Napoleon Dynamite – Episode 2: Scantronica Love – Review

Simon Moore reviews the second episode of the Napoleon Dynamite animated series…

Last week we met the ginger one’s close family. This week we meet his friends, Deb Bradshaw and Pedro Sánchez, just as hopelessly outcast at Preston Senior High but perhaps a little more grounded than him. Perhaps. Casting them out and pushing them into lockers, we have cool kids Don Moser (Jared Hess) and Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff), blissfully happy in their own laughing-at-poor-people world.

Rather than run through a normal day to get our bearings, a firm status quo is established by showing just how weird things get when a computer dating programme shakes everything up. Science teacher Professor Koontz (loopily played by Jemaine Clement as a geeky Michael York) introduces his patented Scantronica 3000 as a replacement for the illogical partner choices the ordinary human heart makes.

For Deb, this promises a payoff for her long-unrequited crush on Napoleon. Pedro has his eye on Summer, his one-time Class Presidential rival and longtime girlfriend of Don. Napoleon… really doesn’t care. He’s fed up with filling in compatability questionnaires. As far as he’s concerned, there are only two important questions for a potential soulmate: “What’s your favourite hawk, and how many do you own?”

Once the computer has processed the questionnaires and endured some creepy advances from Prof. Koontz, it’s ready to announce the pairings. Pedro gets Summer. Deb gets Don. Napoleon gets a Japanese exchange student who uses a katana to cut up a lunchtime orange. For a man who sees noble samurai squatting in every other Rorschach test, Tokiko seems perfect.

This main story moves along nicely, setting up some great jokes about Don’s family, where Jennifer Coolidge heads up a clan of Stepford-type women in identical bouffant barnets. The subplot, where Uncle Rico coaches his nephew to make money as magic act Kip Create, leaves something to be desired. There doesn’t even seem to be enough juice in the idea to keep it going beyond a couple of running-away-from-angry-locals scenes.

As climaxes go, stopping a pre-engagement wedding ceremony on a houseboat (Shallow Waters) is an inspired one. Deb, lured in at first by the riches of handicrafts and the security of a future marriage, quickly sees how messed up the Moser family really are. Napoleon, Pedro and a hilariously bitchy Summer pitch in to rescue the poor girl from making a promise she’s too hopelessly faithful to break. Expect to see a strangely noble side to our hero as he takes on Mrs Moser: “Out of my way, you classy hag!”

Jon Heder continues to lead the way with his wonderfully teenager-ish grunts and spot-on monotonal delivery. In theory, this sort of performance ought to be excruciating. In reality, he comes across as sweet and caring in spite of himself. As Batman and Katie Holmes used to take turns saying, it’s what a person does that defines them; and when his friends need him, Napoleon has a tendency to step up and exceed everyone’s expectations.

It’s quite satisfying that by episode’s end, we feel we know who these characters are and what they’re capable of. Scantronica Love fills in most of the gaps left by Thundercone, but it makes room for the future. We get invariably hilarious glimpses into the way Napoleon and his friends think. We also get a surprise mental picture of Grandma Carlinda skinny dipping with Merle Haggard, but then, such are the hazards of disturbing an old woman’s afternoon snooze.

Next week: Ligertown. Can Napoleon’s all-time favourite hybrid predator live up to his dreams?

Simon Moore is a budding screenwriter, passionate about films both current and classic. He has a strong comedy leaning with an inexplicable affection for 80s montages and movies that you can’t quite work out on the first viewing.

Around the Internet…