American Dad: “Toy Whorey”
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American Dad: “Toy Whorey”

As expected, American Dad is returning for its eighth season next fall, and reportedly with a full 22-episode order, instead of the protracted seasons the show was granted in recent years. This is good news, because American Dad is the best Seth MacFarlane show within the cottage industry he’s got going in the Animation Domination lineup, and this seventh season hit more creative peaks that any of the shows in this bloc not named Bob’s Burgers. Unfortunately, that didn’t save the finale from being a bit of a convoluted retread of elements the show has used before in more affecting and hilarious ways throughout the season.

Steve Smith has an overactive imagination, and he still plays with toys, like a train engine and a green dinosaur. The opening sequence is a brief version of the scenes that open the Toy Story films, set inside a boy’s imagination that pales in comparison to those movies. Stan is frustrated that Steve refuses to grow up and stop playing with his toys, for no explained reason other than he wants his son to act like a man. Slumped on the couch, Stan talks to Klaus about trying to get Steve to grow up and leave his toys behind. Klaus’ idea is simple: Once Steve is interested in sex, he’ll forget his toys. Thus, Stan takes his son out of school for a road trip to a Mexican whorehouse that ends in the two of them getting kidnapped by a drug cartel. In their cell, Steve gets his father to eat by using the same imaginative techniques demonstrated with his toys, which eventually draws the attention of the guards long enough for the younger Smith to turn the tables and lock the guards in the cell.

Steve’s group of friends has incessantly tried to have sex since the series began, because that’s what young teenage boys aspire to do, so this incarnation of the character is at odds with the way American Dad has portrayed Steve for a long time. Making him act like a much younger child, stuck playing with toys and constantly drifting into an imagined world, weakens the character work that much stronger episodes like “Virtual In-Stanity” achieved. Steve’s friends have been obsessed with sex for years—the Roger/Snot pairing from “Jenny Fromdabloc,” for instance—and this episode unwisely pairs the sex plot with Stan trying to be a more present and assertive father. These are ideas American Dad has executed before, to more successful ends.

Meanwhile, back at the Smith household, Francine gets free steaks after tripping at the grocery store. She wants to have a nice dinner with Roger, but he’s out of the perfect wine to pair with the steaks. His wine shop sells the last bottle to Greg and Terry, so of course Roger has to stoop to punitively mean levels in order to try and steal the wine. This plot seems to take place over the course of one evening, whereas Stan and Steve’s kidnapping takes up “8 Mexican Days” without so much as a ransom note. In the end, it’s far more forgettable than Steve and Stan’s journey, as Francine just slaps her way to the bottle and that’s it. Even the biggest set piece of the B-plot, supposedly a Rube Goldberg machine, is nothing more than a lot of dominos and a few meager effects. It’s as unimaginative and piecemeal as the episode as a whole.

Having said that, I was taken aback by all the surreal, one-off moments that dead-ended in fantasy sequences for jokes before ducking back to one of the plots. The best and worst moments of the episode are the litany of outlandish sequences, from Roger’s trip through a wine cellar, high-ceiling garage full of cars, and cliff diving with a Toyota Camry, to Stan and Steve’s increasingly scatological visits to whorehouses in search of a normal one. The latter sequence, which ends with everyone around projectile vomiting into the street—after which the vomit is collected and sold as horchata—is a great example of a comedic rarity: an extended joke that wears too thin, then bends enough to get back around to being funny again.

“Toy Whorey” isn’t intended as a finale due to the nature of animation production cycles, but it’s a lesser version of other episodes this season. “Wheels & The Legman And The Case Of Grandpa’s Keys” more effectively used whimsical fantasy; “The Scarlett Getter” used every character and had a great guest star, and the aforementioned “Virtual In-Stanity” was a more emotionally affecting father/son plot with bigger laughs.

Stray observations:

  • Just a glimpse of Hayley again, in a very strange tableau with her husband as Steve’s robot moves down the hall to report information gleaned from Stan’s conversation with Klaus.
  • Welcome to Mexico: Get Ready for Mustaches!

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