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 But rather than allow his stereotype to slip too far out of date, the writers conceived one of the most entertaining MacFarlane-era episodes, “Lost in Space”, which takes Jeff to Roger’s species out in the far reaches of the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.