Prolific production company Klasky-Csupo is to animated ugliness and freakish character design what Disney is to doe-eyed animals and syrupy cuteness. Klasky-Csupo animated The Simpsons back when the beloved cartoon family still looked like mutants. (Film Roman later gave the show a smoother, slicker look.) Then its Rugrats gave the world babies with faces only an unusually indulgent mother could love. In 1994, Klasky-Csupo capos Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo developed and executive-produced Duckman, a dark, adult animated adaptation of Everett Peck's Dark Horse comic about an irascible, bespectacled duck who's as ugly morally as he is physically. Jason Alexander voices the title character with an intentionally grating rasp and an emotional palette that runs the spectrum from mildly annoyed to exasperated to apoplectic. He's a cantankerous fowl along the lines of Daffy and Donald Duck, but without their impulse control and social graces. It's telling that the show's only adorable characters, the obnoxiously cute sentient teddy bears that work for Duckman, exist solely to be tortured and abused.
Alexander's eternally angry duck lives with his three sons—a brilliant Siamese-twin team and an affable bonehead—as well as his dead wife's sister, a fitness-obsessed shrew who makes no attempt to hide her contempt for him. Duckman works as a private detective alongside a hyper-efficient, brilliant pig with Jack Webb's deadpan monotone who regularly saves Duckman from his own incompetence.
Though it lasted a respectable four years and was nominated for three Emmys, Duckman was ahead of its time. Its grating, often unlikeable protagonist, dark absurdist tone, penchant for pop-culture riffing and parody, and metatextual tomfoolery give it a distinctly contemporary feel: Seth MacFarlane has made a fortune plowing this ground with less inspiration and more cheap non sequiturs. Duckman boasts a pleasing comic density: Many of the funniest bits are throwaway blink-and-you'll-miss-them sight gags or one-liners Alexander mumbles under his breath, Popeye-style. Duckman was too quirky, ugly, uncompromising, and weird to engender the mainstream acceptance that greeted The Simpsons, but those are the very qualities that allowed Duckman to shriek his way into the hearts and minds of the show's devoted cult.
Key features: An audio commentary from Peck and Alexander and a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes on the show's development.