Napoleon Dynamite and New Opportunities

A little before the Christmas I got a note on Twitter from Brooke Cain, the main lady over at Raleigh’s News & Observer‘s TV blog, “Happiness Is A Warm TV“. I’ve chatted with her a few times about random TV stuff and knew she was a fan of my blogging (OK, maybe not a fan, but she’s at least read some of my posts, which puts her in select company), specifically my “Walking Dead” recaps over at The Bunker. She asked if I’d be interested in viewing two screener episodes of the animated version of “Napoleon Dynamite” and doing a quick write-up/preview of them. She assumed that I was a fan of the movie (I wasn’t) and that I could sit through two episodes of something that was shaping up to be a major stinker.

(Did I just use the term “stinker”?)

I said sure and I was sent the screener. I watched, noted the good (not much) and the bad (most), and while I could have easily ripped the show because it wasn’t funny, I ended up dissecting it and identifying what it really was – a show that wouldn’t succeed as it stood, but had the potential to be something if the writers played their cards right. I wrote up the preview if you’d like to take a look at it here.

The thing that you have to remember about television is that you can’t judge a show by one or two episodes, especially early episodes in the first season. “Seinfeld” is an excellent example of this. I really enjoyed “Seinfeld” (like a whole lot of people) and can watch episodes that repeat on TBS with no reservations and not have to worry about them being “dated” – while it does seem somewhat old in specific details, it’s not about that – it’s about the rapid-fire pace of how an episode rolls out, using the established characters whose personalities that you already know and your anticipation of what those characters are going to do because you know them – you’ve seen how they’ve acted in similar situations and want to see how this one turns out.

Now watch an episode from the first season. SLOWEST. PACING. EVARRR. Casual conversations with a slowness of pace so you get to know who these people are, and why they do what they do. Same with “The Simpsons” – the first season, although still classic, is nowhere near as polished as the nine seasons that followed (let’s not talk about “The Simpsons” after season 10, OK?) The first season, or at least the first half, is kind of like a beta test – you think it’s ready, but you’ll never know what people will think until you expose it to the public. From there, you can make changes and adjustments. Too many and it’s not worth it, but there are few shows that can’t be fixed at least somewhat with some tweaks.

I’m not saying that Napoleon Dynamite is going to be the second coming of “The Simpsons”, but to write it off after just two episodes is being incredibly short-sighted. The characters are there and already established, allowing the show to hit the ground running instead of having that half-season introduction to the characters. That said, even in half-hour form, the show seems to be a bit slow (not unlike the movie it was based off of) and doesn’t seem to take that leap into biting satire (like “The Simpsons”) or shock (like “Family Guy”). If the show sticks too close to the original movie, people are going to get bored. The way to succeed may be for original writers and directors Jared and Jerusha Hess to back away and let their baby be turned into a more accessible show. Cult status is one thing, but cult TV shows have a way of not sticking around for too long.

Regardless, the opportunity to write that bit for the News & Observer was awesome, and I look forward to working with them again in the future. Brooke seemed to be happy with the end product, so maybe some more can come out of this.

Here’s hoping.

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