American Dad!: Volume 3 Review
It's my own fault. All my own fault. Faced with three discs of American Dad and with the option of watching an episode or three a night over ten days or the whole lot over three nights, I chose the latter. Like Zammo Maguire, I thought that I could handle it. And like Zammo Maguire, I couldn't. It got too much. Too soon. It's not that I was found on the floor of a school changing room dribbling on to my shirt but I'm not far off. Only last night, I was dragged off the streets, with nothing but a copy of the Radio Times for company, desperately scanning the television listings in search of something that isn't American Dad.
My last word on American Dad was in a review of season one in which, with only half the episodes from that season included in the box, I wondered if were getting a Volume 1 or a Season 1 set? With hindsight, that reads as though it has come from a more innocent time. Those words even look somewhat foolish. Making up for that half-season, Fox have included a half of season two and most of season three in this box set, which is a lot by anyone's standards. It's a lot even for a fan of the show and it's so much American Dad that this viewer began having dreams of drowning in cardboard cut-outs of Stan Smith.
Granted, the broadcast schedule of American Dad may not tally with the listings on tv.com but this release picks up with Bush Comes To Dinner and ends with Francine 911, a total of eighteen episodes in all. Paying no regard to what constitutes a season, this set contains all episodes broadcast during the calendar year of 2007 with the exception of the Christmas special, The Most Adequate Christmas Ever. Each one of these conforms to a structure that remains consistent across the season, featuring two stories, usually one with Stan Smith and another with Roger, albeit that there's one or two exceptions to this throughout the set. Picking an episode entirely at random (or, rather, one that best illustrates my point), A.T. The Abusive Terrestrial sees Stan and Francine touring the country to the sound of Cold Beverage in the hope of saving the blue-collar soft drink Mr Pibb from closure. In the B-story, Roger finds himself looking for a new friend but, with his life imitating the true-life spousal abuse dramas that he watches on television, he's soon covering up both his bruises and the truth about this new friendship.
Albeit that the stories and the story structures change a little between episodes - sometimes its Stan and Roger in the A-story, Klaus and Hayley in the B - each episode sticks to this general outline. That's not much of a complaint in itself. After all, CSI has done exactly the same thing over eight years and three different shows but there's so little variation in this structure that American Dad can, well, become a little dull. The writers all but ignore Klaus through these eighteen episodes, the Smith family all conform to their the sketches of their characters from series one, episode one while Roger is a thin-armed, long-faced and very grey Mr Benn, with the writers using each episode as an excuse to dress him up and extract some very weak comedy out of the situation. No matter that he's an alien in disguise, his putting on a Kevin Bacon nose and being confused with the, "...invisible rapist from Hollow Man" makes for few laughs.
There are still surprises in store, often working very well when they mix the surreal with some cultural reference point that we won't be excluded from on this side of the Atlantic. Far too often the scriptwriters toss in a gag about a US news reader or a minor television star that, with a copy of friend or relative in North America to phone for guidance, we can only ask, "Who?" Perhaps Americans felt the same about the Spitting Image puppet of Alastair Burnett. But sometimes American Dad gets it right, spoofing movies, books or television shows that have a broad appeal, allowing the gags to ring out as loudly here as they do in Omaha. Probably the high point of the entire season is Roger convincing a very gullible Steve that he's been accepted into Hogwart's School of Wizardry. Beginning with Roger throwing a stone owl through Steve's window and going on to point him in the direction of Hogwart's American Campus - actually a crackhouse in a rundown part of Langley - every moment of the spoof is inspired, funny and very true both to American Dad and to the Harry Potter books.
The shame of American Dad is that there aren't quite enough of these moments. Perhaps it's that Seth MacFarlance, particularly with the Star Wars-inspired Family Guy special Blue Harvest, wants to rein in some of the cultural references, at least the grandstanding ones like Harry Potter. Instead, we get Dollywood, National Treasure, City Slickers and Roger Corman's The Day The World Ended, each of them very far from the globe-straddling success of a Star Wars or Harry Potter. Even the ET references in AT The Abusive Terrestrial seem rather half-hearted, consisting of little more than Roger throwing a ball out of a garden shed and offering his new friend the chance to go for a bicycle ride across the face of the moon. And yet when American Dad rouses itself, it can still be very funny. Two days after watching it, this viewer was still laughing at Stan attacking Francine with a chainsaw, then a cheetah and then a cheetah armed with a chainsaw.
The biggest laugh came with Roger and Steve setting up their own detective agency, the pair of them in wheelchairs and arguing over who was Wheels and who had to be the able-bodied Leg Man. As one who, in homage to the Belfast delicatessen Canterbury And Dyke, invented the police drama Canterbury And The Dyke (Chaucer-reading homophobic ex-cop finds himself partnered with a lesbian!) as well as the action movie partnership of hard-men Rollins & Collins! (Henry and Lewis), I laughed longest and hardest at this. It may be that with so much stuffed into the show, there's always something coming that will the viewer will find funny. Over these eighteen episodes, there's plenty of such moments, though perhaps it's best to space them out somewhat more than did this viewer.
Bush Comes To Dinner: Stan Smith is hard at work. Tapping away at his computer, he's writing an essay in the hope of winning a CIA-sponsored competition. The loser gets to spend a weekend being extraordinarily rendited through various eastern European countries while the winner gets to spend an evening with the President...at their home! That would be great but with a liberal daughter, a talking fish and an alien bent on buying Dollywood!
American Dream Factory: Stan doesn't feel as though things are going well at work. When the CIA find enough loose change to buy a pinball machine, they move Stan's desk into the men's room. He struggles to hear his agents over the sound of farting. "You're in...WHAT-istan?" With a heavy heart, Stan leaves the CIA to set up his own business, making festive teddy bears. Only that it's hard to run a business when you have to pay minimum wage. Much better (and cheaper!) to employ illegal immigrants.
A.T. The Abusive Terrestrial: Roger wants to watch a Daphne Zuniga movie on TV, Spooning With Anger. It's his and Steve's favourite spousal abuse movie of all time. Even better than Valerie Bertinelli's, "Please Kevin, Not In The Face!" But Steve doesn't want to know any more. Roger leaves and hooks up with another kid...but it all goes bad and Roger becomes the subject of his own abuse drama. Meanwhile, Stan and Francine tour the Mr Pibb factory (again!) but find out the company are shutting down production of their favourite soft drink. Stealing the Mr Pibb-mobile, they set off across the country to save the brand. Only the country doesn't really care.
Black Mystery Month: For Black History Month, Steve Smith has to write a paper on a subject of his choosing. Without realising what he's getting into, Steve chooses George Washington Carver, the inventor of peanut butter. But he uncovers a secret symbol, a coded message and a vast conspiracy that goes right to the top! But the Illuminutti are watching his every step!
An Apocalypse to Remember: "You made it look like complete racists!" After blacking up his family with boot polish to attend a dinner celebrating minorities, Stan is at a bit of a low ebb. His family thinks that he's an idiot. Leaving home late and depressed, he wanders into a thermonuclear attack drill at the CIA...which he thinks is real. Taking his family up into the mountains to survive the apocalypse, they can't believe how he saved their lives. But will they still be so happy if their were to ever learn the truth?
Four Little Words: Bullock is lonely! His wife is still being held hostage in Falluja and with no one to go back home to, he's keeping everyone working late. Stan thinks that Bullock needs a woman but sets his boss up on a date with Melinda, a friend of Francine's. Getting everyone drunk gets things swinging but when Bullock confuses Melinda with a terrorist, he kills her! Phoning Stan for help cleaning up the body, Stan pitches in willingly...if only to stop Francine telling him the four little words that he would rather not hear, "I told you so!"
When a Stan Loves a Woman: "All of these?" When Stan learns that Francine planted a rose to commemorate the first time they made love, he finds it sweet. But when he finds out that she did the same for everyone she's ever slept with, he's somewhat taken aback. Even moreso when a tour party describes it as the largest sex garden in the world! Francine tells Stan to sleep with another woman to go some way to making up numbers! But instead of sex, Stan falls in love...and there's no rose bushes for falling in love!
I Can't Stan You: "Oh...a disintegrator! I thought it was a penis enlarger. That could have gone horribly wrong!" With an office inspection due, Bullock lets his team take home some illegal CIA equipment. Making off with a machine that turns water into cocaine (and some water), Bullock leaves his men to it. Stan takes some sensitive surveillance equipment but using it only leaves him finding out that everyone in the neighbourhood hates him. So he takes advantage of a new piece of legislation and seizes their homes to help in the war on terror! "There should be no more terror...very soon!"
The Magnificent Steven: "How are you going to become men in you're not tackling each other and ruining each other's knees for life?" Stan despairs at the state of America's youth! Steve and his friends, with their tickle games and female gym teacher, are in need of guidance from a man. Filling the yard with cows, slaughtering calves and striking young boys is Stan's way of teaching them how to become men. Meanwhile, Roger falls in love with Hayley...then Francine.
Joint Custody: Hayley's boyfriend is living in his fan in the street outside...which is much too close for Stan. So he has his hippy van run over! But that only leaves Jeff coming into the house. And showering with Stan! Wanting to get back to enjoying a shower in peace, Stan drives down to Florida to turn Jeff in on a pot-smuggling charge. But everyone else wants to turn Jeff in as well now there's a bounty in it. Roger turns bounty hunter and even Jeff's dad sets off after his son to claim a share of the cash.
The Vacation Goo: With Roger planning to become an actor, Francine discovers that there's plenty of faking going on elsewhere in her home. Thanks to Roger waking them up whilst still in their vats of goo, Francine, Hayley and Steve discover that every vacation they've ever enjoyed was created through artificial memories. But when she finally gets her real vacation, it's so good that she thinks it's still CIA-sponsored implants...particularly when the entertainment on board the cruise ship is Roger, in a dress, singing a tribute to Olivia Newton-John.
Meter Made: The downside to being in the CIA is not being able to tell anyone. The perks of a great job seem to pass Stan by. With a community sentence looming, Stan becomes a meter maid and finally finds out who it is that has all the power in the town. But his pocketing quarters brings an investigation from Parking internal Affairs...and Stan has a lot of recent expenditure to hide.
Dope & Faith: At a funeral of...er, Bob, Stan fears for dying and finding himself without a friend. His boss pretends to be out when Stan calls, his children don't want to know and there isn't a single name in his address book. Praying for a friend, Stan thinks that God has delivered when Brett walks into his life. But there seems to be some mistake when Brett turns out to be an atheist. Stan worries that his new best friend will burn in Hell for all eternity and sets about trying to save him. But that can't be good for Brett. Meanwhile, Steve goes to the American campus of Hogwart's School of Wizardry.
Big Trouble in Little Langley: Francine's parents visit...Francine's adoptive parents! Not only can Stan not get rid of them but neither will they change their ways, neither showing any respect to Stan nor settling in to the American way of life. Fed up with his adoptive mother-in-law washing paper towels and a used tampon that she found on the bus, Stan sets off in search of Francine's natural parents. Meanwhile, Steve gets the offer of a feel of Lindsay's boobs if he does something crazy. It just so happens that he's been given a box of fireworks at the same time as Roger discovers that he's fireproof!
Haylias: Hayley's having that dream again...the one in which she's in a creepy classroom and is punished from drawing outside of the lines of the American flag. Over breakfast, she declares that the only way she can be free of this dream is to leave America and buys a single airline ticket to France. What Stan knows (and Hayley doesn't) is that she was brainwashed as a child into being a sleeper agent - Agent Small Wonder! - and rather than lose her to the French, Stan activates her trigger phrase! But he's got seven days to change her back to normal or she'll lose her mind! Down in the basement, Steve and Roger set up a detective agency...Wheels and the Leg Man, starring the pair of them in wheelchairs!
The 42-Year-Old Virgin: Stan has dreams of killing - and while smoking a cigar, impresses Steve and his buddies with his stories of shooting terrorists - but the truth is that he's never killed anyone. Over a poker game with the guys, they find this out, calling him a virgin as he runs out of the building. Telling Roger about flunking his first kill (as well as how he took credit for it when his target was shot by a mugger), the alien and Stan's friends arrange for him to pop his killing cherry!
Surro-Gate: Stan's gay neighbours, Terry and Greg, have decided to have a child. Stan is horrified and quickly returns home to calm down from this shocking news. Francine says, "I want them to know that I support them in this beautiful endeavour!" Stan agrees, "...just replace 'support' with 'condemn' and 'beautiful endeavour' with 'horrible abomination'!" When Francine agrees to act as surrogate mother, Stan tries hard to look pleased but as the months pass, he figures out a way to protect the child, waiting until it's born before taking it to the only place in America were gay couples have no rights...Nebraska!
Frannie 911: After one more fight between Roger and Stan (and with Roger threatening to leave home to throw himself in the Baltic Sea!) Francine comes up with a plan to make the two friends again. Faking his kidnapping, Francine hopes that losing Roger will make Stan come to his senses. But Stan doesn't show up to pay the ransom...not even when it's lowered to whatever cash that he has in his change jar!
It's not particularly fair to compare the R1 Volume 1 as reviewed on this site to this R2 Volume 3 release. The NTSC of the R1 stayed NTSC on the discs while this has been bounced through a fairly poor NTSC-to-PAL conversion on its way to these three discs. Still, fair or not, the colours are faded on this release and the picture is softer than it was on the Region 1 release. This does, at least, smooth out the jagged lines that were present on the Region 1 but, overall, it's a worse picture than we saw then, albeit that there isn't very much in it.
The audio track - Dolby 5.1 - isn't bad but it's hard to tell if there's really that much happening in the rear channels other than ambient effects. There is no dialogue in the surround speakers - at least none that I could hear - and although there's the occasional passing car or gunshot, they otherwise remain silent. Finally, there are English subtitles.
Commentaries: There's a commentary on all eighteen episodes here and are a pretty good listen. As with the commentaries on earlier episodes, the contributors come and go, always with a mix of production crew and cast, but the nature of the commentary tracks are such that it doesn't really matter what episode you dip into nor who is contributing as things are kept fairly light throughout. The writers do best at keeping things moving but each contributor avoids getting too deep into the subtext of the show in favour of a series of observations, asides, in-jokes and gags as well as everyone's favourite moments in the series, how they prepare for a recording and how, if anything, their characters are like their personalities. The usual stuff of a commentary then but no worse for that.
Deleted Scenes (26m23s): These are taken from a selection of episodes and include scenes cut completely from episodes as well as alternate takes. A couple of these are actually better than what was included in the episodes, such as the coda of Black Mystery Month that sees Stan telling Steve that, "...if a girl asks for naked pictures of you [over the Internet] then she's probably a dude!" The problem with these is more how they're presented, being brought together on the third disc. It's only been with watching all these episodes together that this viewer could remember what deleted scene was originally in what episode. It would have been much better had they been set out alongside the episodes from which they were cut, able to be selected in the same manner as the commentaries.
Comic-Con Table Read (53m10s): This is much the same as that on the Volume One box set, with the cast coming out to sit around a table before being introduced to the audience and going on to read through the script to The 42-Year Old Virgin. It's intercut with stills from the episode to help out the viewers at home but the problem is that the sound from the cast is mixed so low, lower even that the sound of applause from the audience, that it's hard to hear without cranking up the volume. And that brings its own problems with it, including higher levels of background noise. Finally, there's a question and answer session with the audience with, once again, the questions from the audience being louder and clearer than the answers from the panel.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 22:43:31