Cameos by Hayley Smith and Roger, but no one else in the Smith family; set entirely on a spaceship millions of miles away from Earth, never cutting away from a single plot; Sinbad. Seriously, people: Sinbad playing himself captured by aliens. (“So this is where you’ve been for the last 15 years!” “What? I just got here two months ago!”)
An episode like “Lost In Space” jettisons essentially every convention of American Dad to focus on one of the least-developed regular characters, yet it works due to a fearless commitment to blending romantic ideals and batshit insanity. In the same season as American Dad’s staunchly naturalistic portrayal of stage melodrama, this episode lurches to the opposite extreme, indulging the most fantastical elements of the series to succeed. It has references to Kadeem Hardison, Good Burger, and Star Wars—but no First Kid, far and away Sinbad’s greatest cinematic achievement (Also receiving votes: Jingle All The Way.) And though it still maintains the esoteric references and occasionally music-driven standards of a typical episode, it doesn't lean on any familiar building blocks of the series. This is Jeff, alone in an entirely new, fantastical environment, surrounded by a quickly established world filled with new jokes and a helluva memorable song.
Continuing the events of earlier this season, Jeff is trapped on the spaceship initially intending to pick up Roger to solve the problem of Jeff’s inability to keep Roger’s existence a secret. The ship is ruled by an Emperor of Roger’s species, who picks up various slaves of other species along his journey, taking one store or restaurant from each planet to add to a massive spaceship shopping mall. Jeff works with Sinbad in the schwarma shop, lamenting his situation, pining for Hayley, and begging to be returned to Earth. Everyone tries to quash his hopes of return, that he should forget his past and accept his unfortunate fate. Undeterred, Jeff soldiers on, demanding his chance at freedom from the emperor.
“Lost In Space” was written by co-creator Mike Barker, also apparently a big fan of My Morning Jacket, who brought Wax Fang along as openers for a while on tour. The Wax Fang connection led to the centerpiece of the episode: the musical sequence of Jeff undergoing “The Test” to see if his love for Hayley is pure enough for him to go home, invaded by a creature known as The Majestic who projects his memories for all to see. Set to Wax Fang’s “Majestic,” the projected memories shatter Jeff’s world, showing all the times he was a selfish jerk, and earning him a “smoothening” appointment the next morning for his failure. It’s an unheralded song, spacey and punchy at the same time, blending the kind of psychedelic atmosphere for that sequence, and removing the need for any of the Smiths to have any lines outside of the very first scene.
Even dejected and faced with losing his “tools for love,” he rebuffs the advances of an alien shape shifter who transforms into Hayley because she looks like her, but can’t actually become the woman of his dreams. The shantytown holding all the slaves reminded me a lot of Star Wars, but the other film that came up again and again in my mind while watching this is Explorers, Joe Dante’s 1985 film with Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix, for its mix of dreamy idealism and surreal science-fiction. Jeff is just as hapless and endearing as those youthful adventurers, out in the great unknown.
And Jeff is a hopeless romantic, so bumbling and idealistic that he doesn’t believe the overwhelmingly negative portrayal during the test. Sure enough, when he seeks out the Majestic in the bowels of the ship—literally, the creature eats all the sewage, even directing Jeff to defecate in its mouth—he discovers the truth. The Majestic only shows negative memories, on direct orders from the Emperor to rig the test and deny any true love.
The Emperor hoodwinks his people into denying the existence of true love all because years ago, his heart was broken by none other than Roger. It’s not a particularly surprising revelation, because Roger had to show up at some point, but it also jumps back to another reason why Roger would so callously throw Jeff into alien slavery to avoid any responsibility for his predicament. Having exposed the grand lie of the emperor’s scheme, his people revolt, allowing Jeff to escape, but not before he distracts Sinbad to many times that pursuing guards sever his limbs.
So now Jeff travels the depths of space with his Sinbad-as-Obi-Wan ghostly companion, checking 47,000 planets to find his true love. It may take a while for Jeff to get back to his beloved, and he’ll go through more hell go get there, but American Dad made the best of a risky situation with this episode.
- “I did my own stunts in Good Burger!” This is a periodic reminder that Good Burger exists and should be re-watched for its pure ridiculousness every so often.
- Scott Carney of Wax Fang contributed more than just “Majestic” to the episode: He also provided the score for tonight.