Sunday, June 1, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 81, "Yuppy [sic] Ducks"

And so, we finally touch bottom.  This is IT, my choice for THE single worst episode of DuckTales, webs down.  Before I dig into the compost pile to discern why, let me explain why a couple of the more obvious challengers for that dubious honor don't measure down to it:

"Once Upon a Dime" -- Logic may have been lacking in numerous spots, and the moral may have been utterly predictable, but, as I demonstrated in my dissection of the misbegotten Scrooge biography, some effort was made to consult "primary sources," including some surprisingly obscure ones.  That can't be entirely overlooked.  The problem was that Ken Koonce, David Weimers, and the ethereal Richard Esckilsen had no clear idea what to do with the raw materials after they got their hands on them.


"New Gizmo-Kids on the Block" -- We haven't gotten there yet, and we'll have a whole lot of fun with the rickety plot (to match Garbageduck!  What a coincidence!) when we do, but you can't honestly say that the characters aren't in character in this episode.  Well, maybe the Gizmosuited HD&L are a bit of a stretch on that score, but their bungling is more or less consistent with the less competent characterization with which they were stuck in a number of second-season episodes.  Mrs. Crackshell, despite the self-centered nature of her attempts to win the widescreen TV by proving to Fenton what a great mother she is, gives one of her more enjoyable performances.  The ep is lame, to be sure, but not REALLY offensive in any major way.

"Bubba's Big Brainstorm" -- Probably the closest contender, and God knows it has been panned mercilessly by a number of people whose opinions I respect.  You'll be reading my own comments about the ep soon enough.  But I can't help but think that the lion's share of the venom that has been sprayed at "Brainstorm" has to do with a philosophical disagreement with the ep's (admittedly highly questionable) "anti-intellectual bias."  In a logical sense, if you are willing to accept the underlying premise (which, in essence, is pretty much the same as that of the dead-serious novel FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON), the story does hang together, at least until the somewhat chaotic final act.  This was also one of the very few second-season episodes that could be fairly classified as an "adventure," albeit one with extreme comedic aspects.  I therefore have a bit of a soft spot for it as a harkening back of sorts to the more diverse storytelling of the first season.  The message is a horrendous one, but I can't classify this ep as a complete disaster.

In contrast to this terrible triad, "Yuppy Ducks" is... well, it's just wall-to-wall stupid.  Bad characterizations, improbable scenarios, animation errors, obvious padding, logic conspicuous by its absence -- what else is there?  If I were handling these RETROSPECTIVES in the same manner that some of the analysts of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have handled episodes they hated, I'd be popping off right about now with phrases like "This is the first DuckTales episode that made me cringe!" or "I felt that Koonce and Weimers were actively insulting my intelligence with this episode!"  But we don't usually roll that way around these parts.  We generally wield a stiletto, rather than a billy club.  (Judging by the disquietingly large number of hits that my review of the infamous Boom! DUCKTALES #3 has received in the ensuing years, I could probably wield a pretty mean club if I chose to.)  It's easy to eschew a harsher approach when the "turkey" that one is carving up is so logically "fork-tender" that a cataloging of its vices simply requires one to state the obvious.

Curiously, if you search for DuckTales references on the Internet, one of the first that you're likely to come across is drawn from this episode.  In keeping with the source material, the reference is not a pleasant one, or at least some of those who ferreted it out would like you to think as much.  At the Duckburg free clinic, Dr. Von Swine's consultation room (which, like the room of the unnamed female doctor in "The Land of Trala La," features gear covering the entire spectrum of medical knowledge, though, in this case, such universality seems to make more sense) features a "disturbing" message in a fairly prominent location:

Just a coincidence?  A throwaway gag that some animator decided to toss in to have some fun at the viewers' expense, like the eye-chart message in "Trala La" and the "tuna-can flash" in "Frozen Assets"?  That's what they WANT you to think!  MUAHAHAHAHAH!!!

Actually, if we could trace the existence of this episode back to the Illuminati, who supposedly control everything and everyone on Earth, then all those conspiracy mavens would have an excuse to rest easy.  Any entity having such a complete misunderstanding of basic economics, as is displayed in the infamous third act of "Yuppy Ducks," can't possibly possess the logical faculties to control any process more advanced than its own digestive elimination procedures.

But we'll get to that soon enough.  Let us first pause and wince in silence at the complete and utter trainwreck that is this ep's treatment of HD&L.  The episode actually starts off with a reasonable premise: What if Scrooge's grandnephews had to take over his financial empire while they were still at a young age?  Since Carl Barks himself suggested (in "Some Heir Over the Rainbow" [WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #155, August 1953]) that HD&L were fated to be named Scrooge's sole heirs, this is a perfectly legitimate question.

HD&L's original idea of a malt shop that sells milkshakes in a myriad of flavors -- one that the real world has subsequently copied several times over -- is a first-rate one.  Indeed, in the opening scene, the boys' enthusiasm is favorably contrasted with the grumpiness of the proprietor who has stolidly stuck to "the same old flavors" for three decades.  Had Scrooge simply taken HD&L's advice and financed a chain of malt shops himself, allowing the boys to serve as "creative consultants" or some such, then I can imagine a number of amusing situations arising.  Perhaps not enough to sustain a half-hour episode, but still.  One does have to smile at Scrooge interpreting the boys' desire to run a franchise food outfit as a "yuppie" pastime.  Surely he would know (especially in the late 80's!) that professions and activities commonly thought of as "yuppie" tended to be... well, somewhat cleaner (at least in a physical sense) than mixing together milk, ice cream, and soda.

Wait, wha...?  Is that a Phooey Duck I see?!  How could they have made such an obvious... oh, that's Bubba.  Right.  In this episode, it's hard to tell.  Figuratively throwing their hands up in the air regarding Bubba's role in the Ducks' world, Koonce and Weimers basically cast him as a "fourth Nephew" here.  He doesn't do anything even tangentially Bubba-like, unless you count spouting such verbiage as "Yes, MAN!" and "Rock and ROLL!" every once in a while as traits directly traceable to him.  The problem with such an approach, of course, is that his role seems superfluous and unnecessary.  So much so, in fact, that several characters later in the episode will explicitly refer to there being three "yuppified" Nephews, treating Bubba as if he doesn't exist.  By this time, I have a sneaking suspicion that K&W (among others) actually wished that he didn't.  Bubba would get a couple of meatier roles after this, but the painting was definitely on the cave wall after this insofar as hopes of substantial character development went.

The boys get their chance to "show what great business Ducks [they] can be" after Scrooge is incapacitated with "loot lice."  The dispenser of the diagnosis, Dr. Von Swine, would himself seem to be a superfluous character, since he is basically performing the same shtick that Ludwig Von Drake would normally provide, albeit in a cruder manner.  His immediate questioning of Scrooge's sanity does, as Greg notes, get the character off on the wrong foot.  At least Von Drake had the tact to give Launchpad the "Om" assignment in "The Golden Fleecing" before saying that LP would have to be put in a "cuckoo clock" if the treatment failed.  Since Corey Burton was a member of the voice cast here, I can't help but wonder if Von Drake was originally cast in the Von Swine role, only for a change to be made somewhere along the line.  Perhaps Von Drake had an advocate in the creative crew who objected to LVD being painted in such a negative light?  In any event, next to the return of Dijon during the Disney Afternoon era, the return of Dr. Von Swine in "Attack of the Fifty-Foot Webby" has to be regarded as one of the biggest character-related surprises of the entire series.  Aside from the always-amusing Howard Morris Teutonic voice, the wisecracking whitecoat appears to have very little going for him at this stage.

The presence of Burger Beagle in "bubble-boy" Scrooge's hospital room, plus the subsequent appearance and cackling retreat of Ma Beagle, Big Time, and Baggy, suggests an impending raid on the Money Bin.  Since no one appears to have heard of Gizmoduck or normal, garden-variety security personnel in this episode, that's what I would do if I were a Beagle Boy.  Amazingly, the Beagles won't try to attack the Bin until Act Two, after they have come back to pick up the recovered Burger -- and, conveniently enough, just in time for HD&L to be there to greet them with some of Scrooge's security "toys."  This is a clear indication that K&W intended the Beagle material herein to be little more than filler, meant to stretch the ep out to 22 minutes. 

The Nephews' good-luck business streak continues thanks to their over-the-phone investment advice (which the recipients, needless to say, don't recognize as coming from children whose voices are obviously different from Scrooge's), and then the McDuck Enterprises execs make the fateful decision to, in essence, put the boys in charge... though, it should be noted, NOT as the individuals who actually execute the orders.  Those actions are presumably being performed by adults.  Keep that in mind for later.

Now, could this scenario have been made to work (assuming that the McDuck execs really were stupid enough to entrust such responsibility to a group of ten-year-olds)?  Well, actually, yes.  Following the success of the milkshake and baseball-card enterprises, the boys could have naively suggested other business ventures -- perhaps not as silly as the "HDL 5000" or the AM-FM earrings, but along those somewhat childish lines.  (I can, for example, see the boys attempting to earn some "too cool for school" points by suggesting that McDuck Educational TV run cartoons, under the assumption that kids would naturally go for the idea.)  Those efforts could have led to a net loss, which the Nephews, knowing full well that Scrooge knows the amount of money in his Money Bin right down to the last penny, could then have tried desperately to make up, in order to show their uncle that they could, too, be responsible with his fortune.  This plot would have had the approximate nutritional value of, say, that of the live-action Richie Rich flick (in which Richie had to temporarily run the Rich empire while his parents were missing), but it could easily have been executed without rendering the boys "insufferable and dictatorial" (GeoX).  By deciding to turn what could have been a slight case of overconfidence into a full-blown case of smartassery, K&W guided this episode straight over the proverbial "shark" with nary a hitch in their increasingly erratic giddy-up.

I knew that this episode was definitely on the wrong track when HD&L went to wardrobe and returned with those color-coordinated suits.  I'd seen something like this once before, with the grown-up HD&L in "Duck to the Future."  Given the characterization that the future Nephews had been stuck with in that ep, the precedent was NOT a promising one.  At least the existence of those future Nephews was basically wiped out when Scrooge regained his Old #1 Dime and he and Magica returned to the present.  THIS business was being transacted in "real time."  The best way to gauge the impact of the "yuppified" HD&L's version of the "Send in the solicitors!" scene from "Don't Give Up the Ship" (which had itself already been reprieved once, in "Liquid Assets") is this: When I saw the panel in "The Duck Knight Returns" (DARKWING DUCK #4) with the suited Nephews at Quackwerks, I literally winced. 

The boys' handful of business bungles, of course, result in the complete emptying of the Money Bin.  No.  Just... NO.  As I said before, the boys could have been just as believably panicky had they only lost a relatively small amount of money.  Their subsequent attempts to refill the Bin again are no doubt meant to be cute, but they pull HD&L further out of character by suggesting that they can't, uh, well, you know, COUNT.  These scenes also have the scent of filler-fodder, as the same point could have been made by showing just one or two examples of coin-collecting.  At least K&W could have evinced some elementary sense of continuity here by showing the Nephews going on a "money hunt" in the Mansion, a la "Bubba Trubba."  By this time, though, it is abundantly clear that the writers are mailing this one in.  Using fourth-class postage, no less.

Finally deciding to blow off the Junior Woodchuck tradition of truth-telling -- that *plink*ing noise you hear is either the tears of numerous Barks fans falling to Earth or a whole honkin' LOT of medals falling off of the boys' Woodchuck dress uniforms -- HD&L (along with Bubba, but he hardly counts at this point) go "full Quack Pack" on us and resort to all manner of means to keep the recovered Scrooge out of his drained depository.  For their contrived pains, they are privileged to watch their shocked greatuncle suffer what appears in all seriousness to be either a stroke or a heart attack.  Not even the more querulous Scrooge of "The Money Vanishes" went down for the count as drastically as this.  The juxtaposition of HD&L dissing the 'Chucks and Scrooge being stricken is one of the more painful sequences of the entire series.  The sad part is, I think K&W intended these bits to be funny.

And then, Scrooge got better!  At least for a moment.  After the Beagles' second attempt to raid the Money Bin results in Ma Beagle doing a Scrooge-esque face-plant into the floor, we see that Ma, like Burger, has been placed in the same hospital room as Scrooge... and that Scrooge is awake and listening to the Beagles (presumably) talk about what just happened to her.  Or maybe this is the "second Scrooge" who appeared on the other side of the Money Bin during the penultimate scene in "Money to Burn." Needless to say, this completely undercuts the later scene in which Scrooge (still in his normal clothing) recovers and the Nephews reassure him that everything is OK.

Before we get to the "Second [or is it First?] Un-Coma-ing" of Scrooge, we get to watch the episode descend from abysmal to historically dreadful.  Start with the mere fact that HD&L and Bubba decide to run away from home.  Scrooge is in a coma and is presumably staring poverty in the face once he recovers, and the Nephews... just plain split.  This is their nadir, not just for DuckTales, but arguably for their entire career in all media, including those that have not yet been invented.  K&W, of course, completely miss the point that the real HD&L would NEVER do this by setting up the scene in a manner that clearly invites us to feel SORRY for the boys.

Never fear, though: thanks to the intercession of the "conveniently placed police officer" (thanks, Greg), HD&L realize that, oh frabjous day!, all of the deals that "they" made are invalidated by the fact that they are 10 years old.  As noted above, even if this made any sense whatsoever, it is irrevelant in the current context, since the Nephews merely made suggestions, while the adult executives carried them out.  But, as Joe Torcivia and I made clear in our DUCKTALES INDEX, the notion that Scrooge's money could then be recovered so easily is economically insane on the face of it:

The resulting lawsuits alone would tie up Scrooge's fortune well past the end of his natural life...Legal complications aside, consider the devastating effects that the sudden removal of such a huge amount of money from circulation would have on the economy.  Scrooge's fortune was accumulated over a long period of time, not instantaneously transferred from everyone else's pockets to his own.  In the real world, when a single sector of the economy suddenly begins to draw more than its customary share of wealth away from the rest, severe dislocations result.  Now, magnify these dislocations by [the amount of] Scrooge's near-mythical fortune... Heaven help the many businesses, contractors, etc. who would be driven to bankruptcy by such an action, not to mention the millions of people who would find themselves unemployed.

Barks' famous story "A Financial Fable" (WDC&S #126, March 1951), in which Scrooge's money is scattered far and wide by a tornado (those were the days before the Money Bin had been invented), is presented as and generally interpreted as... well, a fable, rather than a narrative full of verisimilitude, but EVEN IT makes more basic sense than K&W's cockamamie confection.  Having lost his fortune, the Scrooge of "Fable" simply makes like Candide, tends his garden, and waits for human nature to take its course.  Eventually, with everyone having ceased working and the wheels of the economy having ground to a halt, Scrooge is the only person around with the necessities of life on hand, and he gets his money back by charging exorbitant prices for everything.  "Fable" is similar to "Yuppy Ducks" in that Scrooge's loss of his fortune directly affects the rest of the world -- as opposed to "Only a Poor Old Man," "A Christmas for Shacktown," "Time is Money," "Super DuckTales," and even DuckTales: The Movie, in which Scrooge's battles are his and his alone -- but the Scrooge of "Fable" relies upon the behavior of the rest of the world to recover his fortune.  K&W, by contrast, stuff the solution of their dilemma through a loophole that is almost comic in its irrationality.


We then get a final twist of the knife as HD&L keep up their charade for the benefit of the recovered Scrooge, pretend that nothing untoward has happened, and skate away from the debacle with clean hands.  Greg called the boys' choreographed wink "Quack Pack-esque."  Actually, that's being rather kind; the 90's slacker versions of the Nephews did occasionally display some measure of moral sense when they weren't (all together now) flicking forks in the ceiling and whining that there was nothing to do.  Could we fix up the "Millennium Shortcut," please, and send Bubba back to his own time before these Nephews corrupt him beyond hope of redemption?  That "we-got-away-with-it wink" stuff seems to be catching.

To their credit, Koonce and Weimers would bounce back -- at least a bit -- from this utter debacle, pitching in on such later high-quality efforts as "The Big Flub" and "Ducky Mountain High" and contributing to the series finale, "The Golden Goose."  But they, and the DT creative team as a whole, have a whole lot of 'splainin' to do regarding this shoddy effort, which dips so far below the accepted standard of quality for a DT ep as to require special protective gear to watch.   

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Bumper #16: "Divers"

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"DuckBlurbs"

(GeoX) HDL announce that they're ten years old, which would confirm "Bubbeo and Juliet"'s assertion as to their age -- but again, until I see this in a non-Bubba episode, I'm not buying it.  Sorry!

GeoX is referring to the fact that the boys are describing as "start[ing] fifth grade" at the beginning of the earlier ep.  Myself, I always thought of HD&L as being about that age -- not coincidentally, the same age that I imagine such cherished media creations as Richie Rich and Kimba the White Lion to beThat's young enough to need adult guidance on occasion, yet just old enough to make believably mature contributions to adventures of all stripes.  (This, of course, presupposes that the "real" Nephews are somewhat more intelligent than the mountebanks on display here.)

(GeoX) Scrooge suddenly itches all over; he stops at the "free clinic," which is full of derelicts and seems as good an argument as any for universal health care...

... and prepares us for the pain that is to follow by driving the other patients away with his incessant scratching.  This is, in truth, a very depressing scene.  In how many other DT episodes is poverty presented in such an in-your-face manner, bereft of any of the ironic overtones that we saw in "Down and Out in Duckburg"?  I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at this scene; the background music is of what Greg might call the "cancer" variety, yet I get the distinct impression that K&W wanted us to chuckle at the idea of an infested Scrooge frightening away people who appear to be in far worse shape than he is.

(GeoX) The baseball team is the "Calisota Stealers"?  What about the Duckburg Mallards?  Are we to assume that they're just a farm team for the Stealers?  You'd think Duckburg would be big enough for a major-league team.

I stand by my theory (first voiced in my review of "Time Teasers") that the Stealers are based in Darkwing Duck's St. Canard, while the Mallards are Duckburg's major-league team.  Presumably, the two teams are in the same league, though probably not in the same league in a competitive sense, even if you regard the Mallards' ineptitude as having been somewhat overstated in the earlier ep.  Actually, the use of the Barksian "Calisota" here infuriates me almost as much as the use of the obscure references in "Once Upon a Dime."  How can K&W be so on the ball (no pun intended) in the area of unexpected Duck-comics references, yet bollix the plot and the characterizations so completely?

(Greg) So we head to a glass tower in the background and then scene change to the board room meeting with the execs of Scrooge Enterprises. 

This is the first appearance of McDuck Tower, not to be confused with the building of the same name in Don Rosa's "Incident at McDuck Tower" (UNCLE $CROOGE #268, July 1992).  I think it's fair to say that the DT edifice is far more externally impressive.  I suppose that that makes sense, because the Rosa tower houses a combination of shops and residences, while the DT structure appears to be strictly an office building. 

(Greg) So we zoom out to the war room control center as Huey pushes three lime button[s] and wants to roll out Scrooge's welcome mat so to speak. Which involves a toxic waste pool, a pool of sharks, cannons, guns, spikes, this entire hallway has it all. Ma stammers and then the heel[s] get dropped via the trapdoor and the nephews proclaim that this is going as well as when Scrooge is in charge.

The sight of the combined traps comes mighty close to a similar scene in Barks' "The Big Bin on Killmotor Hill" (WDC&S #135, December 1951), the story that introduced the Money Bin.  Both scenarios feature some "comedic irony," though Barks' is more subtle, with the low-tech traps (flypaper, bucket, tin cans on a string, etc.) being juxtaposed with the high-tech "electric eyes" and such.  K&W, by contrast, use a sledgehammer to get the point across, with the console-conning HD&L verbally referencing Scrooge's "special welcome mat" before the mat pops up to make its tongue-in-cheek appearance.

(Greg) So we go to the hospital as Duckworth wheels Scrooge out with the nephews (wearing regular clothes now) as the nephews are "relieved" that Scrooge is feeling better. Scrooge blows it off because he wants to see his Money Bin safe and sound. Now you would have thought that the execs would have called Scrooge and told him about his investments by now.

Hey, if the execs were willing to entrust HD&L with such decision-making powers in the first place, then why would you expect them to consider calling Scrooge in advance of his return to be even necessary?

Next: Episode 82, "Blue Collar Scrooge."

4 comments:

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

I’m glad you quoted our primary objection to this episode verbatim, as it may have been perhaps our most VALID criticism of any episode of, or individual bit in, the series.

Oddly, until I began reading these reviews and recalling each episode again, I remember having a relatively high regard for Koonce and Weimers as writers, back in the day. Maybe that was because of their generally high humor quotient – something that, just a few still-painful years earlier in the new Whitman comics, Duck stories were completely lacking.

For instance, check out what I said about “The Uncrashable Hindentanic” in THIS DUCKTALES DVD REVIEW. in Please excuse the “Garish Blogging Colors Phase” I was going through at that time.

It’s certainly something I consciously TRIED TO DO in my own Duck scripts, and maybe it was in some “less-conscious” sort of reaction to K&W’s DT eps, as well as the more obvious Barks, Rosa, Van Horn, Lustig, Blum, and Gerstein influences.

But unlike those great talents that guided the Ducks in comic books, K&W certainly had their share of episodes – or notable moments WITHIN episodes – that were outright stinkers. Thus, my present-day reassessment of their “catalogue”.

Pan MiluĊ› said...

I don't mind this episode this much, "Bride wore stripes" is the way more painfull in my opinion (I don't think anybody deserve cruel fate of rewatching that episode) I think "Yuppy ducks" had a concept with large potential, they just didn't do anything interesting with it.



Aslo, I just notice - the part with HD&L + Bubba desiging a new car is VERY similar to the Simpsons season 2 episode "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Gregory Weagle said...

Well; I did say that without Ma Beagle and the Beagle Boys acting to pad the running time with amusing stuff; this would have been on par with Bubba's Big Brainstorm. Maybe I would rate it -**; but still give the crown to BBB simply because it offended me from start to finish; rather than just merely being stupid from start to before the finish and then offend me at the finish and ending.

@Joe: By the time you brought out that quote for the finish; the logic horse was out of the barn and did 100 rotations around the earth. I was completely drained of life by the time they did the black hole stupid offensive finish, so I could only muster the obvious logic break to the proceedings. And the fact that you explained it a lot better than I did.

@Pan: Maybe I did rate the episode way too high in regards to "Bride Wore Stripes"; but I didn't think it was horrible or anything. There was some really stupid stuff at the beginning of this and then it recovered enough to be good.

Dan B said...

Why did the boys have access to Scrooge's vault anyway? It should have been locked up tight.