When Napoleon Dynamite debuted a mere five episodes ago, it had to deal with living under the shadow of a cult classic that was over-quoted and over-merchandised. To the show’s detriment, Napoleon Dynamite went for fan service, constantly referencing moments from the film in hopes of getting mild chuckles from its audience. While this started off as the show’s first glaring problem, it is no longer the only problem. With the final episode of it’s first season, “FFA,” Napoleon Dynamite dumbs down the people of Oklahoma, turns the characters into caricatures, relies on one of the first catchphrases from the film, and reuses the same pitting of character vs. character that half the season has been built around.
You might remember from the film that Napoleon is a member of the FFA, the Future Farmers of America, so “FFA” takes us to their state competition. Napoleon’s usual competition partner Curtis leaves him, deciding to join the cool kids instead. Napoleon enlists Pedro’s help instead since they make such a great team. Napoleon is the star at FFA, as his fans literally carry them on their shoulders, until his old rival Filson shows up, voiced by Sam Rockwell. With the sleeves cut off his FFA outfit and his shirt unzipped, he’s the new rebel that everyone loves.
The three characters that have been stunted the most by degrading their characters to one-note simplicity (Kip, Grandma, Rico), have to live in Rico’s Santana as the house has been infested with daddy long-legs and must be sprayed. Here’s where we see the show hasn’t made any progress. Kip is still in arrested development, screaming over his baby monitor to Grandma about spiders, singing his song about technology, but with different words, and leaving his punchlines to always involve “jeez,” “gosh” or “dang it.” Rico gives the family tips on how to be homeless, such as how to take a bath (go through a car wash), find food (push the reverse on the vacuum at the car wash) and where to find entertainment (peer into the window of a family with a cheating husband).
At the FFA competition, Napoleon gets distracted by a woman that has seduced him with tickle fights, but she turns out to be Filson’s fiancé, leaving Pedro to pick up the slack poorly. When Napoleon learns the error of his ways, he and Pedro work their way from the bottom of the rankings to the top, with a little help from Pedro—who wrote a song Napoleon sings on the stage. This moment is nice, a sort of way for Pedro to pay back Napoleon for his contributions in the past, but the rest of the episode bogs it down.
“FFA” just showcases the errors the show has made in its six episodes this first season. When the movie debuted in 2004, some of the things that are referenced in these episodes were funny, but by 2005, they had already gotten stale. Relying on character catchphrases from eight years ago as your humor is painfully awkward. It’s like hearing an obnoxious person doing an Austin Powers impression now; it’s not funny, and you just feel sort of bad for them. That’s exactly what Napoleon Dynamite has done throughout its first season.
Napoleon Dynamite has had some steps in the direction towards change throughout its episodes though. The evolving of the town and its characters has been a welcome change, and the depth of relationships in the core groups has gone up slightly, but there’s definitely room for improvement in all aspects of the show if it does return for a second season. It is possible Napoleon Dynamite could return for a second go-around, since ratings did start off surprisingly high, yet have lately sunk to around four million viewers a week, doing about as well as Bob’s Burgers did in its first season, or as well as Allen Gregory did, which Napoleon Dynamite replaced. Napoleon Dynamite seems to have its heart in the right place, but the writing is so poor that its intentions almost don’t matter. If the show does receive a second season, maybe the writing and character development can move up a notch to at the very least make the show enjoyable.