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

Stan’s excessive cruelty mars a wickedly clever American Dad

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It would be safe to say that over the 12-year run of American Dad, it’s been made fairly clear that Stan Smith is nothing special as a father. Sure, he has the occasional redemptive moment in episodes like “Delorean Story-An,” and “Stannie Get Your Gun,” but he struggles to connect with either of his children, and unlike, say, Hank Hill, he doesn’t make much of an effort to bridge the gap. With that in mind, it doesn’t seem too surprising that the Smith family has forgotten Father’s Day, forcing Stan to miss out on the big CIA dad bod fashion show.

Still, they naturally feel terrible when Stan reminds them of this, and resolve to make it up for him with a big celebration two days after Father’s Day (in an amusing bit, an Obsessive-Compulsive radio host begins his show by repeatedly pointing out that it’s two days after Father’s Day). The family gives him a solid-but-imperfect outing, and Stan feels vindicated, until Roger reminds him of all the things they could have done better. Being the sociopath that he is, Roger is the most frequent catalyst for mayhem in this show, and sure enough, his remarks lead Stan down a dark road. Deciding the make-up Father’s Day wasn’t good enough, he decides to erase their memory and have them try it again. And again. And again. And again.

This is a bit tricky; on the one hand, the show’s usages of CIA technology has lead to some of its best moments, with episodes like “The Vacation Goo,” and “Virtual Instanity” giving us some inspired moments. Sure enough, the montage of Steve’s birdhouses, Francine’s dinners, and Hayley’s songs becoming more and more elaborate is highly amusing, but Stan’s cruelty here makes it all a bit unsettling. The idea that the Smiths are never good enough for Stan has been explored before, in episodes like “The Most Adequate Christmas Ever,” and “Every Which Way But Lose,” and it can be uncomfortable to watch. Stan erases the family’s memory every time anything is slightly imperfect, no matter how great everything else is, and it’s hard not feel an increasing amount of disgust for him.

After five months go by without Steve attending school, Snot finally shows up and asks what’s going. Stan erases his memory, too, but he isn’t able to avoid Klaus, the one character whose memory he does not erase (“you’re not even on my radar, dude”). Klaus shows Steve the basement full of discarded birdhouses he made and the jig is up. This is where Stan makes his most bizarre decision of the episode: to lash out at his family after being found out, rather than immediately begging for forgiveness. He goes on a rant for the ages, though the audience is unable to hear it, secure in the belief that he can simply erase everyone’s memory again. What he fails to realize is that Klaus destroyed Stan’s memory the night before, meaning he must now have to live with his family being fully aware of the months of hell he put them through, along with his even crueler comments afterwards.

Stan getting his comeuppance would be satisfying, but he frustratingly insists that his insults were “jokes,” and is hellbent on finding another memory eraser. His insistence on avoiding any personal responsibility is infuriating, but in this case, the Smith family actually agrees that having everyone forget the event is for the best. They go to Ohio in search of the only other memory eraser, which was sold to a collector of CIA memorabilia. This leads to some funny bits in the collector’s house, where Stan is oddly excited to see the “super crack” that was introduced to the black community in the 80s, along with the real-life Jason Bourne. Ultimately though, Steve stops Stan from erasing the family’s memory, rationalizing that Stan is only a good dad when he feels guilty about past sins.

This is all a bit similar to the plot of Family Guy’s “April In Quahog,” where Peter admits that he can’t stand his children. In that episode, Peter’s earnest attempts to reconnect with his children are rejected until he buys them all XBOX 360’s. This time around, the family ultimately decides to live with Stan’s egregious behavior, while still not allowing him to claim that he learned the “true meaning of Father’s Day.” On one hand, this ending is a bit unsatisfying, as after all we had gone through, something a bit more climactic would have been appreciated. And yet, it also sort of feels like the ending that Stand deserves; the family doesn’t allow him to forget his mistakes, they just begrudgingly decide to live with them.


This episode has a ton of inspired bits, and is generally enjoyable throughout, but at the same time, it’s difficult to even partially justify Stan’s cruel behavior. What makes it somewhat manageable is that his two worst actions — erasing the family’s memory, and then insulting them — are both presented within the context of montages, so it’s a bit less awful to think about. Still, Stan is a considerably bigger prick than normal in this episode and the considerable amount of humor can only go so far in distracting us from that.

Stray Observations:

-Just to be clear, this is merely a drop-in, and The AV Club won’t be covering American Dad regularly. For what it’s worth, I thought the second TBS was a pretty big improvement over the first, which initially had me thinking the show was headed for disaster.


-If you ever wanted to hear Patrick Stewart use the term “basic bitch,” this was your lucky night!

-TBS has been airing American Dad for three years now. Do they really have to advertise every episode as ”edgier” than the Fox shows were. We get it. They can swear now.


-This episode also gives the latest installment of Golden Turd storyline, which started way back in the show’s initial seven episode run. This time around, when the turd is taken to the Vatican, we find out that it’s true owner is Roger. To be honest, I’m kinda kicking myself for not seeing that coming.