Success breeds sequels and then a TV spinoff. That formula now applies to “Kung Fu Panda.” The new series “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness” (4:30 p.m., Nickelodeon) debuts for the “SpongeBob” crowd today.
The “Panda” computer-graphic comedies have grossed the better part of a billion dollars over the years. The cartoons follow a theme as old as screen comedy. Juxtapose the austere serenity of Eastern martial arts with the clumsy antics of a gluttonous bear, and voila: slapstick- action.
Jack Black voiced that bear, Po, in the big-screen versions. And his character’s attitude was not terribly dissimilar to Black’s other screen roles. The “Awesomeness” theme song has the distinct jokiness of Black’s old musical act Tenacious D. But Jack Black’s name is not in the credits for this TV series. Lucy Liu and James Hong reprise their voices from the blockbuster movies, but Mick Wingert supplies Po’s voice. Will kids be able to tell Jack Black’s voice from a Jack Black imitator? Will they care?
Over the past two decades we’ve seen big stars, and some formerly big stars, transform themselves behind prosthetics or become cartoon characters, or both. Eddie Murphy movies were once automatic hits, but around “Harlem Nights” he became box-office poison, only to resurrect his career beneath fat suits and makeup as the Klump characters. Then he became the jokey donkey in the “Shrek” movies. Will viewers ever go to theaters to see Eddie Murphy as Eddie Murphy in a screen comedy again?
The same question could be asked about Mike Myers ever starring in a non-”Shrek” hit. Movie fans who fell out of love with Tom Cruise seemed to enjoy him in heavy makeup as the grotesque movie producer Les Grossman in “Tropic Thunder.” There’s word of a spinoff featuring that character.
Prosthetics, makeup and CGI characters can certainly prolong the careers of stars big and small. But when you spend so much time hiding, you can simply disappear.
• Westerners turn to unorthodox cures in the four-part series “The Witch Doctor Will See You Now” (9 p.m., National Geographic).
• “Vanguard” (7 p.m., Current) examines Islamophobia and the growth of popular hatred toward Muslims in both the U.S. and U.K.
Tonight’s other highlights
• The top six sample rock and country classics on “The Sing-Off” (7 p.m., NBC).
• A meteor crash scrambles technology on “Terra Nova” (7 p.m., Fox).
• “Dancing With the Stars” (7 p.m., ABC) hobbles along.
• A pop star prepares for a comeback that would never be in the 2009 performance documentary “Michael Jackson’s This is It” (8 p.m., VH1).
• The Eagles host the Bears on “Monday Night Football” (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
• Secrets emerge after a well-respected citizen falls ill on “House” (8 p.m., Fox).
• Sarah Silverman plays a relationship counselor on “Bored to Death” (8 p.m., HBO).