Episode: 111 "Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System!" 5/11/18
Starring: Launchpad McQuack, Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera/Gizmoduck, Scrooge McDuck, Dewey Duck, Gyro Gearloose, Mark Beaks, B.U.D.D.Y./Lil’ Bulb, and Manny the Headless Man-Horse.
Special Appearances by: Darkwing Duck/Jim Starling, Quackerjack, Megavolt, and Liquidator
Setting: Duckburg and the Waddle Test Track
Plot: Feeling threatened by Mark Beaks’ latest invention, Launchpad enlists Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera to help him impress Scrooge and save his job.
Scrooge McDuck is “smarter than the smarties and tougher than the toughies.” He’s a self-made gazillionaire, adventurer, businessman, and a pretty good uncle to boot. Other than the occasional bouts with selfish and/or cranky behaviour (give him a break, he’s in his 90s!), Scrooge is practically perfect in every way and the unquestioned star of his own TV show. This is why wackadoodle, well-intentioned screwups like Launchpad McQuack and Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera* are so important to the DuckTales universe. The occasional spotlighting of characters on the margins, who succeed despite their best efforts (and not because of them), creates a sense of relatability that resonates with the common fan. And, through the lens of these two underdogs, the episode explores the different ways one can be a “hero.” Perhaps more interesting, though, is the complicated relationship between Launchpad and Fenton and the effects its had on the series through its past, present, and into the future.
Back in DuckTales’ original run, the infrequent but popular Launchpad-centric episode** was a series staple with each one following a similar formula: LP either screws up or feels taken for granted which leads him to overcompensate, fail even harder, before ultimately saving the day with his own unique brand of heroism and courage. Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System! is no different. Once Scrooge shows interest in Mark Beaks’ latest invention, Launchpad immediately sets out to prove that he’s every bit the driver that B.U.D.D.Y. the self-driving drone is. In doing so, LP evokes the spirit and methods of the hero from his favourite television show, “Darkwing Duck***,” whose star didn’t “fly or shoot lasers.” Instead, aging actor Jim Starling as Darkwing did his own stunts while eschewing “high tech special effects and basic safety precautions.” Not only is this roll-up-you-sleeves, throw-caution-to-the-wind philosophy a bit of foreshadowing for LP’s later heroics, but there’s also a bit of meta shade being thrown at the artificial and technologically aided Gizmoduck.
Back in the 80s, Launchpad was the breakout star and heart of DuckTales (#IMHO don’t @ me). For the first third of its 100-episode run, Launchpad was firmly entrenched as Mr. McD’s brawny, yet dim**** sidekick. But when the milquetoast accountant, Fenton Crackshell, and his alter-ego, Gizmoduck burst onto the scene in the five-part event, “Super DuckTales,” a noticeable paradigm shift began to take shape. In lieu of the globetrotting, treasure hunting type plotlines were now more civic minded stories, anchored in the contemporary milieu of Duckburg. Here, Gizmoduck played the part of a veritable deus ex machina who would inevitably (and literally) roll into whatever dire situation presented itself and save the day without breaking much of a sweat.***** Not only was Fenton infringing on Launchpad’s corner as the heroic yet loveable loser, he was even beginning to wrest control of the series from Scrooge himself.****** Fenton/Gizmoduck was DuckTales’ shiny new toy and the show lost its way a little bit in playing with him.
In present time, this episode went a long way in ameliorating a lot of the issues Fenton/Gizmoduck initially presented. The idea of making Fenton Gyro’s intern, who actually has a background in science while also having had a hand in developing the Gizmoduck technology, is pitch perfect and makes his transition into a superhero much more earned and less random (as opposed to the mere happenstance of muttering a magical catchphrase). Plus, in revealing that he “just wants to help people” and “make them better” illustrates the type of selfless heroism that explains his enthusiasm in helping LP ready for his race against B.U.D.D.Y. The whole pairing had the potential to be a real “uh oh, here we go again” moment with Fenton/Gizmoduck being introduced smack-dab in the middle of LP’s first starring role of the series. What guarded against that though is a bit of nuance where Launchpad is given the agency to ask Fenton for help instead of said assistance being thrust upon him in a way that steals his spotlight. With that, LP and Fenton/Gizmoduck find commonality as two misfits trying to earn the respect and approval of their employers in forming a formidable dynamic duo that ends up saving Scrooge and co. and thwarting Lil’ Bulb while also elevating each other.
In what could’ve been a disaster in squeezing Gizmoduck’s origin story into our first Launchpad-centric episode turned out to be a rollicking success. Where Gizmoduck infringed on LP’s space, even making him feel a bit redundant during DuckTales’ first run, the show has found a way to contrast their differing personalities perfectly while also highlighting what they have in common. The show now has a heroic/comedic force at its disposal going forward. It will be awesome watching Launchpad barrel through his obstacles, literally crashing into them while Gizmoduck soars in and lasers their enemies in two.
(*) Voiced by playwright and actor extraordinaire, Lin Manuel Miranda. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% for paying tribute to his Puerto Rican heritage by giving him brown feathers and a Hispanic last name but I’d rather they just drop the hyphenated “Crackshell-Cabrera” in favour of just Cabrera. Better yet, why not give him a punny last name like every other character but with a Spanish flair? How about “Huevoroto” (broken egg) or “Quacktinez”?
(**) This episode’s plot is very similar to the ’87 Season One episode, “Armstrong,” where the eponymous, Gyro-created-robot, steals both Launchpad and Duckworth’s jobs before turning completely evil which led to LP destroying the robot and saving the day.
(***) Everyone reading this is probably well-versed in and remembers Darkwing Duck but it’s still a fun little in-joke to have Launchpad being such a fan when he also crossed-over to become DW’s fulltime sidekick. Also, I love how it’s introduced as an actual TV show in this DuckTales universe. It makes you wonder if we will get Jim Starling in an episode.
(****) LP was definitely more capable and not quite so over-the-top dumb as he is here. For one thing, aside from being Mr. McD’s personal pilot, he still had his own business that he owned and operated. Here, he lives in Scrooge’s garage and doesn’t even have his driver’s license.
(*****) Fenton/Gizmoduck was thiiiis close to becoming the Fonzie and/or Urkel of the original incarnation of DuckTales. But, in my mind, he’s definitely more of a Scrappy Doo (a negative, not a positive).
(******) Fenton uttering those magic words, “blabbering blatherskites,” became the show’s version of a victory cigar akin to Popeye finally choking down that proverbial can of spinach.
The familiar shot of the bridge and cityscape in the opening shot is St. Canard, Darkwing Duck’s hometown from the original TV show. You may also spy the billboard with the S.H.U.S.H. operative Vladimir Gryzlikoff on it.
The budding rivalry between Gyro and Mark Beaks is intriguing. They’re definitely setting us up to have the Gizmosuit fall into the “wrong” hands at some point. However, Gyro is only “good” inasmuch he’s in Scrooge’s employ. He’s just as big of a jerk as Beaks is in most ways.
The line from Terror of the Terra-firmians! where Launchpad refers to Dewey as his “best friend” is paid off here. However, the role of LP’s best friend and wingman was usually reserved for Doofus in the original series.
Gyro’s sound-powered monorail is surely one of his lamer inventions. That one won’t be stolen from any online message boards.
The female dog reporter from the pilot makes another appearance here. She must be a featured background actress.
The evil Lil’ Bulb makes his return in the form of B.U.D.D.Y. (Beaks Unmanned Driver Drone Yay). It’d be great to continue having him pop up in various incarnations as a perpetual thorn in Gyro’s side.
My favourite part of the episode, though, is the triumphant return of Scrooge’s old foe, THE HEADLESS MAN-HORSE!!! Now reformed and going by “Manny,” he has joined Scrooge’s staff as Gyro’s intern and Fenton’s contemporary. He still can’t speak but, instead, communicates by hoofing Morse code.