Sunday, January 5, 2014

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 66, "Time is Money, Part One: Marking Time"

Welcome to DuckTales' second season!Or, if you prefer, "season 2, part 1."Such was the ever-so-slightly-nitpicky designation that I used in to these RETROSPECTIVES to describe the two serial stories which introduced viewers to the new characters of and during the 1988-89 television season.In fact, an even subtler distinction can be crafted: the uncut, five-part version of "" was broadcast during February 1989, technically making IT part of "S2P1" as well, while the full-length "" wasn't seen until November of that year, towards the end of "season 2, part 2."Could it be that I'm making things too complicated at this point?


OK, then, I'll stick with the "S2P1" label for the ten half-hours that launched us into DuckTales' "second life."Some, of course, might prefer the phrase "second CHILDHOOD."

The merits of DuckTales' 35 post-season 1 episodes have been debated for quite some time.There's no doubt that the Bubba/Fenton era featured a noticeable paradigm shift: fewer adventures in the classic tradition of Carl Barks, more plots spun out of sitcom material.The look of the series changed as well, with the "loosey-goosey" approach defined by director becoming more or less codified as the "official house style" by Taiwan's .In our DUCKTALES INDEX -- the part of it that WASN'T printed in and thus was seen by only a privileged few who ordered it from us directly -- and I were generally complementary about the adjusted approaches, especially insofar as they sharpened the series' sense of humor.(As we can only now fully appreciate, they also served as an important trial run of sorts for the creative sensibilities that later dominated .)It must be admitted, however, that some of the series' most infamous "dogs" were let loose from the kennel during this less-buttoned-down era. "Time is Money" itself generated conflicted feelings right off the bat, not only because it introduced the series' most controversial original creation, but also because it was far more obviously flawed AS A STORYLINE than either "" or "":

1.The "feeling of an epic" that we got from the earlier multipart adventures simply isn't present here, primarily because of the lengthy Duckburg sequence ("Bubba Trubba" and "Ducks on the Lam") centering around the ups and downs of the relationship between Scrooge and Bubba.The visit to the Oriental city of Toupay in "The Duck Who Would Be King" is the only part of the story that truly resembles ANY of the individual parts of "Golden Suns" or the "Firefly Fruit" serial.Even the visits to Duckbill Island in "Marking Time" and "Ali Bubba's Cave" don't really measure up, because the scale of the overarching conflict never comes across as being particularly significant.2.Scrooge is far less likable here than at any point during the earlier serials -- yes, even during the infamous "" rants about the "morons on [his] team" or his notorious verbal undressing of HD&L in "."Scrooge's nasty comments about "[his] own kin" in "Scales" may have been rawer in absolute terms, but, from the time he begins dickering with Flintheart Glomgold over Duckbill Island at the start of "Marking Time" to his belated acceptance of Bubba at the end of "Ducks on the Lam," the old miser generates a series of negative vibes the consistency and severity of which are virtually unprecedented.Not that Scrooge doesn't have a couple of shining moments even during THIS lengthy period of unpleasantness -- this IS the somewhat "kinder and gentler" TV Scrooge we're talking about, after all -- but the sheer pettiness and childishness of his animus towards the "jinx" Bubba, and the irrational behavior that such an attitude causes, are a MAJOR turn-off.It's hard to get emotionally invested in the ultimate "victory" of a character if the character has spent most of the story pissing you off.

3.For all of the talent that labored over "Time is Money," the storyline features what is arguably the series' biggest continuity gaffe.Sure, the "Let's cancel every deal made by the Nephews and get Scrooge's money back!" conclusion to the mess that was "Yuppy Ducks" probably caused more consternation for its sheer idiocy, but the error that compromises the ending to "Ali Bubba's Cave" (and hence the entire enterprise) is a flat-out MISTAKE that should have been caught by SOMEONE (I'm mostly looking at YOU, ).Having a total of five different people working on the serials' five 22-minute teleplays couldn't have helped matters here.Magon and , who came up with the story and also contributed to a number of the teleplays, may simply have found it more difficult than usual to maintain quality control with so many creators sticking their fingers into the pie."Super DuckTales" wasn't flawless by any means, but the fact that and carried the writing load (with Magon helping out with the teleplay for "Frozen Assets") helped keep the quality of the story's individual components reasonably consistent."Time is Money," like "Catch as Cash Can," tends to rise and fall on the strength of its parts, and it's the serial's cruel fate that the best parts are at the beginning, making the failings of the later segments all the harder to accept.

The business deal between Scrooge and Flintheart Glomgold that sets "Time is Money"'s clock running didn't SEEM "small-timey" at the time.In retrospect, however, we can see that it was.No mention whatsoever is made of the entirely relevant fact that whoever comes out ahead in the Duckbill Island deal will be (or, in Flinty's case, will BECOME) the world's richest Duck.The rivals' agreement is more on the level of their bet in "," with the main difference being the elimination of the "I challenge you" angle.The "Hindentanic" wager, of course, was only meant to sustain a single, not entirely serious episode, as opposed to a two-hour narrative.Of course, we, like Scrooge, expect Flinty to engage in dishonest practices right from the get-go...

I guess this transaction really DID involve "big bucks"!

... but Scrooge's subsequent admission that he discovered the diamonds in (what once was) Bubba Duck's cave seriously muddies the moral waters.Given that the diamonds must be "uncovered" with a tap of Scrooge's cane, one can surmise that his "checking out" of the island during the previous week involved more than simply looking at what would, on the surface, appear to be worthless lumps of coal.Scrooge would have had to have ACTIVELY INVESTIGATED the cave in order to know that diamonds were hidden in it.Even if you grant Scrooge the ability to identify diamond-bearing coal formations at a glance -- a pretty neat trick, given that the whole "" meme is apparently rather shaky to begin with -- this would pretty clearly constitute illegal trespassing of SOME kind.GeoX brings this point up as an example of an "" at the heart of the story, and I would have to agree with him.There seems to be an implicit assumption that Scrooge, being the "good guy" in any conflict with Glomgold, can't be criticized for skirting the law in order to exercise his quasi-supernatural wealth-finding powers.Right off the bat, therefore, Scrooge starts the storyline in a morally questionable position, even though Magon and Talkington don't seem to regard it as such.

Flinty's blowing Duckbill Island in half, thereby forcing Scrooge to take the "worthless" westernmost piece of the attenuated atoll, seems to be a straightforward piece of Glomgoldian deviousness, but it will also turn out to be the logical "rock" on which the entire storyline will ultimately founder.For the moment, note that, while gloating over the apparent success of his legal end-run, Glomgold mentions to Scrooge -- and the Beagle Boys and HDhe presumably could do the same thing if Bubba ever wore out his welcome in Duckburg after the events of "Time is Money," but, thankfully, he was never put to the test).Clearly, however, this borrowing was done with some care and imagination -- care and imagination that one can only wistfully wish could have been applied to the serial as a whole.Being a known Barks fan, Magon is probably the most responsible party.

Another pleasant reminder of the quality of the season 1 serials lies in this episode's planting of "devices" that will have important roles to play later in the storyline.Gyro's humble "laser pen" allows Scrooge to leave his markers in Bubba's cave but also will prompt Scrooge to go out and face the bandits in "The Duck Who Would Be King."The "shinie" that a peeved Scrooge uses to "bribe" Bubba to go home will, of course, seal the deal of their friendship in "Ducks on the Lam."Even the "Millennium Shortcut"'s arrival in 1,000,000 BC, with the time machine landing on the attacking T-Rex's tail and scaring it away, will be duplicated when Bubba returns to the present day in "Ali Bubba's Cave" just in time to save Scrooge and friends from the cave monster.Compared to the use of "small details" in (for example) "," these foreshadowings are actually MORE impressive, since most of them don't pay off until a chapter or two down the road and therefore ask more of the viewer in terms of recall.

Ultimately, however, one's opinion of "Marking Time" (and, of course, of ALL subsequent Bubba episodes) comes down to a face-to-beak confrontation with Bubba himself.Can you actually buy this guy as a viable character in the Duck "universe"?The fan-consensus (always remembering, of course, that those who are actually "on record" on the subject constitute a rather small group) is that Bubba, though he might have been acceptable as a one-shot character, even an ambitious one (e.g. being sent home permanently at the end of "Time is Money"), should never have been turned into a regular cast member.Even putting personal prejudices aside, it's VERY hard to argue against this view.I've always believed that the world of DuckTales and the world of the comics should have as few "visible seams" as possible between them... and, if you feel that Bubba is out of place in a DuckTales ep, then the feeling will be monstrously magnified if you see the caveduck in a comic-book story.Stories with Webby, like "," took some getting used to, but I ultimately found that I could assimilate them with few difficulties, especially when Webby was characterized well and allowed to be both "her own Duckling" and a member of a functioning team with HDthe first time Bubba was obliged to say, "Get RUDE, dude!", he was basically cooked.

Carl Barks probably wouldn't appreciate the credit, but I do have to give the man his props for, in a certain sense, anticipating what we saw here.In the relatively obscure "ten-pager" "" (WALT DISNEY'S COMICS AND STORIES #246, March 1961), Donald and HD&L have a "close encounter" with caveman-like savages atop a remote mesa.Physically speaking, the blocky brutes have more in common with the Plain Awfultonians of "" than they do with Bubba...

... but, in terms of their susceptibility to the blandishments of pop culture as presented through the medium of television, they prove every bit as capable of "falling under the spell" as does the denizen of Duckbill Island.The tube even provides the cavefolk with a means of escaping the mesa, leaving the Ducks stranded in their wake.

Barks was evidently trying to make the point that one doesn't have to have any sort of intelligence at all in order to be entertained by TV -- a sentiment that one can easily imagine him spouting off in one of his more curmudgeonly moments.Do note, however, that he uses his cave characters to make the jaundiced point and then shoves them off the stage, never to be seen again.Bubba, by contrast, was expected to SUSTAIN audience interest through his adoption of modern mannerisms.

Bubba's amazing tracking ability -- the one facet of his personality (if one could exaggerate and call it that) that might have provided a LEGITIMATE hook for some interesting uses of the character -- is also introduced soon after his debut.This skill will be referenced from time to time in future episodes, but I still get the feeling that something more could have been done with it.Since HD&L, for some unfathomable reason, decided to make Bubba a Junior Woodchuck (I didn't know they had the power to do that?), why not take advantage of Bubba's, er, unique skill set and make him a Woodchuck tracking expert?Imagine an ep in which HD&L and Bubba must teach a struggling Doofus (remember him?) how to become a first-class tracker.OK, on second thought, DON'T imagine that specific one... but do consider that Bubba's Woodchuck membership was an avenue that was never fully explored.It may not have saved Bubba's viability as a character, but at least the stories and situations that would have arisen from it would NOT have required such blatant gimmicks as the artificial elevation of Bubba's IQ, the donning of contemporary clothing, or other such dodges.

What else does Bubba bring to the table in his first bow?Well, his doglike loyalty to Scrooge, though somewhat irritating, is also rather endearing.The fact that Scrooge is so dismissive of Bubba from the get-go, calling him a "nosy Neanderthal" and the like, helps to make up for the cutesy, cloying nature of some of these early scenes.The negative portrayal of Scrooge translates into sympathy for Bubba.It also helps that Bubba's "quasi-worship" of Scrooge (which is no doubt affected by the dramatic manner in which the back-lit Scrooge emerges from the time machine) does seem like the sort of thing a prehistoric caveduck WOULD do if suddenly confronted with a visitor from the future.The specific scenarios presented in and similar books and movies about supposed "ancient encounters" may be bogus, but the psychology behind their appeal seems relatively sound.

To his credit, as we near the end of the episode, Scrooge does appear to be softening towards Bubba.Given that Scrooge has left his markers AND that he is bringing home a hold-load of valuable dinosaur bones to boot, this generosity of spirit may simply be a result of the old miser mellowing in the light of a job well done, but Scrooge does seem just a bit conflicted about leaving Bubba when the time comes to do so.

The frantic climactic action, however, throws everything -- the Ducks' safe return to present-day Duckburg AND Scrooge's relationship with stowaway Bubba -- into serious hotchpot. The characters aren't the only ones left flailing in the wake of the "Shortcut."As correctly notes, the exact manner in which Bubba and Tootsie wind up on board the time machine is horrendously botched.I assume that it's at least POSSIBLE that Scrooge, Launchpad, and HDgimmicks sell T-shirts, characters sell tickets and Bubba was such a gimmick (and a major character from there on) that it made DuckTales jump the shark and they never recovered from it. Even when Gizmo Duck came; even when the GOLD WAVE OF DEATH two part episode came; even the Metal Mites; even the DuckTales Movie came, it was no good anymore.

Once "Time is Money" was completed, the DT crew seems to have realized its mistake regarding Bubba.Bubba appeared only eight times the rest of the way, compared to 14 for Fenton Crackshell (not counting "Super DuckTales"), and in only two of those appearances -- "Bubbeo and Juliet" and "Bubba's Big Brainstorm" -- did he play a role that could fairly be described as major.Nor did Disney enjoy the fringe benefit of "T-shirt sales" or their equivalent.The ONLY piece of Bubba-themed merchandise that I ever saw advertised was a clock-radio in a copy of the German comic magazine MICKY MAUS.I'd like to believe that this choice of chatchka was a tribute to the caveduck's love of rock and roll, but, seeing as how Webby and Launchpad ALSO rated face time on these items... So one could say that the "damage" caused by Bubba's presence was held to a relative minimum.But damage was certainly done.

The Bubba radio is pictured at middle right, above Webby's head.

(Greg) So Scrooge tries to use the pen laser onto the conveniently placed rock and the rock turns into a dinosaur. Okay; that was pretty convincing as Tootsie holds [her] ass on that one. He goes into Bubba's arm and it's Scooby Doo scare spot time. Man; that is so uncanny to someone I know from a previous HB series. Oh wait; I know: Scrappy Doo. Bubba cuddles him like a mother hen as the nephews point out the obvious and LP hopes she has [had] her shots. And so Bubba punishes him by using Tootsie's foot to MURDER LP's foot. HAHA!...Launchpad does the foot grabbing spot as Launchpad proclaims that she smashed his tootsy. And of course Bubba didn't name his pet in advance; so he calls her Tootsie now (Frank Welker again).

The use of Launchpad as the source of Tootsie's name may not have been coincidental., playing a minor role in George Lucas' feature film (1971), inadvertently gave a name to one of the Star Wars movies' most beloved creatures when he remarked, "I think I ran over a back there."Here, LP gets run over BY the critter he ultimately titles.Ironic, isn't it?

(Greg) [Scrooge] asks for as many bananas as he can find as we go to the scene changer and see Launchpad near a tree of banana[s] as he is eating them one by one while peeling the peels so to speak. He throws the banana peel into the pile as he has had enough of eating them. HAHA! You didn't have to eat them; just un-peel them. Scrooge is right; you are now officially an airhead. And Louie gleefully states the obvious to him just to make it even more funny. Louie grabs the peels and walks off as LP throws one away and blows [Louie] off for not telling him. Somehow; he is completely immune to the obvious.

Launchpad's role here is fairly low-key, but this is by far his most memorable contribution to the fun.Between this massive act of noshing and his initial appearance searching through Gyro's icebox, are we witnessing the beginning of LP's transformation into the junk-food-scarfing sidekick of Darkwing Duck?(Thankfully, he does have a few more meaty roles ahead of him before the books close on DT.)

(Greg) Despite the bad finish; Bubba actually did very well for himself; but that won't last long since the first two episodes were actually very well written. It is the third and fourth episodes where the real crap of Bubba starts.

I wouldn't use those precise words, but I do agree with the general sentiment.It's only AFTER Bubba comes to Duckburg that we begin to see just how limited a character he is.In his own element, and later on in Toupay, he manages to hold his own.

Next: Episode 67, "Time is Money, part two: The Duck Who Would Be King."
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