American Dad: “Permanent Record Wrecker"
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American Dad: “Permanent Record Wrecker"

Wherein Robin Thicke unknowingly suffers Roger’s end of a Faustian bargain

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American Dad

“Permanent Record Wrecker"

Season 9, Episode 18

Given the frequency with which American Dad puts Stan and Steve into father/son conflicts, it’s probably about time for an episode where the usual power dynamic gets inverted for comedic effect. It’s not a novel idea, nor is it a surprising one, but American Dad isn’t aiming for extreme originality here, just to put funny characters in scenarios that draw out more comedy. Making Steve effectively his father’s boss, and letting Stan stew at the indignity of taking orders from his teenage son, achieves that baseline.

Under the guise of dubious budget cuts, Avery “sacks” Stan while employing his objectively terrible Austin Powers impression. But since Stan gets fired from the CIA, his “Permanent Record” has been scrubbed of all his work experience dating back 20 years. Somewhere there’s probably a great sequence about Stan fighting for recognition of even the silliest workplace tasks to show he hasn’t been unemployed since college. (Though the episode’s grimly funny runner features a CIA sniper killing everyone Stan tries to tell about his “former” career.)

But instead, he takes the one gig he can get: grocery bagger at the same supermarket where Steve works for his first summer job. There’s also probably a draft of this plot that makes the Smith boys a team as they compete for supermarket dominance, but the father/son conflict has been established as a go-to episode pattern, so they’re forced into competition. Steve gets a promotion to assistant manager since he’s been on the job longer (which is in itself a joke about how people with little experience get thrust into leadership roles at jobs with high turnover), leaving Stan not only reduced from his coveted government job to checkout boy, but outranked by his son.

The back-and-forth between Steve lording his newfound authority over Stan and the little bits of petty vengeance Stan exacts are funny, but of course it comes back to bite the Smith patriarch when his misdeeds threaten to torpedo Steve’s permanent record. More disappointing is how the plot wastes Francine by having her continually express how much she doesn’t want to work instead of Stan in order to keep her “finery.” Tying the plot together is a simple matter of combining the mindless task supposedly learned while working at the supermarket (stacking brick-shaped objects all facing one direction) with a scenario that earns Stan his job back (throwing out a bunch of armed C4 before it explodes). As a vehicle for jokes about Stan being unable to stack butter, or inspiring a car-crash gag based on one of those kiddie cars attached to the front of grocery shopping carts, “Permanent Record Wrecker” is funny, even though it’s not on par with a few of the other Stan/Steve episodes from earlier this season, like “Buck, Wild,” “I Ain’t No Holodeck Boy,” or even the delayed “Minstrel Krampus.”

Roger’s B-plot, as per usual, has nothing to do with the main conflict, and doesn’t get much time, but it definitely packs as much laughter as possible into only a few minutes. While breaking up with a girlfriend at a coffee shop, Roger (in disguise as Donald, a generic hipster) argues with a standard sad sack open mic guitar player (voiced by Robin Thicke, though he has about four lines in the entire episode). They arrange a little competition, but Roger can’t remember how to play the guitar, flailing around helplessly though he angrily wants to win the contest to shut the coffee house musician up. Hayley helps by purchasing some guitar lesson videos featuring Lorenzo, a devilish infomercial star who makes a Faustian bargain with Roger (in what is probably the best quick dialogue exchange in the episode), who doesn’t think twice about trading his soul for guitar skills. The final twist, where Roger once again avoids paying the price for his foolish decisions, earned the biggest laugh of the episode for me, and I’d also chuck in some bonus points for casting Thicke while not stooping to playing or referencing “Blurred Lines” in any fashion.

Stray observations:

  • Stan picks up some nifty Spanish from the other stock boys, though he has no idea what it means: “Callate, gringo.” His beaming pride while completely misunderstanding being told to shut up was kind of awesome.
  • In addition to Robin Thicke, his father seems to have a cameo as well, giving Stan a Father Of The Year Award at a ceremony held in Thicke’s garage. I think the voices for that are right, though it could’ve been Robin doing an impression of his father’s voice.
  • Stanley Tucci voices Lorenzo—American Dad has been on quite a roll with guest stars for supporting parts.
  • “My Kia Soul? How am I supposed to get to my shift at Dairy Queen?”

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