Episodes of American Dad rarely wrap up in such a succinct fashion as “Vision: Impossible” does, but every now and again it’s fun to see the show play around with the function of the episode-capping moral that’s so common in animated sitcoms. Family Guy often uses the twist of Peter or the rest of the Griffins hitting upon an obvious moral, and then immediately dismissing the obvious lesson, simply to be contrarian and unlikable in an on-the-nose way that garners diminishing returns. In its best years, The Simpsons was incredibly astute at hinting at a moral, or even outlining it completely, without entirely giving in to the educational feel of more juvenile programs specifically designed to teach lessons in an episode.
American Dad attempts to circumvent this problem by putting Roger at the center of “Vision: Impossible.” Even more than Stan—who has softened from his initial characterization with a hard right-wing personality—Roger is the character who simply is who he is, a selfish and narcissitic alien obsessed with role play in all forms. He’s never going to see a moral and pay attention to it. As he says when the blatant message emerges while he’s driving alone in the final third of this episode, “Lessons aren’t for me. Lessons are for schoolboys. Schoolboys are for me!” But “Vision: Impossible” grants Roger’s selfish and oblivious wish—for all of the Smiths to pay attention and listen to him more—and then allows him to ruin the family’s life and build it back again by teaching them a lesson instead of learning that he doesn’t need to be the center of attention.
Roger begins the episode trying to convince the family it’s already his birthday again so they’ll acquiesce to drinking Four Loko and swimming across a lake. Stan wants to go to the Safety Museum instead (since it has an exhibit on “Augustus Seatbelt, the inventor of the air bag”) Hayley brings home a pet raccoon, and Steve ignores Roger’s advice and vows to become a jock in order to impress a girl. So Roger embarks on his Four Loko swim alone, leaving only the guy who drowned rescuing him as a victim, then as he tries to get a red light camera to take his picture, a semi hauling bricks runs him over. When Roger awakens from his coma, finding the Smiths waiting at his bedside but uncaring and eager to the leave the hospital, he discovers that whenever he touches someone’s arm, he sees their future.
The sequence where he finally impresses upon the Smiths that he has powers is the best in the episode. Through an increasingly heightened series of comical misfortunes, everyone discovers that while the museum has ample exhibits of safety features, it contains no working safety precautions. Roger engineers a rescue mission—but tellingly still creates a scenario where Steve gets shot, only while wearing a bulletproof vest—and the family finally believes him.
At first, Roger delights in using his powers of foresight, and loves that the Smiths want to listen to his proclamations. But gradually it gets out of hand, such that none of the others want to make even the smallest, insignificant decision without Roger’s approval, for fear that it could snowball into something terrible. That crippling fear of the unknown drives Roger nuts, so he flees the house, but not before telling the Smiths that they’ll die if they leave the house, just to make sure they don’t follow him. A second car crash and a three-week coma later, Roger returns to the house with no powers and finds that the Smiths continued to unfailingly follow his final command. They live in squalor; eating the couch (which “wipes itself on the way out,” eliminating the need for more toilet paper) while Klaus lives in a bowl of his own cloudy, green filth. Roger’s directive led them to fear any and all risk, and he gets to re-teach his family how to go about life without dissecting every minute decision as though it could kill them. The world is a dangerous place, sure, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have to live in it and be a part of it.
The return of Hayley’s pet raccoon Cuddles is a nice bit of plot dovetailing, tied into Steve never using his RowFlex or giant cartons of protein powder. And through that struggle (including one final vision, which seemed out of place but can be overlooked given the giant, ’roided-out raccoon), Roger helps save the day by getting the Smiths to accept that risking the unknown is a part of life. Everything ties up nicely in a little bow, even down to the final surreal joke of Roger slapping Steve with a severed arm. Like I said, rarely do episodes of American Dad tie up so neatly, but it’s nice sometimes when it does. Simple comedy isn’t the most impressive thing to watch, but it’s a lot harder to accomplish than wild, flailing sitcom episodes that don’t adhere to a recognizable structure.
- “How useless is that Costco pack of five hammers now?” There are so many things items from Costco that deserve this line upon a first use years after purchase.
- I saw We Bought A Zoo on a plane once, and I didn’t think it was nearly memorable enough to merit getting the boost from a denigrating reference here. Movies as middling and thoughtless as that one don’t deserve the recognition of mockery. They just deserve to be forgotten.