“American Dad” can range in its perception of topics from the utterly metaphorical to the banal of dexterity. What is an interesting balance is that where it lies on the TBS cabler, allows it to push itself every so much more without going off the abstract deep end where many Adult Swim animated shows find themselves. Each arena has its own advantages, challenges, strengths, weaknesses and drawbacks. With an episode like “Brave N00b World”, what seems like a simply episode devolves or evolves into something much different, both dark and hopeful at the same time. Interestingly enough this is not a Roger thing. it is a journey of discovery between Stan and his son Steve. Interestingly enough in this current climate, Stan is taking Steve to a kiddie theme park he had promised to do 6 years before. Steve is too old now of course and makes it clear that Stan needs to pay more attention.
A call comes from work for Stan to join an E Games tournament at the request of the CIA where a North Korean dictator will be present for Stan to assassinate. “Overwatch” as a game is brought into play which is even more of a metaphor. There is almost a play to “Childhood’s End” but not quite. Patrick Stewart and an interesting guest voice cast lends themselves to the travails. However the aspect of intent and what Steve calls “Split Focus” in his father’s psyche comes to a head. And while Stan might have made a correct decision it takes things in a completely undeniable turn. In not giving away the ending, it simply because very deep while still operating in the right way on the surface including of all things an ice ream cone which in some ways leads back to the beginning. Considering a recent would-be discovery about the existence of the universe in different from, this episode is oddly prescient indeed but also gives a lot to think about.
The essence of popularity and connection has always been a theme of “American Dad” through and through. With Episode 5 of Season 17: “Tapped Out” which one thought was going to be a brewery themed episode, the essential of what is considered inconsequential to good taste goes a little over the line with Jackie and Steve. It takes the idiom of breast feeding to an nth degree as the texture of elixir and a sarcastic edge of control. Now while some of it is funny, much of it skirts the line. But of course this does not full contort the weirdness of what the episode parlays. Roger becomes a documentary filmmaker who is trying to capture the pariah like mentality of the elixir exchange. The problem is that even Roger is grossed out which says something. The structure all comes to a head of sorts or more specifically a neck. Stan tries to elongate his neck because Roger says he is thick while Jeff wears gorilla mask that doesn’t come off. While the story is trying to focus on both the placebo of ego and also the manipulation of need, ultimately is just seems creepy in more ways than one. Again part of that is pushing the line which many shows like “The Shivering Truth” do. The underlying context is thete and of course the reasoning, but in a slightly less obvious way yet it still feels off. The search for identity (which this series is also about) was also made clear in the season premiere as well as a the recent “A Starboy Is Born” episode. “American Dad ” wants to challenge conventions but sometimes certain ones work better than others.
The aspects of “American Dad” go from the pedantic to the menial to the extreme but that is what the paradoxes within these stories are all about. The extremes of a situation reflect in the person the episode is focused on but also the irony and sarcasm of what is being talked about. In the 4th episode of Season 17: “A Starboy Is Born” which boasts a cameo but The Weeknd. It is an interesting play to engage the youth since many of them have obviously watched the show over the years especially when it was on Adult Swim. “American Dad” is irreverent enough to find that balance but also cosmopolitan enough to engage with the general population. The story of this episode is pretty basic. When Stan doesn’t get his way and wants to prove something to his family, they are fanboying/fangirling on The Weeknd. So Stan kidnaps him.
The interesting irony is that The Weeknd actually loves being with them and not having the girls all over him and the fame. It is obviously sarcasm and a parody riddled with maybe a bit of truth or The Weeknd would’t have done it. But Roger takes full advantage of it eventually swapping places with the singer. As expected Roger with Klaus as his manager loses his mind in gambling, booze and the ladies because he likes role playing. Roger’s rap about being The Weeknd is vintage Roger but it is the ditty that The Weeknd unloads at the end of the episode when Stan’s daughter wants to give him a free booty pass with her is just downright goofy. It is funny but loses all touch with reality but then it is supposed to be abstract. Granted the daughter’s boyfriend is all for it saying she just needs to get it out of her system. Ultimately Stan still just doesn’t get it but that is part of the point.
Dreams are the essence of broken promises. In a character like Roger who undeniably has had his share of successes, it is funny to see how the small victories sometimes are out of his grasp. His new dream in “Cheek To Cheek”, the 3rd episode of Season 17 of “American Dad”, is an interesting one: to make a cabaret show out of a male strip club where it is about connection with the ladies and not the carnal. He seems lost in the fact of the reality that he is in fact an alien and will never be anything else. That s the crux of his path. Like Data, he seemingly only wants to be human but never quite gets close. The irony is interesting considering he could probably bring the human race to its knees if he wanted to. And yet sometimes beyond the kids of the family, he is the infinite butt of jokes. Now granted, most of that falls on Stan at Roger’s hands most of the time because of his buffoonery. But most of Roger’s trouble is held up at times because he has a heart. In being selfish, he kills his own dream.
This is why it is ironic that he takes Jeff, the boyfriend of Stan’s daughter, as his protege in this venture (which is just the kind of irony that “American Dad” revels in). The funny thing is that Jeff finds that he does indeed have talent for this path but never knows what he really wants. Unlike Stan, Jeff is an aimless wanderer with a good heart who has no motivation whatsoever. Jeff is a follower in every sense of the word. As Roger seemingly gets closer to his dream, which he doesn’t want to be sullied by dirt, he forgets that the almighty dollar begets compromise. Reality sets in and Roger, at least in this episode, reveals his identity as a small time player. The person that seemingly really has things under control his Klaus (the fish), who seemingly understands the female psyche alot more than the family gives him credit for. This, of course, is just to provide a contradiction in what is always an abstract story. “American Dad”, as its title suggests, takes place in a land of paradoxes where the best intentions usually fall to the least common denominator…with funny consequences…like Roger falling down stairs.
The aspects of identity in “American Dad”seem to be a moving target that continues to befall Stan as a character as he races to oblivion. He also seems to be pushing certain traits onto his children. Steve & Hayley have their own issues but perhaps have thought themselves sheltered from the real world. When Stan talks about the dreaded “Downtown”, the crux of the episode (and its name) comes into place. Like Tarantino’s version of The Valley in “Pulp Fiction”, some dark secrets hide behind the houses of the soccer moms and track suits. It is a big irony play of course on the gentrification of many downtown area that have gone from dive bars and strip clubs to become more sustainable, safe and vegan. While this is a good course of action, “American Dad” in its right mind turns suburbia into the new war zone where anything can happen. Hayley and Steve are almost in a war movie trying to traverse a PPSAT schedule while trying to escape like “Black Hawk Down” in Mogadishu. Roger takes a back seat in this episode dragging out his pimp suit speaking of the beauty of Downtown in its sex fueled griminess but even his idea of what the past should be (which was alluded to in the previous episode] is lost. Ultimately the episode does speak to the necessity of change when many things stay the same. Stan, for himself, in his ignorance thinks that he can get ahead of the curve but instead is playing right into the monster’s claws. The episode doesn’t hold as much of a brightness to “100 Years A Solid Fool” in terms of its play but knows where it is heading.\
Progressing into a new season is always the idea of where the themes begin and the homages parallel. With the first episode o Season 17 of “American Dad” entitled “100 Years A Solid Fool”, the ode to “Miami Vice” (which “Archer ” did in years past) really accelerates the fun. Roger The Alien has been on mission rather subversively (much like Stewie with Lois in “Family Guy”) to shame Stan, his benefactor, in whatever way possible. “Fool Day” is quite awesome in the fact that it is a completely long con starting with Roger infiltrating Stan and his CIA buddies during their cocaine fueled adventures in the 80s in Miami and then Colombia. The reveal and the pay of it just hits the right pitch. Despite what Roger puts Stan through it never feels vengeful or with malice. It is more like he is just toying with him to show us in a meta way the failings of his hubris. Stan is a character who thinks himself a great intelligence officer but by and far the most clueless of all. This is, of course, by design. The progression of people recognizing Stan in Little Colombia outside Langley as “The Fool” is awesome but the return to Colombia is just as prevalent. Stan has become that cautionary tale that they look to to make their own lives better which is oddly ironic in present time. The efficiency of story with gags in this episode especially with these little threads moving (told mostly as a recollection in Stan’ own words) is subversive enough to rank as borderline brilliant.