Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Dad: “The Unbrave One”

Illustration for article titled American Dad: “The Unbrave One”

It’s hard to take American Dad seriously. I mean, I can take it seriously as a comedy, discuss its structure, what makes it work or not, and so on. But can it be discussed seriously? If American Dad comes across an engaging and important concept, how do you engage with it?

In a way, it was easier with Family Guy last year, because I could tell what was up with Family Guy: it was constantly trying to do new things in different ways. It was failing most of the time, and even if it succeeded in finding genuine depth, it usually undercut itself shortly thereafter. American Dad is more tonally consistent, though. That tone is irreverent, obscene, and referential, which are not normally qualities associated with depth.

This is all a long-winded way to say that American Dad hit upon a interesting storyline here, and actually treated it fairly respectfully: Steve wants his more masculine dad to respect him. So he and Roger cook up a scheme to make Steve look like a superhero, but Roger sabotages this so that he can look like the hero. Steve complains to Francine, who distractedly tells him to live his own life. He does, then is brave on his own, earning Stan’s respect.

It’s not earth-shattering, stuff. Other than the incest joke and the eyeball gouging, it could pass for a conventional sitcom in a way that American Dad doesn’t usually attempt to do. Its resolution is almost even sweet. So there’s a part of me that wants to treat this like an episode of, say, Parks & Recreation or The Middle and engage with the theme. You know, maybe post a story about how I did or didn’t get along with my dad, or perhaps how it might compare to the Justified episode I watched right before with similar themes.

But I really just want to talk about the sight gag of Roger on his throne as Steve walked in. Or perhaps Jeff, confused as to why his father thinks he’s an idiot as he pours cereal in his hat while only wearing underwear. This is the show American Dad is. It can ape the form of a more serious show, sure, but I don’t think it can fundamentally be that serious show. It probably shouldn’t be, really, part of what makes it fun is that it is consistently irreverent and probably will do anything for a laugh.

So in a sense, American Dad has the same problem as Family Guy or The Cleveland Show – it’s just too far gone down its jokeyness to be emotionally affecting, even when it feels like it should. And that’s fine, because unlike those other shows, American Dad usually gets the comedy right.


This wasn’t the greatest episode of American Dad, but it was a solid one, putting most of the characters in positions where they’re at their best: Roger gets to be conniving, Steve gets to sing, Stan gets to go overboard with something, and Francine gets to freak out. Even the Family Guy-style overdone joke, with Roger and others repeating “maybe-baby” over and over, only wears out its welcome a little bit. Nothing genius, but nothing terrible for “The Unbrave One”. And if you can find meaning in its characters and their relationships, that’s even better. I just can’t right now.

Stray observations:

  • “Hey dad! How brave is this! I have less than 10% battery life and I just started an email.”
  • “I love brunch, Steve. I love everything about it.”
  • Can’t resist the dig at “Sully”, can you, American Dad writers? You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.