Napoleon Dynamite – Episode 5: Bed Races – Review

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

Some things are so smacked-out stone-cold crazy they simply have to be real. No, not The X Factor. I still insist that’s a mass hallucination we can’t wake up from. I refer instead to the Annual Preston Bed Races. This is simply one of many true-to-life Idaho happenstances Napoleon Dynamite captures with its trademark offbeat eloquence, and boy, does it sum up this town.

Every year for the last six years, Grandma Carlinda and Kip have put Napoleon and Uncle Rico and every other Prestonite (Prestonian?) to shame, bringing home a good couple of shelves’ worth of trophies and a topiary sculpture of honour in the Preston Garden of Fame to show for it. And why not? Grandma’s got the skills to pay the bills, and Kip is the smallest man who ever lived. They’ve got an event that more or less amounts to pushing somebody around on a bed down pat.

Uncle Rico and Napoleon simply won’t stand for another year of trophy-based humiliation. Rico in particular (the undisputed star of this episode) cannot afford to lose again this year. He’s still smarting from that much-referenced ball-dropping in his big high school football game, a game we finally get to see in proper origin story flashback-vision. It’s a tale of pride, overconfidence and the new Dodge Santana. That it’s told as he wheels Napoleon up and down the highway in the middle of the night only serves to reinforce the pure, undiluted Uncle Rico-ness of this episode.

Uncle Rico really is prepared to do anything to win this year, whether it’s chugging cow’s blood Charlie Sheen style, cramming himself into a unitard or full-on cheating. With a desperate Napoleon for support, Rico goes ahead and weighs down Grandma’s bed with an illicit lead blanket. Their only real opponent crippled, Rico and Napoleon ride the lumpy mattress to victory.

For Rico, this is nothing short of catharsis. He’s the toast of the town, with all the fame and respect and head waitresses he always imagined he deserved. His football-dropping incident is officially forgotten. Napoleon feels guilty, but with all the napkin dispensers, diabetic socks and dragon figurines a boy could ever dream of, he feels hard-pressed to admit anything to Grandma just yet.

Now the story pulls a Columbo on us, as the enormity of Napoleon’s offence weighs heavy on his conscience. Grandma pulls off a deep undercover guilt trip as a ‘normal’ Grandma, all friendly and caring and fond of commemorative plates. She even gives away her prized car to the local convent, ostensibly accepting her advanced age. Napoleon can’t take it – on the one hand, he doesn’t want his Uncle Rico to feel like a lonely failure the rest of his life. On the other hand, frickin’ embroidery.

So, like all Columbo suspects, Napoleon finally cracks. The waking guilt-themed nightmares get frighteningly lucid, with talking napkin dispensers and murderous bed frames urging him to come clean and tell the truth. I keep mentioning Columbo, but seriously, watch an episode and then imagine Johnny Cash or Leonard Nimoy having these nightmares. You’ll never see it the same way again.

With the unveiling of Rico’s own topiary sculpture, the truth comes out, and Grandma immediately tears apart her Adorable Granny disguise to reveal her familiar manly togs underneath: “I knew I wasn’t an old lady…” Peter Falk, eat your heart out. Publicly outed as a cheatster, poor old Uncle Rico loses out on the riches and the fancy ladies and the sandwich named after him, but ultimately Grandma proves herself the bigger man. She commissions the artful Pedro to create a topiary sculpture fitting for an athlete with an imagination. It’s quite touching to see this knowing affection between Grandma and Rico, usually so brusque and stand-offish with each other.

So, with a delightful convent-raiding mission sign-off, we bid farewell to Napoleon and the charmingly insane town of Preston for another week. Bed Races has been wall-to-wall lunacy, and that’s just the way we like our chronicles of the Dynamite family. With inspired flourishes like the Cock-A-Doodle Preston breakfast presenting team and a dragon figurine shouting “You said there’d be no killing!” at a bed frame, the writing team have yet another ringing success up on our screens.

It felt like there could’ve been more actual bed races action, but then again, too much of a good thing might easily have killed the joke. The episode as is works out beautifully, and with no straggling subplot to weigh it down this week, it’s as near a perfect Napoleon Dynamite as has been so far shown. Maybe the 2012 Olympics are already planned, but hot dangit, can’t we just have international-standard bed races instead? That’s the kind of event people will brave London traffic to witness. That and the women’s beach volleyball. And… objective focus lost. Dang.

Next week, the season finale, FFA. How will Napoleon and Pedro measure up as a team in the Future Farmers of America state competition? What’s with the spiders in the bathroom? And does Kip in a bathtub really count as fan service for the ladies?

Read our exclusive interview with Napoleon Dynamite co-developer, writer and producer Mike Scully here.

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.