Sometimes it’s one little thing that makes an episode endearing. I don’t usually notice the animation quality in American Dad—or The Simpsons, South Park, or Family Guy, since their respective styles don’t call attention to themselves as often as shows like Adventure Time, Bob’s Burgers, or Regular Show, programs that typically demand a larger share of attention to the visuals. But tonight I did, smiling at the rather delightful semi-accuracy of Steve and his best friend Snot playing air guitar in ridiculous hair metal costumes. I’ve gotten used to musical performance scenes going by without a shred of competent musicianship, but when the visuals line up nicely with the music at the beginning, and during the ending, Say Anything-esque bookend, it’s a nice little moment.
Though it’s been a few weeks since the previous episode of American Dad, this marks the second episode in a row that takes a quick turn to sentimentality at the end. I’m drawn to the episodes that deal with the Stan/Steve father/son relationship more than most episodes of American Dad, but then again, I feel the same about Homer/Bart episodes of The Simpsons. Stan has meddled in Steve’s life a few memorable times in the past, most recently in last season’s finale, where he took Steve to a whorehouse to try and get him to grow up and stop playing with toys. Stan is always overzealous, trying to control everything his wife and kids do, but the way he interacts with Steve, the oddest member of the human Smith family, has always been the most intriguing to me.
Steve and Snot’s star-crossed crush has been drummed up before, notably in one of last season’s standout episodes that also features Stan meddling in his son’s life, “Virtual In-Stanity.” I’ve come to expect more on-the-nose gay jokes in this regard, but aside from an initial throwaway line, this episode mostly just plays Steve and Snot’s friendship as incredibly close with rom-com affection. Stan wants to separate them, so he stages a mafia hit at an ice cream parlor with Snot, then herds him into an obviously unofficial Witness Protection Program, holed up in an apartment with occasional grocery deliveries.
But then Stan starts to hang out with Snot, and begins to realize that he’s a really fun guy, just like Steve said, and this week’s dose of endurance humor is a few minutes of Stan and Snot talking in the dark like two teenagers at a sleepover. The revelation that Snot isn’t the first person Stan has placed into false Witness Protection shows how constrained his thinking can be. Stan sees a problem with one of his kids’ friends; he uses one solution to solve it, whether it’s the black guy Hayley was dating or Steve’s best friend.
By now, watching Stan revert to acting like a petty child is expected in these sorts of situations, so when Steve uncovers the whole plot, Stan fiercely competes against his son for Snot’s “friendly” affections at a carnival. Eventually, Stan gets it, thanks to a handful of photo booth pictures. Steve and his friends end up more often than not as a generic group of hormone-crazy teens, but focusing in on his bromance—I hate this word, but this is one instance where it’s appropriate—with Snot turned out to pay some nice comedic dividends.
But American Dad never goes all-in on the sentimentality, peppering a tame main plot with violence and rape jokes. The B-plot is completely separate, as Jeff cleans Roger’s attic in order to make some extra cash, and then as Jeff walks to his room, Roger pops out in a ski mask and mugs Jeff four times. Roger gives Jeff a black eye, beats him up and pulls down his pants (but doesn’t have the time to rape him), gives him a scooter only to later beat him with it, and then Jeff finally stands up for himself with a gun. It has no thematic purpose, just comedic escalation and surreal humor at how the hallway transforms into a dark, dilapidated space, even though the Smith family portrait still hangs on the wall between the doors. Roger is so single-minded in his sadistically repetitive violence that it’s clear he doesn’t even need the money he continually steals back from Jeff. He just enjoys the fun. The whole gambit is mildly amusing, especially the ending, but what works best is that it doesn’t distract too heavily from the Steve and Stan plot, and that Roger just gets to be Roger instead of assuming another character in disguise.
It’s a good sign that American Dad can string together multiple episodes that balance good-natured emotion with the more vulgar aspects of the show in a way that doesn’t feel like wildly swinging between two unrelated extremes (which is the basic structure of this episode). I laughed at Roger ratcheting up the craziness just as much as I laughed at how intense Steve and Snot’s friendship has become—the best joke in the episode for me is Steve reading his letters aloud—and that’s just the right combination.
- Hayley sighting!
- “My bosom heaves with the weight of your absence…”
- Stan leaves Snot's mother a voicemail pretending to be her son and saying he left to go to NASA Medical School, fulfilling the fortune teller's painting prophecy that Snot would be an astronaut doctor.
- How does Stan make himself cry? By thinking of how Ron Howard looks more like his brother now, of course.