I can’t but think that, at some level, “Day Of The Only Child!” was written as a course-correction, an episode that allowed the creative team to sit back, take a deep breath, and assess who these nephews actually are. DuckTales has been enjoyable so far but flawed in so much that, at times, it was too excited to reference and send up its predecessors, and the show’s ostensible stars–Huey, Dewey, and Louie–got lost in the process. I’ve written about how they almost seem like the weakest parts of the show, a grab-bag of writerly ticks more so than an entertaining batch of unique siblings, so here comes an episode to rectify that. Using a classic cartoon format, “Day Of The Only Child!” uses a frame story about an “Only Child Day” to place each nephew on their own mini-adventure, and it works. It may not be the best episode of DuckTales so far, structurally speaking, but, gosh, I really enjoyed it!
Part of why it works is that there’s little to no “winking” towards its past, no egregious self-aware moments that take up narrative time or pass for characterization. It’s the nephews being the most “them” at their most “them,” spurred on by a Dewey-conceived, made-up holiday in which the boys pretend they’re not related, so they can go off to do their own things. Of course, the show has made it clear that the boys quite often go it alone, so the excuse seems flimsy, and there’s a reason for that. But it’s also an excuse for the brothers to act like brothers, what with their bickering over the fictional day itself–Dewey literally fights with Huey, the latter who wants nothing to do with the day, while Louie cries watching it (well, not quite, but still). As I mentioned briefly about a past episode, watching Huey, Dewey, and Louie act like boys with a full, weird, and unique history among them is way more rewarding than being joke machines, already elevating the episode to a high quality.
Huey, the one most against Only Child Day, is forced to handle a Junior Woodchuck cookout, but without his siblings, he can’t participate in it (it needs at least three people), until he runs into a few Beagle Boys trying to capture him. He uses kindness and structure to win them over, but predictably they go overboard in their misguided, distorted way. Louie sneaks off to play with another rich kid, Doofus Drake (changed from his initial nerdy, annoying incarnation into a self-absorbed sociopath here), only to find himself desperate to escape from his control bracelet. And then there’s Dewey, whose odd adventure reveals why he created Only Child Day in the first place–to film a pitch/pilot episode of his own talk show in privacy. It’s not clear how long this been going on, but it seems like a while. It’s also not clear why he would want to keep this a secret, but Dewey kind of always been the more independent one, the one who wants to forge his own direction in life. It’s less important why he wants to pitch a talk show alone and more important that it’s his prerogative to do so. It fits his character.
In fact, all three tales fit their characters: Huey at his most rule-focused and abiding, even at the risk of kidnapping/death; Louie at his most greedy and needy, once again getting over his head; Dewey at his most ambitious and forward-thinking, even getting a bit of pushback from Webby. (The episode doesn’t harp on this too much, staying just outside overwrought sentimentality, but Webby using the security robot as a crutch to call out Dewey, contrasting her actual state as an only child compared to Dewey’s imaginary one, was a great beat. I wish they pushed that a bit harder, especially since Dewey and Webby has a small history together so far, but this works for what it is.) Even the final scene, when their separate adventures literally crash into one another, shows how they do indeed work best as a team and individuals, working together to separately use their skills to save each other: Huey re-working the security bot to fit his needs, Louie using his gift for gab to talk the Beagle Boys into a hug fest, Dewey... uh, distracting Doofus just long enough so Huey can rework that bot. “Day Of The Only Child” is frequently silly but also very funny, but beyond that, it’s a clear-eyed approach that places each nephew in a manner that allows a better sense of their characters, individually and together, while also allowing them to just be kids–albeit in a world where adventure is the norm.
- Even on their separate adventures, each nephew gets a small opportunity to just be kids, instead of odd jokey caricatures, and that makes them a lot more relatable. Huey in his Junior Woodchuck garb. Louie playing with the big toys while with Doofus. Dewey using toy props while imitating his brothers, which also smartly and subtly reveals he misses his brothers more than he may admit.
- Dewey pitching the talk show might be the only thing that feels a bit too “writerly” but Bob Snow’s script structures it so it feels more like a makeshift kids’ fantasy than a TV insider gag. The only thing that might be off is nowadays kids would be striving for online/Youtube celebrity than pitching for TV, but still, plenty of kids have set up personal crappy sets for fake shows all the time! Not that I’m speaking from experience. No siree.