As a ’toon, ‘Napoleon’ even lamer
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org January 12, 2012 5:34PM
Jon Heder reprises his film role as “Napoleon Dynamite.”
Two-episode premiere Sunday from 7:30 to 8 p.m. and 8:30 to 9 p.m. on WFLD-Channel 32
9:30 to 10 p.m. Thursdays on FX
Updated: February 16, 2012 8:07AM
The 2004 indie film “Napoleon Dynamite” tells the tale of a gangly teenage outcast who entertains himself by playing spastic games of tetherball and sketching his favorite animal, the liger. (That’s a lion and tiger hybrid, duh.)
Almost a decade after the cult hit made a splash at Sundance, Napoleon and his army of fellow misfits from Preston, Idaho, are bringing their unique brand of awkwardness to the small screen.
Fox’s new series “Napoleon Dynamite” features all of the actors in the original film. But this time they’ll just be heard, not seen.
“I loved the idea of it becoming a cartoon; It allows us to actually be more animated, for lack of a better word,” said Tina Majorino, who plays Napoleon’s sort-of love interest, Deb.
“Napoleon’s” TV adaptation comes from the husband and wife team of Jared and Jerusha Hess, who wrote and directed the film. They’re joined by executive producer Mike Scully, whose C.V. includes “The Simpsons.” He describes Fox’s latest animated offering as “the continuing adventures” of Napoleon Dynamite. (That’s not a selling point for folks like me, who weren’t big fans of the movie.)
“We want it to work for people whether you’ve seen the film before or not,” Scully added. “We’re going to open up the town where Napoleon and his family live. You’re going to meet more people … and all of your favorites will be back, voiced by the original cast.”
Those fan favorites include Napoleon’s lisping, Internet-trolling brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell); Uncle Rico, who can’t let go of his high school football glory days (Jon Gries); overly enthusiastic taekwondo teacher, Rex (Diedrich Bader), and soft-spoken Latino pal, Pedro (Efren Ramirez).
Jon Heder returns as the voice of Napoleon, whose skinny frame pulses with newfound strength in the series premiere. It’s a result of his new acne cream, Rack-U-Tane. Side effects include unbridled rage.
Napoleon’s ability to deliver an a-- whooping attracts the attention of the high school coach, who invites the pimply teen to join an underground flight club. It also attracts the attention of Kip’s new girlfriend, Misty (Amy Poehler), who’s no longer impressed by the six-pack abs Kip’s grandma spray-painted on his hollow chest.
I’ve already established that I’m not a big fan of the film, for which my one-word review would be: meh.
I’m even less a fan of the TV series.
At least with the movie, the actors relayed a vulnerability that sparked occasional empathy. That pathos got lost in the transition from live action to animation. So did much of the humor — and there wasn’t a lot of that to go around in the first place.
The characters’ over-the-top antics feel funnier in the flesh. In the movie, watching a ginned-up Uncle Rico lob Napoleon in the face with a steak is somewhat amusing. Watching cartoon Kip sling fried chicken skin at Napoleon’s forehead (the cause of the aforementioned acne), not so much.
If you want to laugh about animated adolescents coming of age, you’re better off tuning into FX’s new series, “Unsupervised.” It’s spawned from several of the same wonderfully twisted minds behind FX’s hit comedy series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
“Unsupervised” chronicles the misadventures of best friends Gary and Joel, a couple of lovable 15-year-old losers who’ve been left to raise themselves.
Gary’s biological parents long ago bailed on him, and the only thing his stepmom is interested in nurturing is her bong. Joel’s home life is equally rudderless. Despite being dirt-poor and devoid of role models, the boys keep clutching on to optimism. They rely on each other to navigate the treacherous terrain of teenagedom. (Sounds wholesome, but it’s FX. There’s plenty of adult language in this “kids” show.)
In the pilot, the boys realize that if they have any hope of hooking up with girls, they’d better stop riding their bikes, catching snakes and playing ninjas and start acting like grown-ups (i.e. drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes).
They throw a wild party at Gary’s house and turn his bedroom into what they envision to be a love den, complete with a huge poster of a scorpion “because girls love nature.” They also splash blood on the walls to make the girls think they’re about to get murdered. Alas, the boys will be there to comfort the frightened lasses.
Seeing Gary and Joel on the verge of losing their childlike innocence, Gary’s naive but well-meaning Panamanian neighbor, Martin (Fred Armisen), tries to dispense some fatherly advice.
“If you want to have sex, have sex with a book,” he tells them in a thick Spanish accent.
Justin Long — the “Mac Guy” in those Apple vs. PC commercials — does the voice of Gary. Joel is voiced by the series’ co-creator and executive producer, David Hornsby, who also draws the characters. Nice to see that Hornsby didn’t go into hiding, Osama bin Laden style, after his disastrous CBS sitcom “How To Be a Gentleman.”
Other members of the “Unsupervised” cast include Kristen Bell (“House of Lies”) as an awkward, bra-stuffing freshman named Megan. Romany Malco (“No Ordinary Family”) is the portly black kid, Darius, who can’t understand why people watch those “Real Housewives” shows about a bunch of rich women who throw parties and get mad at each other for bringing the wrong kind of shrimp.
Not all of “Unsupervised’s” jokes stick their landing, and the content is on the crude side. But I’m willing to check up on Gary and Joel every so often to see how they’re acting out while growing up.