American Dad Finishes its Run on Fox

Although this weekend saw the release of Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, it also saw the first weekend without one of his other shows, American Dad, on Fox. After nine complete seasons, the show has been pulled from Fox’s comedy rotation, but never fear: TBS has picked up the show for cable and will be producing another season starting in fall 2014. Executive Producer Mike Barker told San Diego Comic Con last summer that it would be the “same American Dad, just in a different place,” which is reassuring news to those of us who are fans of the show.

American Dad is probably the best example of Seth MacFarlane’s talent currently available, and one of the most adaptable and consistently funny animated shows on the air. The first few seasons, taking place as they did during the George W. Bush era, held up a mirror to all of America’s anxieties and fears throughout that period, with the blustering, unapologetically conservative CIA agent Stan Smith heading a family of misfits like his trophy wife Francine, their hippie daughter Hailey and their nerdy son Steve. And, this being a MacFarlane show, there are also two major talking animals, both hilarious: Klaus, a former West German ski jumper trapped inside the body of a fish by the CIA, and Roger, a scene-stealing alien hiding in the attic.

The strength of the show was demonstrated by its almost seamless adaptation to the Obama world, where Stan’s conservative pride, for a while, seemed like a relic from an earlier era. Hailey’s boyfriend and later husband, Jeff Fischer, represented a very specific kind of 2005-era slacker, with his fishing hat and love of jam bands and pot cookies. But rather than allow his stereotype to slip too far out of date, the writers conceived one of the most entertaining MacFarlane-era episodes, “Lost in Space”, which takes Jeff to Roger’s species out in the far reaches of the galaxy. Featuring Sinbad (playing himself as an enslaved shawarma chef) and centered around a long musical number based on Wax Fang’s “Majestic”, it’s a brilliant and daring bit of character-centered animated comedy that also happens to be very funny.

Another highlight must be the Season 5 Christmas episode, “Rapture’s Delight”. The first ten minutes play out with the usual collection of jokes about going to church on Christmas and religious duty and how that fits in with the modern American family. (There are some great jokes, such as Stan mistaking Daryl Hall for Jesus.) But then, halfway through, the actual rapture arrives and for ten epic minutes, Stan and Jesus (yup, that Jesus) have to fight the Antichrist in a post-apocalyptic wasteland inspired by Heavy Metal. Yes, South Park went there first, and later films such as This is the End would explore similar themes, but few animated comedy shows would have the courage to take such a dramatic thematic left-turn.

Part of American Dad’s subversive power came from the fact that it was on Fox, of all networks. Now that it’s moving to TBS, plan on plenty of Ted Turner jokes, but cable seems to represent a slightly “safer” home than mainstream network TV. I suspect it won’t be as dramatic as, for example, Futurama moving to the largely uncensored Cartoon Network, but we may see some subtle changes in American Dad next fall that will remind us that an era has come to an end.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Independent scholar Ian Dawe has been writing for Sequart since November 2013. Before that, he had a mixed background, initially in science (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), where he earned an MSc from Simon Fraser University and then an MA in Film from the University of Exeter in the UK. He spent a decade teaching at the college level, delivering courses in Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Biological Anthropology and Film History. His academic work includes peer-reviewed papers on the work of Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar for Studies in Comics and a dissertation on Terry Gilliam for the University of Exeter. He has presented papers at several major academic conferences including Slayage 2014, Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore in 2010 (in the wizard's hometown of Northampton), Comics Rock and the International Conference of the Humanities in 2012, and at the Southwest Popular Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014 and 2015. He has contributed to several books, including a chapter about the TV show Archer in "James Bond and Popular Culture" and two chapters on Breaking Bad for "Breaking Bad and Masculinity", both now available from McFarland. At Sequart, he has authored a chapter for New Life and New Civiliations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, A Long Time Ago and two more upcoming books on Star Wars comics. He has also contributed to books on Alan Moore and 1970s Horror Comics. He is currently planning a full-length book on Better Call Saul. Ian currently lives in Vancouver, BC.

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6 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading this, Ian! I’ve become an American Dad fan, largely due to it being syndicated on Adult Swim. I’m glad the show will survive and that the Jeff Fischer plot won’t be left dangling!

    • Brad Sawyer says:

      The Jeff Fischer plot was wrapped up in the finale FOX episode “The Longest Distance Relationship.” Here’s the summary from the American Dad wiki —

      The plot:

      “After an incident with Steve in Iran, Francine expresses concern that Hayley is moping due to the one-year anniversary of Jeff’s abduction due to Roger. Francine tries to get her to perk up without luck. Francine proposes a therapist but Stan decides to smoke her out instead, setting the house on fire. Hayley lands in the hospital, she sees two doctors making fun of a janitor and shames them into leaving him alone. The janitor turns out to be Matt, a millionaire who takes on odd challenges to experience life. They hit it off and he invites her to join in some of his adventures. Skydiving into the house, he impresses the family, and brings them a new house.

      Meanwhile, Steve finds a CB radio and takes it to Snot where they play with it until they discover a girl who is willing to chat with them but lose the signal. Steve discovers Jeff on the air and tells Hayley. She follows the tale of his adventures and tells the family, but learns he has no idea how to get home. Stan objects, wishing Hayley to stay with the millionaire. Despite the distance, Jeff is determined to make the long-distance relationship work. As they share messages, she ignores messages from Matt. Reluctant to lose Matt, Stan and Roger try to hook Matt up with one of Roger’s personas without luck.

      Francine also tries to get Hayley to move on, skeptical about Jeff’s return. Realizing that she might be right, depression starts to get to Hayley. On a date with Matt, he invites her to travel around the world with him and she agrees, but is unable to tell him about Jeff. She tries tell Jeff that she is ready to move on but Jeff announces that they have found a wormhole that would take them home and Hayley agrees to wait for him. Passing through the wormhole, they land home 60 years in the future. Catching up with what happened, Jeff finds that Francine is a hideous patchwork, Steve and Snot are permanent partners, Roger is the father of two adopted black men and Stan is an ape who still holds a grudge over Hayley not marrying Matt. She has a heart attack and lands in the hospital where Jeff meets Matt who is still working as a janitor. Saddened that he ruined her life, Jeff leaves for space again and heads back through the wormhole. On the other side, Jeff talks to young Hayley and tells her not to wait for him, releasing her to better herself. Roger rushes in to tell of running over a black woman with two kids and Matt sees him, as Roger kills him out of fear of having a witness and talks Hayley into taking that trip that Matt had planned.”

      So, that’s the end of Jeff( I hope.) I just sort of got tired of the character after awhile.

  2. Amy Maynard says:

    Aw man, I love American Dad too. So much sharper and darker than MacFarlane’s usual comedies, and weirdly sweeter too, in the way the Smiths manage to function as a family unit. The pairing of Steve and Roger as ‘Wheels and the Legman’ was just genius. It has some nice riffs on pop culture as well, whether it’s Stan getting REALLY into My Morning Jacket or the parody of James Bond, ‘Tearjerker’.

    Also, for the life of me I can’t remember which episode it was, but the episode where Francine finds some feral guy living in a well just made me laugh until I cried. It involved punching a bird in mid-flight (in slow-mo) and a ‘shouldn’t laugh but did’ joke about Willem Dafoe’s visage.

  3. Ian Dawe says:

    Nice to see some fellow fans! There are so many episodes… that one with the feral guy was funny. As I recall it was about how Francine was stuck down a well as a child, and became a media celebrity, and a heroic fireman died saving her. Or so they thought….

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