Hm, it’s starting to look as though I have a thing for animated, anthropomorphic egotistic ducks with alliterated names. I’m not sure what this says about me. Anyway, from a parody of superhero pulp (see “I Heart Darkwing Duck“) to the other end of the pulp spectrum at science fiction heroes. Sometime back in the 1940s, the brilliant director Chuck Jones got his hands on the Looney Tunes franchise. Under his leadership, Daffy Duck was transformed into the raging egomaniac we all know and love. Or at least I love. To be fair, Bugs Bunny also became more ego-maniacal under Chuck Jones, but he usually won (usually). Also, Chuck Jones went onto to make “Tom and Jerry” which says a lot about his sense of humor.
Anyway, Chuck Jones put together a one-off Looney Tunes short called “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century” featured Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers, the duck from the past brought into a shiny new future. Porky Pig was cast as the competent but hapless Eager Young Space Cadet. The villain was of course Marvin the Martian (“Where’s the kaboom? There’s supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom”). It was meant to be a parody of the Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon serials. The original cartoon is one of the funniest WB shorts I’ve ever seen, including “What’s Opera Doc?”
Duck Dodgers had a sequel or two and was referenced occasionally in Warner Brothers’ 90s cartoons (i.e. “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “Animaniacs” in particular, which are also quite good). In the early 00s, someone at Warner Brothers had a brilliant idea. He or she or they pitched an idea for a show that centered around Duck Dodgers. Now, the fabulous Mel Blanc had sadly passed away but new voice actors stepped up. I have to say the man who voices Bugs Bunny these days is just not Mel Blanc, but his voice is better than having the voice actor for freakin’ Scrappy Doo take over for Don Messick when he passed away. However, Joe Alaskey is a spot-on Daffy and Porky Pig. I can’t tell the difference. The people behind the show also decided to hire Michael Dorn to voice the Martian Centurions, which is pretty darn funny (“We’re going on strike!” “When?” “Right now!”). They also got the Flaming Lips and Tom Jones to record the theme song, which is awesome. So, the stage was set, and the show went on.
And it was hilarious. Duck Dodgers’ dubious origin as a hero of the past was expanded upon and confirmed, although despite Dodgers’ lying his way to his position and near-complete incompetence, he still managed to save the universe (although to be fair he often put it in peril to begin with).
Ganthet: This creature is not evil. Stupid, perhaps very stupid. But not evil.
The Eager Young Space Cadet was oddly loyal to his incompetent captain and often the only sane pig in a universe of insanity. Many staple Looney Tunes characters were re-imagined into the twisted Duck Dodgers future (Yosemite Sam was the leader of a thinly-veiled parody of the Klingons, Elmer Fudd was a take on the Borg, Wile E. Coyote was a parody of the Predator for crying out loud!). It was not only a parody of Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon, but Star Trek, Star Wars, and so many others.
Cadet: T-trust your feelings, captain.
Dodgers: Nah, I’m sure I’m going to use this expensive targeting computer.
I’m pretty sure it touched on every sci-fi cliche in the book – man out of time, dating the tyrant queen, the mandatory time-travel episode, the origin story (more than a few), making a man into a cyborg, the trench run, identical evil twin, the trial episode, and so on, and sometimes even pointed out that it was making fun of those cliches. During the trial episode, the judge asks I.Q. Hi why he bothered to thaw out Duck Dodgers. At the end of his explanation, he ends with a shrug and says, “You know, the usual sci-fi reasons.” I love that kind of meta-humor.
Martian Commander: Alas, yet another delusional fan trying to emulate the famous trench scene. How any lives must that accursed film cost?
It also parodied a number of other shows, including “Samauri Jack” in one of the trippest episodes I’ve ever seen, and parodied other genres besides sci-fi. The very best of these, in my opinion, was the episode in which Duck Dodgers’ dry cleaning got mixed up with Hal Jordan’s and Dodgers ended up a Green Lantern. He was as a terrible an actual superhero as he was spaceship captain, although again he did manage to save the day (Kilowog was not amused).
Dodgers attempt at the Green Lantern oath: In blackest day or brightest night…uh, watermelon, cantalope, yadda yadda… a superstitious and cowardly lot…with liberty and justice for all!
There were more voice cameos than you could shake a stick at (or shake a schtick at). The dialogue was clever and the episodes were usually split into two shorts, which is consistent with the old Looney Tunes format, although some were the full 22 minutes. And as a Looney Tunes, there is plenty of old-fashioned slapstick. Dodgers is often humilated and physically beaten up (it is somehow deeply funny to watch him get his beak blown off his face), the Martian Commander is also often humilated and beaten up, and poor Cadet is often in a panic trying to save the day from Dodgers’ incompetence. It is excellent and if you can find it, you should watch it.
Dodgers: Name one show where the climatic battle takes place in a kitchen.
Cadet: “Iron Chef.” Every episode.