I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence Frank Angones, the writer of today’s script, tweeted such an emotional sentiment prior to the debut of “Beware The B.U.D.D.Y. System,” an episode that is almost too much indebted to nostalgia. It brings back Gyro and Lil’ Bulb, but it also introduces Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera (voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda), as well as contains a brief introduction starring the Darkwing Duck - with infamous villains Quackerjack, Liquidator, and Megavolt! (No Bushroot?) It’s an indelible moment, made even more exciting with just how well the scene is done, how perfect the characters, the voices, and the setting holds up till this day. So yeah, you can’t help feel disappointed that that whole thing is just a show within this Duck-verse show, and Darkwing Duck is simply an aging “actor” named Jim Starling, and, to the opinion of Dewey, doesn’t hold up due to the lack of superpowers and CGI. It’s an intro that seeks to symbolize the themes this episode will be going for–playing it safe vs. taking risks, assistants desperate to prove themselves to mentors, and a whole lot of “hey, remember this?”
Launchpad, who thus far has been the idiot comic relief, headlines this episode in which he rushes to the money bin expecting praise for finally getting his drivers license. Instead, he’s ignored and dismissed as Scrooge and Gyro test a prototype monorail that runs on sound (which crashes when Fenton rants too much), and then rush off to check in on a demo of car-driving robots invented by Mark Beaks. Beaks is still sort of an aimless villain, and it’s a little bizarre that Scrooge would be so eager to buy his invention, but that seems to be part of DuckTales’ tendency to force itself into introducing its plots and conflicts. This one works a little better, primarily because the bitter, angry Gyro makes a good foil to Mark and his attention-seeking optimism, so of course a conflict will arise naturally. It’s definitely an understated conflict as Launchpad challenges the robots to a race to see who can best handle a crowded, unpredictable road, and so we’re off to the races!
The race is mostly a visual comic setpiece with Launchpad making bad decisions on the raceway, crashing, and getting back on his webbed feet in a new pair of wheels, all up against the perfect, mechanical driving skills of B.U.D.D.Y., but what stands out is the relationship between Launchpad and Fenton. In this iteration, Fenton is not an accountant but an intern inventor to Gyro, but otherwise he still maintains original Fenton’s high-strung, overeager-to-a-fault energy, and he and the failed driver/pilot briefly connect over their loss. There’s no real sense of character connection, but the two do acknowledge their fear of fading relevancy and their desire to be acknowledged, which provides them with a nice, if brief, moment together, and also feels like metacommentary on the show as a whole, pulled between all the nostalgic elements of its predecessors and the whims and desires to be new, novel, and known. Like last week, I don’t know if DuckTales works all that well with steeping itself in so much self-awareness, especially as it struggles with basic structural issues, but the passion is there, which has to count for something I guess.
But even among all that self-awareness, sometimes this show buckles down and just makes a rocking, wild action-adventure scene that is just fun to watch. When Launchpad and Fenton draw themselves up to save Gyro, Mark, and Scrooge after they’re captured by B.U.D.D.Y. (who is just the evil Lil’ Bulb from “The Great Dime Chase,” repackaged within Beaks’ hyped-up style), DuckTales really feels like the old show again. Director John Aoshima really sets up a dynamic setpiece: Launchpad speeding in the limo across narrow valleys, jumping ramps, and dodging rocks; twists and turns to avoid falling boulders and cliff edges; the thrill of watching Fenton become Gizmoduck and save Dewey and the falling limo at the last second. These put-down and ignored assistants, forced to be something they’re not (safe and quiet), step up and embrace who they really are and beyond to save the day in an adventure that takes up a good chunk of TV time. This is quite similar to what Donald went through last week as well.
It feels like DuckTales is putting in a lot of work to situate its characters and its take on the world in sort of a broken, disinterested malaise, only to gradually prod and poke its various characters in towards that adventurous direction that this team of ducks is known for. There’s a lot of rich material to cull from that, but the show is also too enamored with inconsistent and flat characters, clunky structure, and strained, forced comedy to push that idea as far as it could go (Manny, the headless horseman with the Scrooge McDuck statue head from the pilot, appears as a replacement for Fenton, and the joke falls flat long before the extended phonecall scene). DuckTales is going through a lot of buildup (Beaks end the episode with an obsessive sneer over photos of Gizmoduck in action) and presumably it’ll have one heck of a payoff down the line, but right now, it’s probably best to enjoy what’s on display for now, even if the ride is as shady as Launchpad’s driving skills.
- I guess with Darkwing Duck as a TV show within a show, there’s no real chance of an actually crossover of worlds, especially if Launchpad wasn’t part of it. It is pretty funny that Launchpad is obsessed with the show the same way his character was obsessed with Darkwing Duck himself in the original show. Still... even though there’s plenty of ways to write around it, it feels like a weird cop-out, especially since Dewey namedrops Saint Canard in the pilot.
- The most shocking thing is that Megavolt, who was voiced by Dan Castellaneta in the original show, was voiced by Keith Ferguson here, and it was such a pitch perfect note that I swore Disney shelled out the money needed to bring Dan back.
- Someone said last week this show reminded them of Venture Bros., and I think there may be something to that.
- Shouldn’t Launchpad have won the race, but still technically have lost because he caused so much damage and so many fatalities? I know that’s a bad critique but that felt a bit wonky. The “be safe” vs. “let’s get dangerous” metaphor gets a little lost, but it also feels like more self-awareness in how DuckTales is trying to avoid dangerous adventures while simultaneously getting drawn in them.
- To build off that, I know that it’s dumb to parse ideas from any DuckTales iteration, but the “heroes think with their gut” theme is not exactly a good lesson to push. It functions more as a bit of Launchpad characterization, but that’s part of why the “Beware The B.U.D.D.Y. System” gets confused between character development vs. thematic tension.
- Why even have Dewey in this episode? He doesn’t do much, and his absence only lampshades the lack of the other nephews. I feel like Louie or Huey at least could add more to the story, considering they both have stronger connections to Gyro and Mark, respectively.