Spring 2012 Review: Napoleon Dynamite

25 Jan

Most humor isn’t novel, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s writing and acting that pulls it off.  Exact jokes word for word aren’t the same, but there are types of jokes, that are classics for a reason and can even transcend different types of movies and television series.  What pick and rolls are to basketball, these jokes are to comedy; everyone writing a comedy should know how to run these and they can go back to these tried and true jokes even when other attempts aren’t working.  Other animated series like The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad all work on these.

I noted a couple of classic joke types that were used in Napoleon Dynamite as I was watching the show that absolutely can work, but don’t.  For example, at one point, Napoleon is using an acne cream to eliminate a case of particularly disfiguring acne.  The acne cream has a list of potential side effects, parodying the type of side effects that appear on all sorts of drugs, and they are ridiculous.  This is supposed to be funny because of how ridiculous the particular side effects are, both in and of themselves, and compared to the fact that the medication is only an acne cream.  This is a tried and true type of joke and no one pulls it off better than Stephen Colbert.  In a regular Colbert Report feature, Cheating Death With Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, Colbert frequent introduces products by his fake sponsor Prescott Pharmaceuticals, with all manner of ridiculous side effects, including autonomous nipple, wandering genital syndrome, and brain tooth.  I almost never fail to laugh at these side effects.  But when Napoleon Dynamite reads the side effects, it’s not funny.  The particular side effects aren’t that amusing, nor is the way he reads it.

There’s a couple of other examples of this.  One is a fake initial joke; use a series of initials as a shorthand in a conversation and then when another character asks what the initials stand for, the person who uses the shorthand reveals it, which is hopefully funny, because the initials stand for something ridiculous or particularly unlikely.  Napoleon Dynamite attempts this, but it’s done poorly.  Another example is the shows attempt at a Chuck E. Cheese style band of animitronic animals singing.  This should be funny.  The Simpsons did a classic version with the animals of Wall E. Weasel singing “You’re the birthday, you’re the birthday, you’re the birthday boy or girl.”  It’s hilarious.  Napoleon Dynamite’s “Taking Care of Pizza” misses the mark.

If I had to order the problems with this show, and there are several, the top might just be Napoleon’s voice and inflection.  The way he says things is irritating and not funny.  The writing certainly doesn’t help, but he basically challenges any humor on the show to get through the handicap of his annoying voice.

The other question is to ask here is – Why?  Why make this into a show, a few years after the movie was such a break-out hit?  There’s just no reason for this show’s existence.  It almost feels like side characters are forced into the first episode, as if to say, all of your favorite characters from the movie are back!  Rex is back (who can believe they were able to get Diedrich Bader on board?) for some reason in a scene!

I remember why I thought the movie was very overrated, but even that was better than this.  Maybe some of the jokes worked once, but not again.  Maybe the movie was slightly better planned out than any individual episode.  Maybe some of Napaleon’s idiotic mannerisms played better in person than they do as a cartoon.  Still, going down from the movie isn’t a good sign.

Will I watch it again?  No.  It’s bad.  Napoleon Dynamite, like Allen Gregory, is the type of show which should be appealing to me as an audience but misses its mark completely.  In fact, I’d actually say, from the first episode at least, Allen Gregory was slightly less worse, though the margin is close enough that watching more episodes could change it.  Still, Napoleon’s incredibly irritating voice is probably what sends Napoleon Dynamite below Allen Gregory.

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