“News Glance With Genevieve Vavance” is an episode of American Dad specifically designed for people as familiar with HLN shouting queen Nancy Grace as I am—that is, only from clips on The Daily Show, Onion News Network, and Saturday Night Live sketches. I’ve never watched a single installment of Nancy Grace’s show. Until last week when I saw the logline for this episode, I had never watched a minute of HLN. (Though, considering how often a Turner news station is playing in airport terminals, I bet I’ve inadvertently seen a little bit of it.) It’s a juicy topic ripe for a show that has a carnival barker with a stage addiction to go crazy, but this is merely a good American Dad episode. It manages to do something that hasn’t been accomplished since—unifying every major character (except Klaus) in the same plot line. But despite that unification, it’s not as incisive as I’ve come to expect when the show has such an easy target at its disposal.
Some of that is because the episode tries to at least dish out a little dirt to both sides, beginning with a knee-jerk back to the Smiths fleeing from Hayley’s activism. At the outset of the episode, she’s excited to start a new job with a local investigative reporter. (Francine, ever the supportive mother, thinks it sounds too hard and wonders if it’s worth it.) But what really sends the family fleeing for the door is when she starts talking about the garbage island in the Pacific—they literally run at the same time, getting stuck, punctuated by a nice joke about drills, suggesting Hayley annoys them with politics so often they practice getting away cleanly. But harping on this point, with the rest of the family ganging up (at least in the unbalance structure of the physical gag) on Hayley, smacks strongly of late-seasons Family Guy and how that show treats Meg. It’s not as cruel, but is has the same sentiment. With Meg, there’s outright hatred toward everything she does; with Hayley, it’s “confined” to a defining characteristic: her political views. But she’s the only one who bristles at Stan’s ideas.
Anyway, I’ve been thrown off track by my anger at how Family Guy wasted Meg by torpedoing her for years and years. Hayley going to work is probably the best sight gag in the entire episode, as she takes a train, then a bus to the local station, sees a sign that the studio has moved, and walks the entire distance back to find Roger is Genevieve Vavance, working out of the Smith attic. When so many episodes simply have Roger show up in a shot, it was nice to have a bit of build-up, even though it wasn’t a secret that he would be playing the news anchor. Discovering that Roger is the wannabe Nancy Grace—and trying to hold the ratings of a repeat of the Taiwainese Prayer Breakfast on a channel in the 400’s—tanks Hayley’s optimism about reporting a great story.
Roger demands sensationalized news, and dangles the opportunity for Hayley to get her garbage island story on the air (to barely any viewers). Basically, he wants his JonBenet Ramsey, and as luck would have it, Hayley stumbles into a scenario that fits the bill. Steve gets excited about anonymous question day in Sex Ed, but when he asks a ridiculous question, his attractive teacher calls out his handwriting, leaving him open to shame and mass ridicule. Desperate to get away from the bullying, Hayley hides him in a remote cabin, and Genevieve Vavance has her missing child story to stoke into a ratings bonfire.
The connection between the Smiths on this plot is rather succinct Hayley works for Roger, helps to hide Steve, then waffles about telling the truth while Roger accuses Stan and Francine of murder a la Nancy Grace’s Casey Anthony coverage. The exclusive interview ambush is a good combination of the HLN reporter’s wild accusations and insinuations mixed with Roger’s penchant for pushing exactly the wrong buttons with Stan and Francine, making them furious and distraught, respectively, with detailed reenactments of kidnapping and murder. Meanwhile Steve is having a great time in isolation, watching all the girls suddenly express that they wish they’d been able to hook up with him while he was alive. This isn’t a great episode for female characters, what with Francine expressing some unsupportive opinions that didn’t come off as ironic. And the high school girls, including the Sex Ed teacher, becoming interested in Steve’s safe return—and as a newspaper headline states, “horny” as well.
But by invoking Nancy Grace with the character, and baldly stating the intention to drive up ratings with one sensationalized story about a child, American Dad loses the opportunity to more broadly lampoon this style of cable news host. I hate to say it, but The Newsroom’s breakdown might not be as surreal or go-for-broke in its gallows humor, but it’s a better skewering of how Nancy Grace attracts and keeps viewers, and why that’s so disconcerting.
“Genevieve Vavance” ends up not being a satirical take on an a subject that could be lampooned for hours, but instead a garden variety Roger-torments-the-family episode. He pressures Hayley into concocting a fake story, first praising her “make the news” initiative, then blackmailing her to keep quiet when she gets cold feet; he knowingly berates the innocent Stan and Francine; and he also blackmails Steve into blaming his sister by banking on the teen’s desperation to hook up with the aforementioned girls. It’s all resolve in the final two minutes, as Hayley and Steve come clean, and the ravenous viewing public turns riotous before Roger escapes by breaking a fish tank with mermaids. Nancy Grace is definitely an easy target, which is why so many other comedy shows have taken aim at her. And “Genevieve Vavance” does deliver a handful of great sight gags and quotes as Roger becomes unhinged in his pursuit of Taiwanese Prayer Breakfast ratings. But it’s just not quite as funny or on-point as the best American Dad satires, even if it does add another classic Roger character to his ever-expanding list of disguises.
- As far as I can tell, next week’s episode will be the last American Dad aired on Fox before it jumps to TBS in the summer. So let’s mourn the demise of Animation Domination? Maybe just make a note that it’s coming to an end in its current form and Fox’s year-round development slate means it won’t ever be the same again.
- The sponsorship running gag for Beer Water is a great concept, but following through to the mermaid mascots didn’t quite take it to the heights it could’ve gone. The initial commercials are great though, as is Roger’s reaction to Stan saying it causes diarrhea.
- “How do you like me now, voices in my head?”