American Dad flouts continuity more often than I’d like in an episodic animated comedy. Sure, at the beginning of any episode, the same stable of characters is at the writers’ disposal. But the show has worked itself into a place where it frequently juts out on a tangent away from normal continuity or canon, and feels no need to bring an episode back to status quo by the end. Do this once, and it undercuts expectation in intriguing fashion. Do it repeatedly, and it loses its charm, and starts to feel like either the writers construct plots incapable of resolution, or that they don’t want to.
The attitude seems to be, “This is the eighth season, the characters are established, so it’s okay for Roger to shove Jeff into the tractor beam of a spaceship returning to Roger’s home planet, have the episode end a minute later, and do nothing about it because it starts over again next week.” Call me old fashioned, but I’m disappointed with the frequency of these plots, and how many of them feature Roger being an incorrigible jackass to get what he wants. He can’t walk around naked because Jeff doesn’t know he’s an alien, so he poses as Jeff’s new invisible friend. At that point, it’s not even so he can walk around naked, it’s so he can act as obnoxious as possible to Stan and Francine.
The eighth season première went through these same motions, with a conflict that ended in Roger skinning Jeff alive, one of the more disturbing moments of the season. That’s also the episode that throws Roger’s callous, repeated dismissals of Hayley into question. He loves her as a lounge singer, and even mutilates her husband, but now he shoves Jeff into a tractor beam and barely registers any memory of anything about Hayley. These continuity slips make it harder to laugh at the jokes, because it makes the characters so malleable that they aren’t reliable.
It’s more difficult to actually solve the problem at hand: Either Jeff needs to address his inability to keep a secret, or Roger actually needs to figure out another solution besides returning to a freezing, booze-less home planet with only consensual sex. A lot of viewers like Roger—and I do too, when the disguise is right—but indulging and celebrating this side of him isn’t funny to me. The extended montage of Roger highlights falls flat, and went on for so long that I didn’t really care if they were made up or all actually recycled from previous episodes. There’s a light E.T. vibe to the final scene, but I felt nothing but disappointment for the way the episode ended.
Roger repeats the line “There’s always a way around things!” a few times during this episode, and that seems to be the mantra whenever this type of episode rolls around. It’s constantly trying to subvert typical episode structure, but to its own detriment, since that quick cut to black after a non-resolution is now established as a typical model for American Dad.
The B-plot isn’t much better, as Steve is the only one of his friends whose butt hasn’t “come in yet,” the male equivalent of the last girl to get boobs. His friends all have defined posteriors, and he’s left flat and resorts to stuffing his shorts with halves of a ham. But that plot ends the similarly to the main one, just continuing on in one direction with only a slight suggestion of any change. Steve knows he should be comfortable, and it came through a ridiculous escape scenario where he needed a flat butt to squeeze out of a donut shop. But the 911 call that completely ignores the fire is a left-turn joke that leaves another plot feeling incomplete. Steve’s so focused on his own problem that it makes him oblivious to others, and he’s narcissistic enough to only talk about himself to a 911 operator.
There are a few moments that stick out as particularly funny—Principal Lewis killing a few drug dealers and stealing a plane full of cocaine, the cutaway where Jeff spills secret after secret—but for the most part, this is a thoroughly unexceptional episode. Not egregious, or offensive, or notably terrible, but every time American Dad throws caution to the wind and refuses to reign in the third act, it gets a little more frustrating. Defying sitcom structure can be exciting and compelling to watch, but breaking from that structure in the same way multiple times is a crutch.
- American Dad uses cutaways so sparingly that it’s actually a bit jarring to see one, but the Jeff flashback/cutaway made me laugh a lot.
- I guess you kind of have to use The Usual Suspects in that kind of a situation, though Fight Club and a couple others may have worked too.
- Principal Lewis is the MVP of this episode, and frankly, most episodes in which he appears.