While everyone raves about Family Guy, American Dad is often relegated to position as its less amusing, less intelligent younger sibling, hanging on the coattails of its success. I, for one, think that’s a bunch of hokum. I’ve been lambasted on this very site before for claiming that, at its best, American Dad is better than Stewie, Brian et al, but I stand by my claim. When it gets it right, American Dad is as good as it gets. Sure it has one character too many (Klaus the goldfish is a waste of good ink) and is consistently inconsistent in the quality of its output, but when it’s good, it’s very very good.
This Volume Four boxset contains 13 episodes from series three and four and perfectly demonstrates the uneven calibre of the show. The opening Bond pastiche Tearjerker, complete with a Flash-animated opening credits, is the big production number of series three, and it’s quite, quite brilliant. A huge Bond fan myself, this nestles neatly alongside McFarlane’s Family Guy Star Wars parody and features the wonderfully animated film-within-a-film, Oscar Gold.
Unfortunately, the other six episodes of series three included here are distinctly below par. . Episodes like Red October Sky (a former KGB agent moves next door to the Smiths) and Widowmaker (Stan’s closeness to his mother leads him to killing off any potential suitors) are simply OK and not especially funny. When you know how high the standards can be, it’s desperately disappointing.
Fortunately, the writers get their act together by the time series four comes around (perhaps the impact of the writers strike in the US impacted on those latter episodes of series three) and the results are some of the most inspired and downright funniest episodes of the show I have seen to date.
There are six episodes from series four included here (complete with new title credits) and each one of them expands the American Dad universe and demonstrates the true extent of the creative genius among the writing team. In 1600 Candles, the onset of Steve’s first pubic hair and raging hormones results in a series of ageing experiments and gives the writers an opportunity to really beef up the nerdy character of Stan’s hapless son. Similarly, Pulling Double Booty gives Stan’s daughter Hayley, a formerly underwritten character in my opinion, a cracking backstory of how she deals with break-ups very, very badly. The best of the lot though are The One That Got Away and Escape From Pearl Bailey. The first is a truly ingenious story of how Roger’s many personalities create an alter-ego that seriously screws up his life and the second is a tale of losers fighting back that includes a parody of The Warriors that literally had me applauding from my sofa.
Some of the animation employed during these episodes is simply breathtaking – witness the chickens flying the coop in Pulling Double Booty and you’ll see what I mean.
The annoying preference of UK releases of American boxsets to split series up results in a release that really is a tale of two halves. The first disc, Tearjerker aside, is a bit of a waste of time while the final disc, which also includes the excellent Most Adequate Christmas Ever Christmas special episode, contains some of the best episodes ever made. The second disc is three parts genius, two parts so-so. With this in mind is American Dad: Volume 4 worth buying? Absolutely, because the half that’s good really is very good indeed. I just wish that volume 4 meant a series 4 release in the UK, then this would have gained an extra star.
Extras This is the best selection of extras I’ve witnessed on any American Dad boxset to date. The 15-minute Tearjerker featurette is excellent with loads of information on its genesis and production overlaid with storyboards, storyboard-to-animation comparisons, rejected slides, concept art and posters. The animators love for the show clearly comes through and it’s a joy to watch.
A 40-minute live table read at ComicCon is interesting yet awkward to watch at times, such is the nature of a live broadcast. It’s interesting to meet the crew and cast behind the show though, plus get a greater feel for how the mechanics of how voicing animation works.
Finally, the ten-minute Roger: Master of Disguise featurette is the least interesting of the lot, looking at how a need to expand Roger’s character led to an increase in his wardrobe – something that helps lift the plots of series four in particular.
As is customary with all Seth MacFarlane productions, this boxset includes lots and lots of deleted scenes, 38 minutes worth to be precise. Some are great, others rather average, perfectly in keeping with the volatile nature of the show itself. There are also crew commentaries on every episode which often descent into off-topic ramblings but offer up some interesting titbits along the way nonetheless.