Using Breaking Bad as a loose inspiration for this episode was probably the only choice the American Dad writers had. On one hand the episode didn’t overcommit to playing out a plot that wasn’t over yet when the show was producing this run of episodes. Nobody knew how the rise and fall of and intertwining and overlapping Heisenberg and Walter White would conclude. So American Dad leans on the early season aspects of the show, building up a specific skill and entering into the illegal trade with little knowledge of who controls the area. Instead of mimicking the entire series arc, which would have been impossible to encompass, the episode grabs the easiest signifiers—“Gutenberg” instead of Heisenberg, the iconic hat—in addition to the episode title to announce the gag.
But on the other hand, the noncommittal nods to Breaking Bad here and there left the overall trajectory somewhat formless. It’s an episode that features Hayley’s desire to be accepted by girls who don’t act in any way like true friends, Steve as a stereotypically sex-crazed teenage boy with a knack for creating fake IDs, and Stan’s level of commitment to cross-dressing undercover. Steve gets lured into the fake ID trade because Hayley wants to be friends with a friend from high school who waits tables at Boobers, a restaurant she detests. The lack of underlying motivation for the Gutenberg/Heisenberg parallels makes the episode feel undercooked.
Fox’s animated shows tend to run on production schedules that don’t allow for quick-acting social commentary. South Park and Saturday Night Live are two major programs with the ability to frequently react as a story captivates an audience; American Dad had this episode in the can since its last production cycle. And seeing the fruits of that decision, maybe it’s better for shows like The Simpsons to show up late to the homage game, because it allows the writers and creators to see how everything plays out instead of using a few big symbols and calling it a day. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s still suffering some lingering effects of Breaking Bad fatigue. I loved the final season, and it’s definitely in contention for the top spot on my “best of 2013” ballot (if we were running the year-end list that way), but a few months of space between the end of the series and revisiting the series isn’t too much to ask.
There are some episodes of American Dad where Roger’s costumed cameo can feel superfluous, or downright annoying. “Faking Bad” isn’t one of them: he shows up as Kevin Ramage, the manufacturer of bad quality fake IDs upset about a new crew infringing on his turf. But he’s not any specific kind of villain character—probably for the rights reasons, since the episode was begging for a Gus Fring disguise—but instead a generic hoodie-wearing guy Kevin Ramage, with two large mute bodyguards. He’s running the fake ID racket, and he wants Hayley and Steve off of his turf. From the other side of the law, Stan attempts to track down Gutenberg—to stem the proliferation of fake documentation—by playing the least believable young girl and picking up a guy in order to get information. The montage set to Fun.’s “We Are Young” doesn’t really do much other than make Stan look incompetent and vaguely confused, but it did lead to the line of the night involving four dates and a weekend on the cape.
“Faking Bad” is a Breaking Bad homage in oblique reference and prop symbolism only, and by not tying in any of the more in-depth bits of knowledge about the show, the plot plods along at the pace it needs to in order to fill the running time. Solving the issue of the investigation takes a bit of convenient finagling. Roger’s alter ego finally lives up to the Ramage name and runs over the gun-toting presumable gang members. But sending Hayley to prison, only to be rescued by a still-talented forger, changes a moment of guilt and ownership of bad decisions into something to shrug off—even if it was a decent joke.
But I do have to give credit to “Faking Bad” for its most important contribution: changing my mind on “Independent Movie.” This episode is an acceptable, middle-of-the-road, minimum-effort parody with only a few specific details. Last week was a spot-on approximation of the stereotypical indie film genre. So, for the first time, I re-watched an episode within a week, and upped the “Independent Movie” grade to an A-. I still don’t think it’s on the same level as “Adventures In Hayleysitting” or “Blood Crieth Unto Heaven,” but after a second viewing, last week’s episode is the best of the season so far, following through on a leap of ambition. “Faking Bad” is merely passable in comparison.
- The one moment that worked for me as a really funny twist on Breaking Bad was Stan finding the van a la Hank at the junkyard and Steve handling the issue with some magician’s sleight of hand.
- Stan’s day: looking for Gutenberg’s identity, spells an acrostic with “S—T—E—V—E,” observe a coffee stain turning into Steve.
- “Steve Gutenberg invented the printing press?”
- “A-ha… is playing the county fair!”