Fox // 2009 // 306 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // July 9th, 2010
Good morning, USA!
Seth McFarlane's less-popular animated sitcom American Dad! gets a fifth DVD collection, demonstrating once again that the show is greatly superior to the cartoon maven's inexplicably popular Family Guy.
Facts of the Case American Dad! follows the exploits of the Smith family: there's patriarch Stan (voiced by co-creator Seth McFarlane), a super-conservative CIA agent who loves his family but loves his country more; Francine, his wife; Steve, his nerdy son; Hayley, his liberal hippy daughter; and Roger, an alien from Area 51 who sounds just like Paul Lynde, is obsessed with disguises and lives in the Smith's attic.
Here are the episodes contained on American Dad! Volume 5:
* "Phantom of the Telethon"
When Stan steals Roger's idea to host a CIA telethon (to raise money for legal torture), Roger retaliates by trying to destroy the televised proceedings.
Steve has to wear a back brace for six weeks, and Stan reveals that he's actually bald. Meanwhile, Roger, Francine and Hayley take a weekend at a spa, but are forced to match wits with a detective who knows they're pulling a fast one. Guest starring Forest Whitaker.
* "Stan Time"
Lacking in free time, Stan gets hooked on a new drug (developed by the CIA) that makes him feel like he's had a full night's rest; Roger and Steve begin writing porn films.
* "Family Affair"
The Smiths learn that Roger has been seeing another family behind their backs.
* "Live and Let Fry"
The town of Langley Falls bans trans fats, forcing Stan and family to begin smuggling the stuff in for deep fried cooking. Guest starring Forest Whitaker.
* "Roy Rogers McFreely"
Stan and Roger go to war when Roger becomes the chairman of the homeowners' association.
* "Jack's Back"
Stan is reunited with his imprisoned father, and the three generations of Smith boys do some long-overdue male bonding.
* "Bar Mitzvah Hustle"
A new student, Etan Cohen, invites Steve's girlfriend Debbie to be his date at his incredibly lavish bar mitzvah. To get him back, Steve devises an elaborate scheme to rip off the event, but runs into trouble when his best friend Snot (Curtis Armstrong, One Crazy Summer) takes the fall. Guest starring Seth Green, Judd Hirsch and Lizzy Caplan.
* "Wife Insurance"
After being captured with a partner in Colombia, Stan and Francine decide to take on backup spouses in case the other dies first.
* "Delorean Story-an"
Stan and Steve go on a road trip after finishing Stan's custom Delorean; Roger, Francine and Hayley can't come to an agreement about an adventure of their own.
* "Every Which Way But Lose"
Steve and Roger invent a new football team to take down the junior football team being coached by Stan; Francine and Haley battle one another in a pie baking competition.
* "Weiner of Our Discontent"
Stan and Roger travel to Roswell so Roger can complete his mission of determining the fate of the Earth. Guest starring Sandra Oh (Sideways).
* "Daddy Queerest"
The Smith's gay neighbor, Terry, asks Francine to pose as his wife while his father is in town; Steve and Roger attempt to score some beer.
* "Stan's Night Out"
Stan goes for a disastrous night on the town with his friends; Roger and Hayley compete to see who can get more men. Guest starring Steven Bauer and Joss Stone.
I'm not much of a Family Guy fan. I say that not to engender goodwill with the hipsters who have taken to hating on Seth McFarlane now that he's a multimillionaire of questionable talent, nor to alienate the readers who slavishly watch the FOX lineup that McFarlane essentially owns every Sunday night. I say it because the show, though watchable, just doesn't do much for me. It's not a political statement. It's not a commentary on everything that's wrong with the state of comedy or American television. I'm capable of finding a good joke or two in a given episode of Family Guy, but it's rarely worth the dozens of jokes and cutaways and non-sequiters that fall soullessly flat for me.
Having said that, I'm surprised by how much I enjoy McFarlane's less-popular, second attempt at animation domination (thanks, FOX ad wizards): American Dad! (I haven't even tried watching The Cleveland Show, because there are only so many hours in a day). I think the reason I like American Dad! while taking or leaving Family Guy comes down to one thing: character. On Family Guy, the jokes have nothing to do with any of the people on the show -- the "humor" (depending on your feelings about the show) exists in spite of the characters, not as a result of them. I know, I know; Peter Griffin is stupid. There is some humor to be mined from that (I know because I've watched The Simpsons do it brilliantly for years), but Family Guy isn't even all that interested in doing that. The humor on the show comes from the cutaway gags and the pop culture references (which reminds me: references alone are not jokes unless they're being commented upon, Seth McFarlane). With American Dad!, on the other hand, the humor comes out of the characters -- particularly uber-conservative Stan and Roger the alien, a character that annoys me in concept (McFarlane is too afraid to fix what isn't broken, so he loads his cartoons up with talking animals with funny voices) but actually works in execution. American Dad! is able to find humor in Roger that isn't just based in the idea that he's an alien hiding with a family. He has his own personality, and he acts according to it. With the exception of homicidal baby Stewie, that's rarely true on Family Guy.
Volume 5 should please fans of American Dad!, because if there's one thing about McFarlane's shows, it's that they're consistent. There's not a whole lot of growth in his work, but not too much backsliding, either. The characters have become better developed over the course of several seasons and the show has come to embrace traditional sitcom tropes more than in the past, but that's pretty much it. Of course, that could work against the series, too; anyone who isn't already convinced that American Dad! is worth their time isn't likely to find anything here that would change his or her mind. And, like a lot of McFarlane's work, a little can go a long way -- even at just 14 episodes, American Dad! begins to wear out its welcome by the end of this DVD set.
American Dad! Volume 5 collects the final 14 episodes from Season Four, which gives me a great opportunity to complain about the way that Fox releases this show (and, by the same token, Family Guy). Breaking seasons up arbitrarily is really, really annoying -- a clear cash grab to squeeze five DVD box sets when four should do. Thankfully, because of the nature of the show, continuity isn't really an issue; you can pretty much drop in and out of the series at any point and it really wouldn't make a difference. But there's something cynical about the way that these animated series are being issued, and I would be remiss if I didn't voice how much it bothers me.
The 14 episodes are spread out over three discs, presented in their original 1.33:1 full frame television aspect ratio; I have to assume that at some point, Fox will step into 2010 and begin broadcasting their animated series in widescreen, but for now this will have to do. I have no complaints about the video or audio quality -- the picture is clear and vibrantly colorful, while the 5.1 audio track does service to the snappy dialogue and really plays up the show's bouncy musical score. Each episode comes "uncensored" (the occasional curse word, but not significantly different than what makes it to air) and contains a commentary track with a rotating lineup of writers, animators and various voice talent. Co-creator and series "auteur" Seth McFarlane never appears on any of the commentaries, which is likely to disappoint his most fervent fans. The commentaries are uneven on the whole, offering up some decent information and a bit of joking around but not much of value.
Also included is nearly an hour of deleted scenes and outtakes, many of which are very funny and well worth watching for anyone who likes the series. One episode, "Bar Mitzvah Hustle" (one of the best episodes of the set), comes with a "pop-up" trivia track that offers information not discussed on the commentary track. Finally, there's an hour-long clip montage called the "Power Hour Drinking Game," punctuated by prompts to take a drink. It's kind of worthless (I haven't heard of any American Dad! drinking games sweeping the nation), but the clips are funny and span the entire series instead of just the shows included on Vol. 5.
I wonder if I like American Dad! while remaining indifferent -- or, in some instances, hostile -- towards the rest of Seth McFarlane's output because he's not the sole force behind the show. Co-created by Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman, it may be their influence that keeps McFarlane from constantly indulging his worst instincts...or maybe it's really just McFarlane not wanting to repeat exactly what he does on Family Guy (though it's pretty darn close). Whatever the differences are, one works and the other doesn't.
Sue me. I like it.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 306 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Trivia Track
* Deleted Scenes
* Drinking Game
* Official Website