And here I was hoping that Family Guy would be the first to go despite the ratings. Whether you count this as the beginning of the ninth or 10th season, it will be the final season of American Dad on Fox before moving into first run on TBS in 2014. It’s the latest sign—after the transition to new showrunner Steve Callaghan—that American Dad is slowly being put out to pasture, but in a nicer way than The Cleveland Show. Who knows? It could run for a few more seasons on cable just like Futurama, but this is the beginning of the inevitable end, which is a shame since for the better part of the Family Guy revival years, American Dad has been the better show, and this season premiere is yet another example of how the show that only uses Seth MacFarlane as a voice actor can still be depended on to churn out an above-average animated sitcom ad infinitum.
“Steve And Snot’s Test-Tubular Adventure” could be a simple immature teen romp in the Weird Science vein, but with the help of an ingenious runner and a dash of heart, it elevates to a rather delightful premiere that made me realize that without watching Family Guy, I actually miss this show. After getting beat up and made fun of for being virgins, Steve and Snot determine that they need dates to prom and an easy score. So it’s the plot of a bunch of dumb teen comedies, but crossed with sci-fi by Stan’s revelation that the CIA can clone things. So Snot and Steve hatch a plan: to collect DNA samples from girls at Forever Barely Legal. In another episode, this could’ve devolved into a Porky’s peepshow mission, but instead the boys only get one sample before getting caught. (Steve’s defense: “I can assure you we are only here to collect pubic hair.”)
But the real star of the show is Darren the dodo bird. It turns out that the CIA has been cloning extinct species in order to bring them back—with a tinge of Jurassic Park in there—and Stan is taking care of a pet dodo. Without fail, every time the moronic bird is onscreen, it stumbles into a scenario that puts it perilously close to death. The first time Stan introduces Darren, it coats itself in oil, breads itself, and sets a pan on the stove while lighting a burner. Stan saves Darren as though there’s no impending danger, but the Chekhovian setup introduced creates a gargantuan expectation for the bird’s fate. Recently I caught the tail end of Hot Tub Time Machine on cable for the first time since seeing it in a theater. (Yes, I freely admit I paid money to see Hot Tub Time Machine and helped to usher in the sequel.) So I felt the same way about watching every moment the dodo bird nearly accidentally kills itself onscreen as all of those main characters felt about Crispin Glover’s arm. From falling through the ceiling fan to playing in a plugged-in blender to biting the barrel of a gun, evolution keeps trying to correct the CIA playing God, and it is hilarious.
I don’t often find myself in the position of praising the animation in addition to the comedy on American Dad. There’s not a lot of complex imagery onscreen, and my favorite episodes of the last few seasons—like the August: Osage County homage—are often static in location as well as employing the traditional static character design. Tonight’s premiere wasn’t quite on the level of the vivid space adventure that Jeff endures last season, but all of the little things Darren did in the background at least got me to notice the layers of composition.
Circling back to the main plot, it was a nice surprise that Steve and Snot reacted to the twist—the clones start as babies and conveniently age rapidly up to prom age—by subtly transitioning from leering teens to reluctant fathers. Roger’s characters are so much more bearable when unleashed in small doses, and his two appearances here, as both a nursery owner and the headmistress of a finishing school, fits into the plot nicely. Of course, one of the boys still had to knee-jerk to the sexual desire, and Snot takes Steve’s “daughter” in order to complete the initial mission. But eventually it all calms down with a more emotional finish—punctuated by Stan going into full CIA mode to mop up the illegal clones.
I was glad that this episode took a standard teenage boy plot and turned it into something with more heart and genuine emotion—and then contrasted Steve grieving for a girl he knew for three days with Stan’s visceral reaction to the inevitable death of Darren. It’s a promising start to the season, and one that makes me confident that these final episodes on Fox will be a proper major network sendoff to what should be remembered as Seth McFarlane’s best creation.
- The pop quiz cutaway worked for me because it echoes my favorite Celebrity Jeopardy question from SNL.
- Steve has to switch the cloning machine away from “Fly-Goldblum.”
- “How old do you have to be to go to the waffle house? Oh… that’s not what you meant.”
- “Detention… is for boys who don’t tell the truth.”
- “But it was heavily implied! It was heavily implied.”