaded" for this caper.  It somehow seems fitting that, in the office scenes in which Glomgold is browbeating Mrs. C. into making more and more financial predictions for him, we see remnants in the background of some of the computing equipment that Flinty was using to keep track of Scrooge's fortune in "Wrongway in Ronguay."

Ma's "lightbulb moment" and tearful, yo-yo-ing turnaround and Ma and Gizmoduck's "coded mutual farewell" are, of course, the emotional high points here, but this wouldn't be a "gimmick-sitcom-influenced" episode unless Burnett added some humor to the mix.  Actually, Hamilton Camp appears to be as "guilty" as Burnett in that regard.  The yo-yo gag, after all, is strictly script-driven, while Camp hams up Gizmoduck's "My... mother" just enough to take a good deal of the edge off of the sentiment.  This isn't a complaint -- Gizmoduck, after all, is well known for verbally overegging the pudding on numerous occasions -- so much as it is an observation.  There's no better way of contrasting the storytelling styles of DuckTales season one and DuckTales season two than to weigh this Fenton/Ma exchange against Scrooge's aborted "goodbye" to Mrs. Beakley in "Too Much of a Gold Thing."

The conclusion of the episode, while emotionally satisfying, can be termed aesthetically displeasing.  Greg is right -- the TV-tower-toppling scene is clumsily staged, and matters aren't helped by the fact that Glomgold's limo appears to be driving across a field, rather than down the highway, when the tower falls on it.  In "sitches" like this, I would probably have opted for the road more traveled.  The likelihood of all hands inside the limo, Mrs. Crackshell included, surviving the crash are roughly 100 times greater than that of Flinty surviving the fall of the light pole in "Ducks on the Lam," but survive they nonetheless do.  Mrs. C. gets shocked back to normal in the most expedient and off-handed way possible.  Wang Films contributes an embarrassing goof when it uses an interior background for an exterior shot (see below).  Worst of all, at least to those of us who still cling to the notion of Scrooge having SOME ethical line that he will not (or at least has learned not to) cross, the bawling Scrooge laments that the loss of his psychic advisor means that he'll have to go back to "earning" his money.  Who was it who said, "Making money at the expense of others is no bargain"?  At least we close with a nice "bonding moment" that demonstrates that Mrs. C. has learned something about being a good (or at least a better) mother.

For an episode based on a one-off gimmick, "My Mother the Psychic" holds up quite well.  I wasn't overwhelmed by it upon initial release but have come to appreciate its development of the Fenton/"M'Ma" bond and the early indication that Alan Burnett will be a welcome addition to the show's (increasingly skeletal) writing crew.  Would it have made more of an emotional impact had things been played a bit straighter?  Sure.  But the rules of the DuckTales storytelling game have clearly changed.

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Bumper #12: "Dino-Bath"

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"DuckBlurbs"
  
(GeoX) The episode opens with Fenton's mother (you'd think she'd get a first name if she's going to feature heavily) is watching All My Ducklings: "So what's the verdict, doctor?" "I'm afraid the tests are conclusive, Erica: you have only three hours to live. With proper care, maybe four." I know it's not exactly hard to make fun of soap operas, but that's still pretty awesome.

"Please, call me Mrs. Crackshell..."

I suspect that this episode may have been recorded at around the same time as "Allowance Day" and perhaps even "The Duck Who Knew Too Much."  Alan Oppenheimer and Susan Blu are both featured in those episodes and also appear here, but their roles in "Psychic" are over and done with after the opening soap-opera scene.  Perhaps they were waiting to work on the other eps and were pressed into service for this minor work simply because they happened to be on hand.

That's definitely the Duchess of Swansylvania, slumming yet again.   The really shocking thing is that the doctor looks exactly like Benzino Gasolini, complete with cheesy little mustache and a dye job that has turned his hair and eyebrows from black to brown!  Evidently, all those bills from all those hotels that he's "a-stayed inside" finally caught up with him and forced him into a change of career.

(GeoX) Glomgold [lives] in a Sinister Castle, of course--have we ever actually seen his house before? This is certainly the first time I noted it...

We first saw the exterior of Maison Glomgold during Act One of "Master of the Djinni," but that scene took place during the daytime.  The nocturnal nature of the shot seen below probably alerted your critical faculties to the place's true essence.   


(GeoX) I must say, as far as Glomgold goes on this show, mostly I just sorta roll my eyes, whatever, he's a cartoon villain, yadda yadda--but with the sort of callous cruelty he displays her to Mrs. Crackshell, for the first time he struck me as a real asshole. Hey, if you're going to modify the original Barks character beyond all recognition, you might as well do a thorough job of it.

He's actually behaved much worse than this in DuckTales before now.  If imperiling an entire airship full of passengers just to win a bet with Scrooge doesn't strike you as "callously cruel," then you shouldn't even have noticed his verbal battering of Mrs. Crackshell.  Then, too, Glomgold wasn't exactly a sweetheart the last time Carl Barks used him in a story. 

(GeoX) "By the time they realize no one's home, we'll be on a boat to Bombay!" So Glomgold's great plan to not have to let Mrs. Crackshell go is to become a permanent fugitive? Hokay.

Think of it as a temporary relocation.  I don't doubt that Glomgold, with his predilection for skirting legal niceties, has spider holes hidden all over the world. 

(Greg)  Then we have a knock on the door as Fenton blows off Ma; and it opens to reveal Scrooge giving Fenton a load a bills to [take care] of. Fenton complains which is kind of pointless since Ma clearly has no interest [in] going out. Isn't it funny that Fenton doesn't care about his job now after he cared about it so much in Land Of Tra-la-la?

The circumstances in "The Land of Trala La" were a bit more extreme, in that Fenton was stuck in an isolated location where there really was no need for his services.  On his own turf -- and determined to "bond" with "M'Ma" -- Fenton has a better grasp of the big picture. 

(Greg) Anyhow; Ma continues to bang the television and Fenton takes it as proof she wants to spend time with him.

Appliance-banging appears to run in the Crackshell family; Fenton will do much the same thing to Scrooge's computer (or, technically, his computer monitor) during "Scrooge's Last Adventure."  In that respect, the Crackshells aren't all that different from your average technophobic citizen.

(Greg) So Scrooge offers [Mrs. Crackshell] a widescreen television (which was invented at around the same time as this show actually)...

You are correct, sir.  The Philips electronics company introduced widescreens in Europe at the tail end of the 1980s.

(Greg) So we head to Flint's house AFTER HAPPY HOUR (after dark) and into the war room as Flintheart is talking to the Beagle Boys. Wait; how? The last time we saw the Beagle Boys; they were in jail.

Just a minor inconvenience insofar as the B-Boys are concerned!

(Greg) The television suddenly fizzes and we see Big Time dressed up as a greasy salesman. I know that the numbers sign on them gives it away that it's a Beagle Boy and that it's a motif of this show; but they can be somewhat creative by covering it with construction paper or fabric or something along those lines. And they don't bother with the masks either. Anyhow; the guise is that Big Time asks if Ma is having problems with children as Burger pulls Bouncer [sic; it's Baggy] by the ear while dressed as a stereotypical mother and sailor dogsperson, all in that order. HAHA! That visual of Burger pulling [Baggy] by the ear is hilarious. I don't understand why GeoX hates Burger so much; probably has no sense of humor. And then Burger goes after [Baggy] as he runs away shooting a gun several times. A scene Toon Disney completely kept. Seriously; they did.

Yeah, how much sense does it make for scenes involving the shooting of guns into the air (e.g., in "Liquid Assets" and in the poetry recital scene in "The Bride Wore Stripes") to be removed, but a scene in which the disguised Burger shoots DIRECTLY AT the fleeing Baggy was permitted to stand?  It makes no sense to argue that no target was visible in the shot; the same thing was true in the earlier instances.

(Greg) So we return to Flint's office as Flint continues where he left off and gives the papers to Ma; but then problems arise as there are police sirens and here comes about five police cars stopping at the castle. Out comes Scrooge and the Police Chief (I believe from various episodes) as they run to the house and the police chief is not amused to be doing this. Scrooge blows him off because he bets his Money Bin on it.

The Chief last appeared in this guise in "The Billionaire Beagle Boys Club."  After the late unpleasantness involving the perversion of Duckburgian justice -- or what passes for same -- I'm frankly surprised that Scrooge stood for his remaining in office.

(Greg) [Mrs. Crackshell] calls [the destruction of the Duckburg TV tower] the worst thing since the television writers strike. HAHA! I know that this joke will go over the heads of every kid born after 1987; but there was a writers strike sometime before this episode was produced. It's little stuff like this that make old DTVA worth watching; even if the new kids don't get the joke.

Here's a 2001 article reminiscing about that 1988 work stoppage.

Next: Episode 78, "Allowance Day." 

2 comments:

Killer Moth said...

After the 2008 Writers Strike, I think modern audiences would find such a joke rather amusing (or maybe not) by now.

And, yes, Toon Disney censors can be funny people, at least with Burger shooting at Baggy. (I'm glad they kept that in, for whatever reason, as it always makes me laugh without fail.) I'm guessing the censor thought the scene was funny, too, and figured "leave it in." (Or after getting flak for the other gunshot scenes being cut, it was time for an exception?) Because I can't think of any other explanation.

And, I'm totally with Greg, as Burger can be really funny, as shown here.

"Glomgold's latest plan is salted with several more dashes of high-tech than we typically associate with the character. The Ultra-Zoom-Spycam is but the least of these. You really have to be impressed by all the trouble and expense that Flinty has gone to to create a device with the sole purpose of trapping Gizmoduck and slingshotting him "to the Moon." A device, moreover, that, if all goes "well" from Glomgold's perspective, will only need to be employed ONCE (unless Flinty is expecting Scrooge to hire Iron Man as the next iteration of his bin-guarding system). Glomgold's use of a hidden exit similar to that used by the 1960s TV Batman to escape a police dragnet is perhaps understandable on general principles, but a laser gun installed in his limo? Glomgold's research division -- the same one that will provide him with the "Metal Mites" later on -- rendered the boss well and truly "locked and loaded" for this caper. It somehow seems fitting that, in the office scenes in which Glomgold is browbeating Mrs. C. into making more and more financial predictions for him, we see remnants in the background of some of the computing equipment that Flinty was using to keep track of Scrooge's fortune in "Wrongway in Ronguay."

One observation I've had with the DT Glomgold (you guys can fill me in with the Barks version), he is shown to be a little less reluctant to spend the money if it will achieve his objectives, like buying a totally damaged candy factory just for the outline of a model ship back in Wrongway, and, of course, all the tech goodies he had in this episode (plus the aforementioned Metal Mites and outright planned to buy the Golden Goose when Burger botched things up). Not to mention, all the bets he and Scrooge have done over the course of the series -- that's not chump change.

While his cheapness is clearly there -- see his issues about a remote control in this one episode and his justified freak-out about his money in "Til Nephews..." -- which is a given for a foil of Scrooge, yet this slight lack of reluctance is a nicely understated contrast to Scrooge's more prominent cheapness. (Not to say Scrooge wouldn't spend money on things if need be, too. Flintheart is just slightly less pissy about that.) Is that trait due to John Rockerduck and his total omission from the animated series, and the DT producers simply combined traits, here and there? Since I'm reading about Rockerduck and his more willing ness to spend money, and the thought popped in my head. Again, I know very little of Barks' Glomgold and Rockerduck, so feel free to enlighten me or correct me otherwise.

Anyway, excellent retrospective, and Alan Burnett rarely disappoints (and you, too, Chris). It is one of my favorite Fenton episodes, even if the pathos potential was a little weak, here and there, and the parts with the antenna tower was a logical nightmare, but ignoring those elements, it was most enjoyable.

And, lastly, I'll close with saying, as I re-viewed this episode recently, that the animators clearly enjoyed drawing the Duchess in this one, and that's good for me. Hehe.

Pan MiluĊ› said...

So Glomgold is an evil buisnesman who kidnaps people and uses all his technical reserch to destroy a superhero that's in his way? His o Lex Luthor from the 90's "Superman : The Animated Series" in this episode.

To be honest I never liked this episode that much. I actualy think it would be much more interesting if Glomgold would try to somehow "wow" Mrs. Crackshell by ofering her a biger TV to be on his side etc. rather then just simpy kidnaping her.