I’ve spent a few recent episodes discussing American Dad’s ability to be effectively emotional, and yes, I think it can do it, though it does have some obstacles to overcome. Tonight’s episode, on the other hand, may be the most explicitly political American Dad I’ve seen since I took over reviewing duties. Yes, it mostly works, but on the other hand, it doesn’t do much beyond making its point.
That point is simple and unsubtle: minimum wage isn’t enough to live on. How does American Dad say this? Stan gets pissed off at Jeff and Haley, and pushes to have them move out. But Jeff’s minimum wage job isn’t enough, they say, and they challenge Stan and Francine to live off of the $938 per month. Yes, it’s contrived, but happily, Francine is there to note that it’s contrived. “I don’t know, Stan. A reverse Brewster’s Millions? Is this really necessary?”
Unsurprisingly, Stan and Francine doesn’t manage to succeed. But first, there’s a series of misadventures, where they’re forced to take the bus, and try to live in the slums. This doesn’t work out so well for the Smiths, predictably. But the jokes don’t entirely work here, as they’re a little bit too reliant on “hey, homeless people are dirty and crazy!” stereotypes. I think there’s more humor to be found in Stan and Francine potentially discovering that they have no idea how far money goes or can be stretched when you try. But that’s not really American Dad, is it? I could see Bob’s Burgers doing that, maybe Cleveland (though it wouldn’t be funny), and classic Simpsons. But American Dad tends to do farce far better than satire.
Another potential issue with the episode is that I’m not sure it makes a very good case about the minimum wage issue that it so clearly wants to. For myself, I tend to agree that yes, minimum wage for two people is insufficient to live off of. But if you weren’t already fully in agreement, I don’t think the argument was made, but the premise was repeated enough to be potentially annoying.
On the bright side, the B-plot involving Roger, Steve, Klaus, and a Ferrari is just stellar. It opens with an animation of eurotrash-looking Steve and Roger driving a Ferrari past another sports car with attracted young women. It manages to be both deeply ridiculous and kind of cool. But Klaus interrupts their fantasy, revealing that it’s just a toy car, and he pisses on their little games, saying they’ll never know what it’s like to really drive a Ferrari.
So Steve and Roger devise a plan to get the car, involving Roger confusing and bribing a salesman, and then repeating the intro, only in Las Vegas, to annoy Klaus. There’s not much else to this subplot—it’s here, it’s fast, it makes its jokes, and it gets out of the way. It almost feels like it was built around the specific images of Roger and Steve looking like trashy badasses, and nothing else really mattered, which ended up working quite well.
“Less Money, Mo’ Problems” also continues reintegrating Haley into American Dad, and that might be part of its problems. The temptation to go All In The Family with Stan and Haley butting heads politically might be too much. Is it impossible for American Dad to make a statement? Probably not, but I suspect the degree of difficulty may be even higher than it being emotional. Still, I respect it for giving it a go, and the episode still generally worked despite a few missteps.
- “It’s okay, Francine. It’s over. She’s dead now. She’s finally dead.” I half felt like this was over-the-top classism, and half like yeah, that’s believable, given the two weeks I spent in a ratty Oakland motel with occasionally screaming neighbors.
- “If we stick together and believe in each other we can overcome anything! ...I just need to find a place to take a shit.” Perfect comic timing here. The joke was predictable but that’s not always a bad thing.
- It's been a while since we've had a really strong Francine episode, hasn't it?