At least American Dad ends its run on Fox’s Animation Domination with a bang. With the network breaking up the long-running two-hour animated comedy block next season, I’ve been anticipating whether Dad—the best show not named Cosmos associated with Seth MacFarlane’s name for a good five years running—could go out on a high note, some kind of punctuation to this era as it fades to cable. (Truth be told, MacFarlane’s shows have typically done extremely well on cable in reruns, with Family Guy occasionally even beating broadcast networks in primetime.)
There are few episodes from the past few seasons as re-watchable as “Lost In Space,” last year’s Jeff-centric half-hour that took place almost entirely on a spaceship with Roger’s species overseeing prisoners, with only cameos by Haley and Roger. I’ve gone back and watched the entire Test sequence set to Wax Fang’s “Majestic” more than a few times since then, and it’s still a visual extravaganza, one of the most memorable scenes American Dad has ever accomplished.
“The Longest Distance Relationship” isn’t quite on par with last year’s outer space adventure—but how could it be? It’s not as stylistically ambitious, since it doesn’t jettison the main cast or the typical episode structure. But it still contains a handful of the best one-liners this season, packing in an abundance of visual gags, as well as leaning heavily on a timely message about letting go of something at a natural and healthy breaking point—all before Roger does what he does best and pulls the rug out from under an expected emotionally satisfying conclusion. There’s no way this was an intentional Fox finale for American Dad, but as far as unplanned thematic messages to send, “Relationship” has a particularly astute one for fans as it heads off to TBS this summer.
After touching on Jeff’s disappearance over the course of a few episodes this season, this season finale takes place on the one-year anniversary of Roger being a total asshole and shoving Jeff into a tractor beam to take his place heading back to his home planet. It was a dick move then, and it’s a dick move now, but since American Dad will never question or punish Roger in any permanent fashion (there’s no fun in handcuffing a Loki figure forever), he’s been able to slide. Roger is so complacent that he maxes out Francine’s credit card to get the Cake Boss guys to make a confectionary replica of that moment—and maxes out Stan’s card ordering a second cake depicting Roger placing the first order.
Hayley, meanwhile, celebrates the anniversary like Howard Hughes, so distraught she won’t leave her room. Francine brings her daughter pancakes, but Hayley refuses any help, cloistered in her depression. (She’s using the newspaper as a bathroom though, which is apparently an improvement.) Stan’s typically misguided idea is to smoke Hayley out, except he means it literally, and burns down the house while sending his daughter to the hospital with serious burns. While in the burn ward, she meets a janitor (Pete Holmes) bullied by jock doctors. But he isn’t really a janitor: he’s Millionaire Matt Davis, a rich dude who runs many charitable organizations moonlighting in the job because he spends each day on a new experiential adventure. He’s somebody who can provide a perfect, healing second act to Hayley, the first guy who has come around since Roger cruelly dispatched Jeff that could draw Hayley back to enjoying life.
But since Hayley’s beginning to lean toward forgetting Jeff and finally moving on, that’s the perfect moment for her lost-in-space husband to reappear. Steve, conspiring with Snot on a foolproof plan to use a CB radio in order to find a hot chick so they can lose their virginity, instead stumbles upon a faraway frequency able to communicate with Jeff’s ship. Oh joyous day that heralds the return of Sinbad’s ghost! On one hand, Hayley can finally talk to her husband, who she’s been holding a torch for over the past year. But Matt Davis in physically present, able to provide her with long-sought adventure—and her parents love the guy (though Stan mostly likes his money). Hayley’s torn, but when Jeff stumbles upon a wormhole, she makes a final decision to reject Matt and wait for her husband to return.
The consequence of Jeff’s travel through the wormhole is American Dad indulging in more top-notch surrealism, as he and Sinbad arrive at Langley Falls 60 years in the future. Hayley is withered and old (Jeff still says she’s beautiful, but Sinbad doesn’t believe him); Francine has a frightening facelift; Steve and Snot fulfilled an ill-advised marriage pact at 21 and are now together (“We take turns being the girl.” “No, no we don’t.”); Stan has transmuted his consciousness into an ape body, preparing for the impending Ape Revolution; and Roger has “reformed,” acting as the adopted father to two black sons (he backed over their mother with his car).
If there’s one comedic stone left unturned, it’s Jeff’s mild reaction to seeing Roger again after all this time. He mostly brushes that anger aside, but it’s possible to interpret this as him being overwhelmed by the unexpected decades gone by—and the guilt over his insistence that Hayley wait for him costing her a life spent doing other things. It’s not exactly a metaphor for waiting around and holding out hope for a television show to return—but since this is a show Seth MacFarlane co-created, I’m lobbing that one out there. Family Guy came back from beyond the grave, and lo and behold, it rotted away and is now a shell of its once-entertaining self. Sometimes, maybe it’s best just to cut the cord, move on, and see what new experiences wait around the next bend.
Looking to leave a world he doesn’t belong in behind, Jeff takes Sinbad and journeys back through the wormhole, arriving at the moment just before Hayley rips the plane tickets from Matt Davis. It’s Jeff’s moment to “release” Hayley in the event he never makes it back, to let the most precious part of his life go in order to keep her from missing out on her potential happiness waiting for a theoretical future with him. Even leaving off there would be a nice note to leave Fox, but American Dad has never been comfortable with even a lightly saccharine ending, so it pushes further into black comedy.
Matt Davis shows up, Hayley’s potentially bright future right in front of her—and once again Roger is the agent of chaos who rips it away under the guise of “no witnesses.” The loop gets tied off, Hayley remains free for Jeff’s possible return, and American Dad cuts to black in a fashion befitting its best moments: shockingly excessive and brutally funny, with a hint of guilt that it shouldn’t be as humorous as it is. For the end of this era of the show, it goes out as the highest-quality program, season-for-season, that Seth MacFarlane has ever been involved with. Family Guy delivered in its early years, The Cleveland Show, perhaps unfairly maligned at times, never lived up to its (admittedly limited) potential. But if Family Guy returning to Fox is the only way to get American Dad on the air for this long, I’d gladly go through a wormhole back in time and make that deal a thousand times over.
- I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler given the ending of the episode and the implication that Jeff could someday parachute in again, but one of the upcoming episodes that didn’t make it on Fox is titled, “Holy Shit: Jeff’s Back!” So there’s a continuation of this plot thread to look forward to!
- Klaus has a nice two-beat arc in the background of looking to buy a Saturn, then having his pre-owned selection destroyed a bull that rampages out of a hibachi restaurant where Matt is cooking dinner for Hayley. I realize now that explaining it doesn’t do the extent of the sight gag proper justice, but trust me, it totally legitimized the first non-sequitur Klaus appearance.
- Future Stan correctly predicts the Ape Revolution, but they immediately behead him and beat his ape corpse to a bloody pulp. American Dad, everyone.
- “Then I thought: I don’t know how to control fire.”
- “I shouldn’t joke about this, I did this.”
- Steve, channeling his inner Wicked Witch of the West: “Did someone just drop a house on me?”
- “Damn, I forgot to ask him if he knows Scrooge McDuck.”
- And that’s all for the final Fox season of American Dad. TBS hasn’t announced a premiere date for the next batch of episodes, but it’ll presumably begin this summer. Thanks for reading along the past few years as Seth MacFarlane’s one remaining saving grace finished out its best times on a major broadcast network.