American Dad: “Rubberneckers"
B+

American Dad: “Rubberneckers"

“My eyes may wander/But my heart comes home”

B+

American Dad

“Rubberneckers"

Season 9, Episode 17

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Let’s start with what is unquestionably the best part of “Rubberneckers,” a delightfully creative musical episode saddled with a lackluster central plot: Steve’s soulful musical interlude, singing about how hot his mother is and how ashamed his dad should be that he wants to look at other women. It’s undoubtedly modeled after the sizzling music video for D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”, and it’s the funniest sequence in the episode, so much so that it could be pulled out of context and it would still be the most hilarious American Dad clip of this year. On the one hand, Steve’s totally right, since Stan never appreciates just how good he has it with Francine. On the other: Steve, please, for the love of all that is holy, stop talking about your mom like that. Combined with his line later in the episode about how he’d totally try to bone Francine if she wasn’t his mom, this is a banner episode for creepily hilarious Steve.

The rest of “Rubberneckers” didn’t come close to that peak, but as a stealth-musical, it is a lot of fun. (I didn’t see any ads about it, and I counted only four short songs, which doesn’t make it a full-on modern television musical episode.) That’s enough to mask what would otherwise be a rather boring episode once again delving into gender tropes.

Stan wants to look at other women and not get caught by Francine, so his co-workers at the CIA (with the help of DJ New Black Intern) tell him about rubbernecking, the art of taking a peek without anyone suspecting. Which leads to Stan surreptitiously taking pictures of a cute jogger while driving, causing a bad car accident. (Minorly in Stan’s defense, he’s not the only one caught paying no attention to the road because of the jogger.)

Look, there’s a bunch of evidence to suggest that humans are strange for entering into monogamous relationships, or that looking at other people is actually a healthy way of alleviating urges that could be acted upon in more emotionally harmful ways. But it’s still impossible to root for Stan trying to cover up what he was doing since he could’ve got someone killed, even a fictional animated someone. As long as “Rubberneckers” avoids trying to make the case for Stan’s wandering eyes, it’s in better comedic territory. Which is why it’s great to have guest star Terry Crews as Heinrich the insurance investigator sniffing out Stan’s fraud, because making Stan scramble to unsuccessfully cover up what he was really doing keeps the episode from focusing too much on him finding an excuse for the behavior.

The trial is another scene saved from disaster by the help of a musical sequence. Instead of some sort of closing argument that attempts to get schmaltzy as a way to let Stan off the hook, it’s just a full-cast musical number, anchored by that one woman who says she gets looked at all the time, no seriously, whatever the normal amount is, just double it, that’s the amount of times guys look at her. (My brother has a friend who does this. It’s insufferable to listen to.) Plus, the judge punctuates the episode with exactly what I kept saying at my television screen the whole time Stan is making his case that every guy does this: Sure, proving it’s something everyone does might absolve him of some kind of cultural taboo, but he’s on trial for insurance fraud, which he obviously committed. Stan’s not going to jail for six years, but it’s a great kicker.

On a night when Family Guy went for unfunny racial stereotyping, it’s good to see that even when building on a weak premise, American Dad went for something a few steps above that kind of humor. It’s still mildly annoying gender stereotyping, but by almost turning the episode into a musical, it manages to stave off the usual retreads. Every time I thought that something was the same old “women are like this” humor, it was softened by the fact that it was buried in a ridiculous musical number about women dressing to get attention and guys saying they all have wandering eyes.

I was expecting a B-plot of Roger and Klaus hiding a wine stain by sitting on the couch forever to go somewhere in the background, but much like the D’Angelo song in the main plot, there’s basically one excellent kernel to pluck out of it. Roger’s disguise while Heinrich investigates—and throughout the rest of the episode—is To Kill A Mockingbird’s Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, which is just a spot-on hilariously non-sequitur reference that nonetheless had me in stitches since that’s one of my favorite books and films.

But seriously, that Steve song is the highlight of the year. “Is she not/Hot enough/For you dad?” There’s not enough room for me to just quote lines from it that made me laugh, but if I could, this entire review would just be a transcription of those lyrics.

Stray observations:

  • I would like to believe that Steve’s pecs popped as they sung because Terry Crews was a guest star tonight, and that’s basically his go-to move. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is amazing. More Terry Crews forever please.
  • Roger’s solution to the red wine stain: try painting the rest of the couch using the remaining wine, you know, to match the stain. When it runs out before he can paint the whole thing: toss a match on it, that couch is done.
  • I can’t be the only person who has on more than one occasion imagined a court being in recess as a court being in Recess.
  • “Twas beauty killed the beast.”
  • “Steve, seriously this isn’t a great place not to be wearing a shirt.” “Let him sing!”
  • “You’re a bad judge.” “Well, I’m not the one on trial, am I… am I?”
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