American Dad: “She Swill Survive"
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American Dad: “She Swill Survive"

“That was amazing!” “And so much more meaningful with all the cultural references.”

Hayley Smith has been stuck in a consistent rut ever since American Dad had Roger send her husband Jeff into space in his place. She’s always been stuck in arrested development to the extent that she hangs around at home, but “She Swill Survive” starts from a lower point, as she gets up in the late afternoon and demands Francine make her breakfast. As demanded by Hayley’s laziness, Stan demands she get a job to pay rent, so she ends up as a bartender at Roger’s Place up in the attic. There’s at least one other episode where Hayley ends up working at Roger’s attic bar (the eighth season premiere “Love, AD Style”), but in “She Swill Survive” the bar is kind of a terrible place, with a guy who’s really bad at Five-Finger Fillet, another guy there with a child in a BabyBjorn, and the worst version of an ice luge ever concocted (a wrinkly woman serves as a substitute).

But this episode still reuses that bartending job and Stan’s exploitation of his family for dubious professional gain. Stan wants to be accepted into Avery’s coveted Inner Circle, and Bullock frequently ends up sloshed and loose-lipped at Roger’s bar where Hayley serves as his bartender confidante. In order to impress Bullock, Stan has to pressure his daughter to keep up with Avery’s ridiculous drinking habits, then eavesdrop to learn small things about the boss to serendipitously make Avery happy when he sees Stan. The subsequent montage of Stan sucking up to Bullock works pretty well, as he cycles through pocket squares, Crocs, Whitesnake, breathing pleasantly on Avery’s neck, and a slumber party at a local zoo on the way to the Inner Circle. It’s also a nice comedic touch (intentional or not) that Avery uses social circles from Google+, since I can’t name a single person who actively uses that now.

But it goes bad rather quickly, as Hayley’s drunken behavior gets so out of control that she drives drunk and literally crashes into a rehab facility. Once there, Avery is concerned about information she obtained as his bartender (but apparently not from the baby plot from “Blood Crieth Unto Heaven” or that time they were hooking up back in the first season), and thus sends the CIA out to kill Hayley and prevent leaked information.

Stan therefore has to break into rehab (by getting drunk) and help Hayley break back out again by avoiding the CIA team (by getting drunk). It’s a series of drunken misadventures, falling off buildings, ducking into a pancake house, drinking even more as the sun comes up. But eventually Hayley just brushes aside the threat by saying she wrote down all of Avery’s secrets, and if she dies they’ll get sent to newspapers (“So?”) and the Internet (“Well played, young Smith.”), ending the chase. It’s zany, to be sure, and probably the best this pairing has been used in a while because it doesn’t pit Stan and Hayley against each other or put a lantern on the theme.

Then there’s the meta-epilogue where the “actors” who “play” Stan and Hayley Smith (Nicholas Vanderbilt and an Australian Kate Fagin, respectively) provide a PSA about the obvious falsehood that getting drunk and going limp can be used as a means of surviving a jump off a building. It’s not quite the “I’ll tell you what’s not funny: killing strippers” PSA tag from back in Family Guy’s “Mr. Griffin Goes To Washington.” That joke was predicated on feinting toward the episode dealing with kids smoking cigarettes, and instead taking a left-turn to strippers. There’s a lot here about the dangers of excessive drinking and Stan’s willingness to overlook the hazards to his daughter’s health so long as he’s doing better at work, but there’s always a limit, and American Dad does pull back in order to directly state that the depiction is just a comedic exaggeration. I’m probably overly sensitive to alcohol dependency humor, and I’ll admit that there were points where it started to creep up to the line with me. But then there’s a ridiculous image like Hayley sleeping on top of a ludicrously tall pile of empty bottles in the Smith bathtub.

As for the rest of the episode, a not-insignificant part of me wanted this entire half hour to focus on the B-plot, where Klaus shows Das Boot to Steve and Snot. They begin watching, but Klaus is outraged to discover that they don’t get all the references to little bits of German cultural history. In order to better inform them so they can fully appreciate what he believes is the greatest film in German history, Klaus proceeds to explain that first reference. But in the course of his story—about a blonde girl and her schnauzer and some other stuff—he hits upon another reference Steve and Snot don’t understand, so he has to pause to explain that. It’s like a Russian nesting doll (is there a German word for matryoshka dolls?) or an infinite number of Inception levels down into hundreds of years of fake German cultural references, before ratcheting back up to the kids (plus a stoned video clerk they pick up along the way) totally understanding and loving everything about Das Boot. There are plenty of sitcom episodes like this where retelling versions of fables or fairy tales or pop culture properties. (I’m looking at you, Star Wars episodes of Family Guy.) But the idea of a bunch of invented German folk tales or other cultural references retold by Klaus starring the Smith family—all as a way to elucidate a better understanding of Das Boot—sounds hilarious.

Stray observations:

  • Special Skills listed on Stan’s resume: Jamaican accent, moonwalking, stage magic—but they shouldn’t be combined into one sequence.
  • “Bro, are you Nemo? People are looking for you bro.”
  • Avery’s slideshows at work clearly constitute the height of professionalism.
  • Another wonderful appearance for Roger’s alter-ego Dr. Penguin as the rehab group therapist.

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