American Dad: “Cock Of The Sleepwalk”
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American Dad: “Cock Of The Sleepwalk”

Episodes that revel in Stan being a jerk are among my least favorite in American Dad’s run. They utilize one of the show’s oldest plot structures, and rarely is anything new or different discovered about how Stan operates. Gradually the show has shifted away from his staunchly conservative political traits, but his social behavior remains frustrating.

Take the opening scene of “Cock Of The Sleepwalk”: There’s no extra layer to Stan giving Francine 20 seconds per month where he pays attention to what she says, but ends up ignoring all requests and poking her boob as a “parting gift.” Francine struggling to get Stan interested in something substantial—she wants to watch The Notebook together, a stale but ubiquitous reference, and asks if her parents can visit—is a good comedic performance. But the situation is patronizingly callous. Stan ignores and belittles his wife because he is an important man, and yet he needs a retainer full of cake to dream of chocolate, a splendid contradiction that only reinforces that Stan is ridiculous. I really wish that joke didn’t sour me on the episode as a whole, but I’m so tired of this knockoff Al Bundy attitude.

It’s lucky then, that all the buildup of Stan’s prototypical misogyny and hypocritical machismo pays off in a clever reversal of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. After recording his 100th kill for the CIA—he thought he was on 99, but the agency counted Stan refusing to donate bone marrow to a dying coworker—Stan wakes up covered in cake, with his wife gushing about how nice he was the previous night. In a sleepwalking daze, he adopted a shelter dog and watched The Notebook with Francine (and even cried while doing it). When he consults Dr. Penguin (Roger, who at first is busy picking a parasol to go with his hoopskirt as Madam Buttercup), they discover his fiercely buried conscience is trying to make up for all of Stan’s killing by doing good deeds.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde posits there is the capability for monstrosity within anyone, buried deep in the psyche. “Cock Of The Sleepwalk” inverts that discovery, and because of Stan’s attitude, the episode is both a comeuppance and a way to get the audience to root for Stan’s conscience to win out. After all, he’s actually doing nice things for a change. He accepts the job of director at an orphanage—he even adopts a child—and helps his family open a soup kitchen in the living room. Stan’s upset, and it’s easy to laugh at and root for his continued misery. A risqué video with Roger, replacing sniper bullets with gummi bears—those are the kinds of things Stan’s Conscience can do to Stan on the road to making sure he doesn’t kill again.

But of course, Stan must emerge victorious somehow. In order to complete a hit on a Belgian terrorist, he fills an IHOP with the orphans, the homeless, and his family, so that when his conscience emerges, he’ll still be forced to kill the guy to protect those he loves. It’s less about seeing the ridiculous length Stan goes to in order to ensure he can kill again, and more of a tacit defense of murder—provided the safety of those you care about is at stake. It’s muddled, since the ending is mostly an extended gag featuring the conscience having to use many different items to beat the terrorist to death.

The subversion, as is the case on many American Dad episodes, is that Stan learns nothing. He doesn’t want to change and simply claims victory over his conscience. That’s the inevitable reset at the end of a sitcom, even one as ludicrous and fanciful as this one, and it’s unsatisfying. Still, seeing Stan so distressed at actually committing good deeds—especially Roger hiding the more explicit part of that video from a sleep-deprived Stan—makes “Cock Of The Sleepwalk” a fun, if frustrating, episode.

Stray observations:

  • Avery professes that he’s a responsible, moderate cocaine and opium user. That obviously turns out to be vehemently false.
  • The fate of Rashes, the dog Stan adopts and then gives to a Korean restaurant, is a great example of how American Dad hints at poor taste, then takes a sharp left turn for the surreal.
  • “Need I say more?” “Only if you want me to understand.”
Filed Under: TV, American Dad

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