The compounding of identity filters into this week’s episode of “American Dad”. Episode 10 entitled “American Data” has Stan’s son Steve and some of his friends wanting to get calf implants because they think this will make them look cool at school. The story of the episode devolves into Roger as an arcane professor conducting experiments on the notion of prisoner and guard psychology through a test lab at Steve’s school. When his initial tests go awry, he brings in real convicts to up the stakes. It just turns out Steve is a follower at heart. He makes the inmates food and sings songs. Yet he could be in “Goodfellas”…he adjusts his behavior to what his captors want to see. When he finally gets out, his friends finally see his true colors. Meanwhile Stan is going into catatonia over the loss of a colleague per se that he reflects in the tone of a leaf blower. As with some episodes, the more esoteric imagery tends to have a bigger metaphor masked in its grotesque outlay. Roger in his own alien way keeps talking about binders like it is the end of the world though both he and Steve have their own safe rooms that exist inside their heads. The question ultimately is what does Steve want versus Roger? Acceptance. Love. Life? Steve is the true trooper here and yet his final resolution places him in the same space he was before. And if he has learned anything, he has learned nothing.
The inherent buffoonery of Stan Smith knows no bounds. That is why the slightly differently structured episode “Game Night” brings into perspective an idea of the subconscious inside Stan’s head: lost but with instincts that overcome his ignorance. While there are elements of “The Game” but also the undeniable hark to “Labyrinth” with Patrick Stewart’s CIA Chief as Bowie, the idea is metaphorical in many ways but inherent in why Stan is the way he is. His family lets him win game night over and over again because he become mean and violent when he doesn’t win. But like when he is nursed back to health by Francine in an earlier episode, it is all black and white with Stan, no gray. He therapy leads his family into a huge maze his boss created filled with beasts and puzzles of which he has no clue how to solve. Without giving away the progression of the plot, the different rooms can represent a breakdown of Stan’s walls of perception but instead of that, it becomes a creature feeding on itself. The side story with Roger trying to unlock the secrets of making foie grae with his geese friends perfectly mirrors this. “Game Night” as an episode of “American Dad” is a story of gluttony that destroys an empire from inside. Stan ultimately sees somewhat the errors of his ways but it is locked inside his mind. He can’t see the writing on the wall even when it is read to him.
The influence of wordplay in “American Dad” can point to something literal or a subversive reality hanging just below the surface. With Episode 8″ “Trophy Life, Trophy Wife”, it uses the metaphorical and literal against each other. Sometimes there is so much subtext running through an episode that the role of what it is attempting to discuss becomes merely a satirical reference to itself. The story here revolves around when Stan is seriously injured at the inset of the episode to where there is no way he can possibly repair himself alone. In a normal episode, he would snap his fingers and be up. But what this examines is the psychology of need specifically in the perspective of Francine, his wife. It is a bit of a retro-feminist approach in its ideal but again is an interesting discussion. As has been been seen in many female comedian specials of late, certain aspects are biological as much as the intellectual wants to push it the other way. Francine wants to have a strong husband and yet wants to remain in control. She wants to be vulnerable and yet know exactly how a business should be run. All very apt points.
But wiring between male and female cognition is inherently different just by biological nature. What is interesting of course is that Stan doesn’t know how to traverse this gray area. For his kind of personality it is zero or extreme in terms of his approach. After Francine nurtures him back to health, he thinks he cannot survive or do anything unless she can watch over it. It is a survival mechanism balanced with a Florence Nightingale backlash. The funny thing is the rehabilitation product of choice is Stan chasing an actual trophy. When he leaves his job, he and Francine buy at trophy shop where he doesn’t want to sell trophies at. He just wants to be with Francine all day and no one else. The coup de grace is him leaving when there is no middle ground that he will even acknowledge. He buys a pickle store across the street and it literally goes down from there before a reset can occur. And life goes on. But that intention of need shows below the surface that despite everything going on Stan and Francine still have a connection.
“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.