Stan and Francine having marital troubles is a wearyingly derivative episode premise at this point. It was the beginning of the episode two weeks ago, and the focus on their problems with Stan’s lack of sexual compassion came into play during “Poltergasm” earlier in the season. It’s well-trodden territory, so much so that there’s nothing much to say other than pointing out that the show is going back to that well again in “Stan Goes On The Pill.” The Smith marriage is based on so many other sitcom marriages with a selfish husband who can’t see how much he’s hurting his wife through ignorance (Family Guy and The Simpsons already had this, as did many other live-action sitcoms).
I’m surprised that episode writers Brett Cawley and Robert Maitia, the team behind “Buck, Wild” earlier this season, also wrote this episode. From the little I know of comedy writers’ rooms punching up scripts, there’s really no way of telling how much of this (or “Buck, Wild”) was them and how much came from the rest of the staff. But this isn’t one to list as high on the resume.
As ever, Stan is only concerned with sex and doesn’t listen to Francine when she’s talking, which makes her upset. She give him a pop quiz, and he can’t recall any information—including Francine’s maiden name—and goes so far as to fake a second case of appendicitis. Francine calling his bluff and actually phoning an ambulance is the only funny part of this weary plot. There’s that quote that has been floating around the Internet for a long time about women not being “vending machines that you put kindness coins into until sex falls out”—that’s exactly how Stan treats Francine. He only wants to scrape enough niceness change together in order to get one sex out of the Francine machine. And while the show has often found a way to make this antiquated dynamic fresh through surreal humor, this isn’t one of those times.
But then the episode veers from the rote marital issues plot into riskier comedic territory by turning Stan into a woman, courtesy of a new pill developed by the CIA to make male agents capable of retaining information told to them by female sources in the field. Because, you know, it’s so hard for a man to listen to a woman. Stan takes a dose, and at first it sort of works, as he displays “genuine” interest in what Francine has to say, turning the night into a gabfest with wine. And sure enough, all that listening turns Francine on, but Stan took the wrong dosage (because none of the CIA men listened to the female scientist providing the necessary warning) and his body morphs to female.
American Dad maanges to sidestep most of the transgender minefield that could accompany this, but that’s only because it goes for easy gender-binary jokes instead. (There’s no use trying to parse out the correct way to use the GLAAD trangender terminology in relation to Stan’s transformation, because the episode never engages with this concept.) Mostly it’s hung up on the stereotypical “male = bad listener” quality, so innate that a pill to counteract and improve marital interaction is yet another pharmaceutical miracle. The second half of the plot doesn’t get any better. Avery has always been depicted as a unique brand of sexual deviant, but here he turns into a predator, far worse than when he and Hayley hooked up back in the show’s first season. (That at least yielded an excellent callback in the stage-play episode last season.)
Most of the time in these plots, the final turn develops from Stan’s flaw in relation to Francine at the beginning of the episode. And that’s exactly what happens here. Stan catches Avery in the same man-not-listening scenario that he used with Francine, which derails the oppressively awkward progress toward a sexual encounter, especially when the Smiths swept away all the questions about the gender identity at play here when failing to explain everything to Steve and Hayley. It’s also bit patronizing that it’s based on Stan’s idea to fix an overcrowded office fridge, and not something substantial—but the episode already made that kind of joke when none of the men heeded the female CIA scientist’s warning. Anyway, Francine busts in at the right moment, saves her man, and the status quo is resolved, because at some point in the next few months, American Dad will inevitably return to this arc again. It’s not going out of style, but it has very little to offer as a plot structure anymore. When it’s combined with standard-issue unfunny misogyny, that formula does not yield a successful episode of American Dad.
Occasionally a strong B-plot can save these episodes, but in this case, too much of the episode is devoted to the main plot, so there’s not enough time to develop the other arc. There are certainly a handful of funny moments in Roger and Klaus’ scheme to open a business together—particularly the opening pitch, where Roger envisions “Roger & Klaus’ Business” which will “offer a service or a product that customers will pay for.” Since Stan is a woman (temporarily, but what does that matter to Roger?), they take the throwaway suit joke from the opening of the episode and open a warehouse to sell the plethora of blue 42 regular suits. The complication of the rave location would be a good introduction for something bigger, but there’s only time for a post-credits beat where someone overdoses, leading Roger and Klaus to pin the illegal venue on someone else. I tend to wish that episodes focusing on Stan and Francine’s marriage would instead background that plot in favor of the stranger humor acting as a runner. “Stan Goes On The Pill” easily falls into that category.
- Line of the night, courtesy of a scandalized Steve, after Stan and Francine try to have sex, then announce they’re not lesbians: “Please stop involving me in this! I am a child!”
- Apparently Stan owns enough blue suits that a complete rotation through the collection takes three years. Over 1,000 suits means that there should be an episode devoted to the crazy contraption that rotates them through the walls of the house or something, like American Dad’s version of all the doors in Monsters, Inc. or something.