Essential Episodes: American Dad

essential episodes american dadAmerican Dad is often seen as a pail imitation of Seth MacFarlane’s more successful Family Guy, what with the way it’s based around a family in middle America and has a talking pet in it, but it’s actually a far, far better show that Seth MacFarlane’s first animated sitcom. That’s largely because for the first ten seasons the showrunners were Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman, with McFarlane only contributing his voice the majority of the time, indeed the only episode he has a writing credit on is the very first.

It did take a little while for the series to find its feet but by its fifth season it was on fire and that very strong run of episodes lasted for about six years, when deciding which episode should be considered the one which is the most fun and worth praising to the highest of heavens I could have chosen from about twenty. In the end I went for season 8’s “Hot Water”, partially because it’s a musical episode and I love those to death, but also because quite simply it’s the show at its most inventive and unusual.

The plot’s a fairly simple one where after hurting his back Stan is persuaded to buy a hot tub, but as with Little Shop Of Horrors, the film it very mildly spoofs, this hot tub can speak and boy does it have plans for Stan, especially when Francine begins to get jealous of all of the time that Stan’s spending in it. And that’s that, quite unusually there’s no subplot, it’s just the story of a man and his love for his hot tub and it’s a hilarious tale from start to finish.

Unusually for the show it starts with a live action clip of the singer CeeLo Green, who also voices the hot tub, and who warns us that this is a cautionary tale which might influence your next hot tub purchase. Then the show begins a proper with an opening five minutes which contains an incredibly impressive amount of gags, what with Francine’s attempts to flirt with Stan and his explanation as to why he doesn’t have the time, with his morning routine containing some truly hilarious moments including how between “9:11 to 9:12 – Think about 9/11″.

Then Stan’s off to work and has to shave on his way due to Francine delaying him, but not where you might expect him to, before Principal Lewis crashes in to him because he was texting – the joke being that he was texting Stan the words “I’ma crash into you”, an incredibly daft gag that had me laughing for a long old time, as did many of those that came before it. Said crash is the catalyst for Stan needing the hot tub as he’s hurt his back and needs some relief from the pain, and then what follows is a tale of addiction as Stan doesn’t care who he hurts as long as he can spend some time in some very bubbly, very hot water.

Throughout there’s some enormously catchy and funny songs, one of which contains the line “Chuck Berry me, Over Germany”, with Chuck Berry being urban slang for a very specific sex act that you could never normally mention in a sitcom that’s supposedly for all the family. Indeed the episode gets away with a lot of innuendo, and out and out 18 rated jokes for that matter, like Francine’s comment post hot tub sex “That was the best sex I ever had…with you”, and Steve’s angry rant about wanting to get in the hot tub “But I’m pretty sure my parents ****ed in it last night”.

The whole episode’s filled with memorable lines, the best of which sees Francine shout “You don’t think that every single day of my life I want to do coke? But I can’t because I have PTA tomorrow”, Steve has an amazing song about how he’s “Never going to find another father like you” which gets even better when Roger joins in, and there’s some great blink and you’ll miss them jokes too, like when the hot tub seller sees the newspaper headline “Hot Tub Escapes From Mental Institution”. It also has some great mockery of horror film tropes, and best of all is the way that it breaks continuity by killing off both Stan and Francine at the end.

Of course they’re alive again at the beginning of the following episode (Hurricane, which is also a great episode) but that’s not the point, the simple fact that they had the balls to kill off the series leads is an amazing end to the episode, and one which made me laugh a huge amount, and apparently if the show had been cancelled there was a plan to air this as its final ever episode, which almost (but not quite) makes me wish it had been. I do have a couple of minor issues with it, there’s not enough Roger in it and Hayley is missing completely, but as there’s hundreds and hundreds of other episodes where they do feature it’s really not a problem. Otherwise this is a stand out edition of a show which at the time was deserving of enormous praise, with an amazingly high joke rate, and a desire to play around with expectations,

Unsurprisingly given the number of episodes produced American Dad’s now gone off the boil, it’s not hatefully lazy like Family Guy but it is sadly a little formulaic and bland with it relying on Roger doing something crazy for storylines. But at least at its best it was incredibly inventive and packed with smart, hilarious jokes, so if you’ve always written it off as a Family Guy clone you should definitely check out the show’s more inspired episodes like this one.

★★★★★

Alex Finch.
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