Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Opening Derivative, American Dad! Volume 1 Is An Unimpressive Start!

The Good: Moments of humor, Moments of character
The Bad: Only 13 episodes, Many of the jokes fall flat, No spark
The Basics: In the first thirteen episode volume of American Dad!, Seth MacFarlane tries to replicate his popular format from Family Guy unsuccessfully.

As my wife and I have been spending more time together, we have been watching quite a bit of new (to us) material. After going through the newest Family Guy DVDs, we decided to continue on in the Seth MacFarlane universe . . . with American Dad!. American Dad! is a television series that both my wife and I made a conscious decision not to watch. Though we did not know one another at the time, both of us saw the first few episodes of American Dad! and found that it was not very funny and seemed like a cheap recasting of Family Guy (which we both love). So, picking up American Dad! Volume 1 on DVD, was a bit of a risk for both of us.

With the first two or three episodes, American Dad! continued to disappoint us. After all, American Dad! is (in many ways) a cheap recasting of Family Guy, at least at the beginning. Stan Smith is almost as idiotic as Peter Griffin, Roger the alien takes the place of Brian the dog and Klaus is almost as immobile as Stewie Griffin is dependent upon his parents. Moreover, Francine Smith and Lois Griffin are virtually interchangeable. However, by the end of the first volume of American Dad!, the characters are established enough to give the show a distinct voice of its own. While Seth MacFarlane uses largely new talents (separate from those on Family Guy), he voiced Roger and Stan, so fans of his works are likely to find it familiar.

Opening with conservative CIA Agent Stan Smith being worried that his son will be an unpopular wuss his entire life, Stan meddles in the school elections for class President. Roger’s backstory is fleshed out when Roger escapes and appears back on the CIA’s radar, which puts Stan’s job and Roger’s life in danger. Furious with a neighbor who seems to have everything he wants, Stan runs for deacon at the family’s church. Stan goes into a rage when his adult daughter Haley begins dating his boss, Bullock. After telling Steve of the evils of masturbation, Stan is burned and has to apply ointment that starts him masturbating after a lifetime of not tuggin’ it! Stan’s father dies and after that, his real father turns back up. Only Stan is oblivious to the fact that he is a thief! The season ends with a two-part episode which has Stan and his family ending up in Saudi Arabia. That edgy episode explores several of the conflicts between American and U.S. culture, including how women are treated (not allowed to go out unescorted).

American Dad! is not immediately funny and Seth MacFarlane and his team take a little time to actually get the “voices” of the characters right. Haley is characterized in the first season as a peacenik who is originally just a contrarian force to her father, Stan. However, as the season progresses, Haley becomes her own person and her relationship with the apparent loser, Jeff.

The basic premise of American Dad! is that CIA Agent Stan Smith represents a Bush-Era sensibility of the conservative American. He is sexist, resistant to change, and is the keeper of government secrets, which works well for his profession, but not his personal life. American Dad! has a somewhat limited cast in the first season, which is focused on the Smith family. Complete with talking animals and aliens, American Dad! feels very much like a Seth MacFarlane production, without cutaway gags.

In the first volume of American Dad!, the essential characters are:

Stan Smith – The patriarch of the Smith family, he is employed by the CIA. He is Christian, homophobic, married to Francine, and wants what he thinks is best for his daughter (who he does not really understand) and his son (who he does not respect at all). The only rule he has really broken for the CIA came when he rescued Roger from being hunted by fellow agents,

Francine Smith – Stan’s wife and a homemaker, she puts up with Klaus’s constant advances and works to raise Haley and Steve well. When Haley’s boyfriend, Jeff, gets a crush on her, she is surprisingly flattered,

Haley Smith – The liberal daughter of Stan and Francine. She butts heads with Stan constantly. She gets high with her boyfriend Jeff and attends the community college near Langley Falls, where the family lives. She briefly dates Stan’s boss when she and Jeff break-up,

Steve Smith – The pimply 14 year-old son of Stan and Francine, he runs for school president against the popular girl. He develops hobbies in order to avoid masturbation, which puts him and Stan at odds temporarily,

Klaus – A fish who can talk because his brain is that of a German athlete. The CIA transferred his brain into the fish and now he spends his time making wisecracks and trying to get Francine to flash him,

and Roger – An alien who escaped the CIA with Stan’s help. Now, he is ungrateful and spends a lot of time dressing up and assuming different personas in order to have some freedom outside the house. Unfortunately, he is frequently seen and the CIA begins hunting him again, requiring him to depend upon Stan once again.

A recurring guest character on American Dad! is Stan’s boss, Bullock, who is voiced by Patrick Stewart! Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation will thrill to hear Stewart in such a quirky role. The delight of Stewart appearing in American Dad! does not last the entire first volume. The show is still struggling to find its legs and it becomes a less memorable DVD set. Fortunately, it does get better from here out . . . at least for a while.

For other animated works by Seth MacFarlane, please check out my reviews of:
Family Guy Volume 1
Family Guy Volume 2
Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story
Family Guy: Live In Vegas
Family Guy Volume 3
Family Guy Volume 4
Family Guy Volume 5
Family Guy Presents Blue Harvest
Family Guy Volume 6
Family Guy Volume 7
Family Guy Presents Something, Something, Something Dark Side
Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy
Family Guy Volume 8
Family Guy Presents Partial Terms Of Endearment
Family Guy Presents It's A Trap!
Family Guy Volume 9
Family Guy Volume 10


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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