When it comes to character, animated television shows live and die by it. Looking at a show like Family Guy, character is even more important than something as integral as plot. A show like that can twist and turn and by the third act, you can’t even remember what happened in the first, but it’s the characters that keep audiences coming back. After a movie and four episodes, it would seem that Napoleon Dynamite should have some form of character that can contain an episode, but still the characters remain one dimensional and not worth the time.
“Pedro vs. Deb” is a sitcom scenario that has been played out so many times; from the opening scene you can instantly figure out the main structure of the rest of the episode. Two friends (Pedro & Deb) fight over an issue (an article Deb wrote for the school newspaper that made the town dislike Pedro), leaving their mutual friend (Napoleon) alone and trying to concoct a way to make all three of them friends again. Better sitcoms, like Community, 30 Rock or New Girl, would take this familiar sitcom story and tweak it to make it something new and fun. All “Pedro vs. Deb” does is make the episode as bland and weak as the show has become.
Napoleon Dynamite is still struggling with being in the shadow of the film as well. In order to get the town to like Pedro again, Napoleon does his signature dance to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat.” The town is quickly mesmorized and even forgets what they are angry at Pedro for, before Rex yells “It’s a trap! He’s trying to dance his way into our hearts!” As Napoleon and Pedro run off stage, in what feels like a way of catering to the film’s fans, Pedro says “I’m surprised it worked the first time.” The episode also for no reason has Kip singing the same tune he sang at his wedding (which apparently never happened in the cartoon world) but with different songs. References as glaring as Napoleon’s dance attempt to do fan service, but rather are distracting to the episode, only to draw the audience’s attention to something they liked last decade.
“Pedro vs. Deb” does have a few throwaway jokes that work when the show is trying to be original, such as “The Girl Who Went to Israel and Now Won’t Shut Up About It” and how when Napoleon goes into the woods and notes that things are weird there at night, he sees a bear riding a bicycle. But these moments are few and far between.
Napoleon Dynamite is still lacking any depth to its characters. I don’t mean that we have to know these characters’ life histories yet, but something beyond the surface is missing. Kip is nothing more than a man stuck in arrested development, Rico is a dumb guy stuck in the past and Pedro is basically the human version of Slowpoke Rodriguez from the old Warner Bros. cartoons. Now yes, Napoleon Dynamite is still in its first few episodes, but consider another new show like FX’s Unsupervised. While only three episodes in, it has set up around seven characters, each of which I could probably retain more information about then any of the cast of Napoleon Dynamite.
Most of that is because Napoleon Dynamite is content to put these characters amongst moronic characters in a podunk town in Middle America and see how many weird things they can throw into a common story. It’s not that Napoleon Dynamite couldn’t be entertaining. Last week’s episode was a shot in the right direction. But right now, it seems like a show resting on its’ laurels, coasting on the audience it cultivated eight years ago.