Sunday, January 15, 2012

'Napoleon Dynamite'

It's hard to pinpoint the saddest thing about Fox's new animated-series version of 2004 cult comedy Napoleon Dynamite. Is it that the network is so clueless about how to expand its Sunday-night animated block that executives think a flash-in-the-pan sensation from eight years ago is going to get audiences excited? Is it that nearly every actor from the movie agreed to come back to offer up a recycled version of their original performance? Is it that filmmaker Jared Hess and star Jon Heder have completely failed at every other project they've attempted and have basically admitted defeat, crawling back to the only thing anyone cares to see them do? Or is it that despite all of that, this is essentially just a generic copy of Fox's other Sunday-night cartoons?

It's all of those things, of course, although the last one is really the most disappointing. Because if you're going to make a show out of Napoleon Dynamite, no matter how ill-advised that may be, you might as well at least try to capture some of what made the movie unique. I haven't seen it since it was first in theaters, but I remember certain parts being pretty funny, and the whole thing having an appealingly ramshackle, homespun feel. It wasn't exactly realistic, but it was a relatable look at the feeling of living in a boring small town and having to find any kind of ridiculous thing to do to keep yourself entertained.

The series keeps the characters and some of their unique quirks, but it's structured like any of the other Fox Sunday-night shows, set in a world full of fantastical absurdity that bears little resemblance to reality. The plots of the first two episodes could be lifted from second-rate latter-day Simpsons episodes, and although Napoleon utters a few of his trademark phrases, his distinctive charm is long gone. The animated version of Napoleon seems even more like an imitation of Beavis and Butt-Head than his live-action counterpart did, and the whole tone of the show is derivative of better animated series. This could have been a gentle look at small-town oddballs along the lines of King of the Hill, but instead it's trying way too hard to fit in with shows that have already been imitated ad nauseam.

Premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. on Fox.

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