Support Your Country! Buy American Dad on DVD!
Part of what happens when a person creates a TV show that turns out to be a big hit is that the viewing audience will unfairly compare that person’s newest creation to their old one, at least at first. It happened with Matt Groening when he went on to create Futurama, and it happened with Seth MacFarlane in regards to American Dad. Truth be told though, the show did start out in a similar vein as Family Guy; the cutaways, the same type of animation, and connections between characters in the two shows (e.g. Lois –> Francine) were drawn. Thankfully, after a few episodes, American Dad formed its own definite identity and ended up being one of the few consistently hilarious animated shows on the airwaves in 2005 and 2006.
-Pilot: Every series has to start somewhere, and while this one had its share of laughs, such as Stan stealing a girl’s purse and running so fast that Steve couldn’t catch up to take it back, the humor in this one felt too forced and obvious. In particular, the political jokes in the beginning felt a couple years too late. We’ve all been poking fun at the terror alert colors for a while now.
-Threat Levels: This one fares slightly better, since it tends to focus more on Stan’s insensitivity in general and less on politics. That helped make the series less one-note, and many of the scenes in here are quite funny and well-written. I especially love the gay newscasters’ banter throughout.
-Stan Knows Best: Drops back to average. Besides the fact that Hayley’s boyfriend rarely amuses me unless he’s the butt of a joke, the Roger/Steve subplot doesn’t do much for me. The scenes in the strip club were a highlight, however.
-Francine’s Flashback: This one is your standard “amnesia victim must remember crucial moment in their lives to return to normal” plot, but it’s helped by many twists on conventions. Stan’s scheme to kill a gopher to trigger Francine’s memory, which goes horribly awry as the gopher lives and Stan must frantically chase it down to the docks, is so over-the-top and riotous.
-Roger Codger: This is a good outing, though the plot bears a similar premise to a Family Guy episode, “Brian: Portrait of a Dog,” in that both deal with the “pet” of the family going unappreciated and leaving home temporarily. Thankfully, after this episode, the writers pretty much abandoned the Alf device of keeping Roger in the house and let Roger leave as long as he was wearing clothes, a la Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The highlight: The rather simple, but nevertheless accurate, Dynasty parodies throughout.
-Homeland Insecurity: The All in the Family tones definitely shine through in this one. Even though this episode is very political with Stan’s incessant racial profiling of the new Arab family next door, Stan takes it so far (by quarantining them in his backyard prison camp) that it ends up a winner. There is also a nice cinematic moment near the end of the show too, proving that the show is capable of generating tension and not succumbing to constant jokes.
-Deacon Stan, Jesus Man: Religion is the target here, and seeing Stan jealous is always laugh-worthy. I love the indifferent pastor, and seeing Karl Rove in the form of The Emperor from Star Wars is priceless.
-Bullocks to Stan: This episode is where the show got really good. The plot twist at the end of the show is magnificently played (as is the well-storyboarded and animated fight scene between Bullocks and Stan), and Klaus actually gets some laughs this time with his director’s commentary. This may very well be the best episode on this set.
-A Smith in Hand: A 40-year old discovering masturbation for the first time equals instant gold, but the show goes one step further by mocking activists who want to censor television. Worth a viewing just for the awesome gag with the forest animals getting covered in show (twice) from the echo of Stan’s “anguished” cries.
-All About Steve: Stan gets so stressed from his son’s lack of “manliness” that he turns into a nerd by getting hives (which look like pimples) and chipping his tooth (thus needing braces), and that really helps this episode’s chain of events come full circle. Stan’s CIA friends ditching the “new” him to raid a mosque mirrors what he did to Steve before, which is a nice touch. The episode ends with some well-delivered jabs at sci-fi cons. “Pack your Baggins!”
-Con Heir: Stan’s “real” father comes back after a long absence, but is he really an agent or just a jewel thief? Come on, guess. Not the strongest outing, and the subplot with Steve making out with an old lady, is just wrong.
-Stan of Arabia(1): After being “relocated” to Saudi Arabia, the family adjusts to the new culture. Fairly average, since most of the jokes are simply about the differences between S.A. & the United States (which we knew anyway). Part 2 is much better, though the low blow at Jay Leno and Stan forgetting that Francine is in a play, despite going over lines with her, are good for some laughs.
-Stan of Arabia(2): The family is in peril: Roger is held captive by a rich man who wants to have sex, Hayley is desperately trying to stop an Arab from clinging to his terrorist ways, Steve is lost in the desert, and Francine is stuck as second banana to another wife that Stan (who couldn’t be happier to be in Saudi Arabia) picked up. Eventually, after a trial and almost-stoning, they all make it back to America, “not the worst place in the world.” Much better than part 1, mainly for how many plot points they keep going and how many of them intersect. Peppy musical numbers help, too. George W. Bush delivering democracy to Saudi Arabia in a dream sequence is very, very funny.
-Commentaries: We get commentaries on every episode except Threat Levels, for some reason. This is a far cry from Family Guy‘s sets and more akin to The Simpsons. Unfortunately, it also suffers from FG’s problems such as certain gaps of silence and some irrelevant chatter. On the plus side, Seth MacFarlane, as little as he’s on, touches on some behind-the-scenes stuff, and the rotation of participants keeps the set of commentaries from getting too dull. Worth a listen, even with its flaws.
-All in the Family – Creating American Dad!: This is a half hour making-of that chronicles the history of the show, obviously. While it offers some interesting info, much of it is just “pat on the back”/”this show is great” talk so it doesn’t offer anything truly substantial.
-Secrets of the Glass Booth – Behind the Voices of American Dad: We get to see the VAs in action. It’s always fun to see what the VAs look like, especially when delivering the lines we know and love.
-American Animatics: Comparisons between the animatics and the final product on the same screen.
-The New CIA Promo Spot: A three minute special which has Stan as the tour guide to the new and improved CIA. Things go wrong when he gets home and his family (especially Hayley, who starts an anti-America chant) embarrases him. Stan’s ever-increasing frustration, which he tries to hide from the camera, makes this a fun piece.
-2005 Super Bowl Pre-Game Promo Spot: The family runs to the store to buy Super Bowl snacks before the big game starts. Great visual humor in this short. It has that “Apu in the Jolly Bengali” feel to it, which is definitely a good thing.
-Complete Table Read for “Threat Levels”: Seth and the gang read the second episode at the 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. I thought this would be the highlight of the special features but since the dialog is basically the same as the final episode, it ends up being fairly boring to watch.
-Deleted Scenes: 42 of ’em.
Despite a shaky start, American Dad quickly rose to the occasion and became one of the most well-written animated comedies in recent memory. Its plot structure, pacing, unique characters, and reliance on verbal humor as opposed to cutaways helped to separate itself from Family Guy. Luckily, the show doesn’t fall back on political humor very much, instead allowing its characters and situations to carry the jokes. So pick this one up if you’re not a terrorist. HAHAHA just kidding. Not really.