Looking back over episode descriptions from the past few seasons, it’s been at least three years since American Dad did an episode that focuses on the political differences between Stan and Hayley. That’s somewhat impressive, given that the conflict over Stan’s ardent conservative views and Hayley’s stereotypically hippie/granola liberalism was the basis for their father/daughter relationship dating back to the beginning of the show. But the fact that episodes don’t go back to that well very often speaks to how thoroughly that showdown got put through its paces early on in the series. Stan’s Republican views are at their most annoying when placed in direct opposition to Hayley’s rebellious leftist political beliefs. When it’s just one of them spouting out opinions, it can be a funny bit true to the character. But when they both spar they can come off as shrill and obnoxious.
Perhaps its best then that “Honey, I’m Homeland” was written by Dan Vebber, one of the American Dad writers from the very early seasons, who also wrote for Futurama and The Simpsons, including “The Book Job,” one of my favorite episodes from the past few years. With that foundation in the early dynamics on the show, this isn’t yet another episode where differing political opinions threaten to explode into outsized family arguments. Instead, Hayley senses that something is wrong with her dad because his fierce dedication to his beliefs wavers, then shifts violently to the left.
Stan goes undercover at an Occupy anniversary party, supposedly infiltrating a terrorist cell. But Hayley pushes back with ideas of the Occupy movement being anti-capitalist and blah blah unfortunately all of the nuance to this issue has long been swept under the rug. But what’s important is that Hayley tells her dad to wear mirror shades to blend in, which actually makes him stick out like a sore thumb and kidnapped by young people who look like “three multicultural members of the Burger King Kids Club.” The “torture” sequence is probably the funniest in the episode while still being broad, since Stan’s idea of political torture is basically a bunch of easy liberal comedy targets. The trio of kidnappers subject him to energy efficient light—the tint is slightly off—beat poetry rhyming 9/11 with 7-11, and episodes of This American Life featuring an appearance by Ira Glass. (Stan’s reaction to Glass’ narration: “Why is he pausing? Doesn’t he know what he wants to say next? Doesn’t he have it written down right in front of him?”)
After a few days of behavioral correction, Stan goes home brainwashed to be extra nice to his family, but secretly plots a terrorist attack on Mt. Rushmore, firing missiles at it until three of the faces are Michael Moore, Sean Penn, and Captain Planet. But Hayley, sensing that her dad isn’t his usual conservative, standoffish self, steps in to wrench him back from brainwashing. It’s a good sign that this episode manages to get both political opinions out, make fun of them in nearly equal measure, but never let the plot hinge on squabbling between Hayley and Stan. She’s working to protect him, not because her dad isn’t allowed to change, but because his stubbornness is a key factor of his personality. Her efforts pay off, as she snaps her dad out of it, only not in time to prevent the missiles from firing—which is okay, since the whole thing was just an expensive test for Mt. Rushmore’s new laser anti-missile laser defense system, since South Dakota had extra Homeland Security money lying around. Part of me is a little sad that this didn’t end up being more of a Homeland parody, but considering I don’t have fond memories of the Breaking Bad episode from the fall, maybe that’s a good thing.
Then there’s the Roger/Steve plot. When Stan goes missing, Roger decides to corner the market on candles, assuming there will be a bunch of vigils. But when Stan returns home brainwashed, he’s left with a bunch of product and no way to sell it. There are a bunch of directions this could go in, and while it goes for one of the weirdest possible choices, it doesn’t feel like a complete arc, even for a subplot. Steve goes up to the attic to get a candle, but he and Roger end up mesmerized by each other in the candlelight, so infatuated that they light all the candles for a romantic mood while Roger massages Steve.
But then Francine turns on the lights, and the arc is cut off with expressions of disgust. Sure, it’s funny and weird that the candlelight atmosphere seduces them so severely that they wind up in a compromising position they regret once they realize what’s going on. But there’s barely enough time to get through those quick beats. Roger has the candles, he’s worried about offloading them, and then the encounter with Steve happens. Still, “Honey, I’m Homeland” is better than last week’s gender-swap episode, and the “Naughty Stewardesses” one as well. The back half of this season hasn't had too many high points (aside from “Familyland”) but I expect part of that has to do with the leadership change on the production staff, and Fox just tossing out whatever they’ve got until the show shifts to TBS in the summer.
- “Yeah, but he let a coyote in the house when he did.”
- “I’ve told you time and time again that AIDS was the FBI!”
- Next week is another Stan/Hayley episode! And they team up again!