It’s funny to think now, when we might have already hit the Seth MacFarlane saturation point (or maybe that’s yet to come and will arrive when a Million Ways to Die in the West animated series begins production at FOX) that when American Dad premiered, it was in a Family Guy-less time when any new content from Seth MacFarlane would be greedily taken for all it was worth.
In spite of this, most people seemed to have negative, misinformed memories of the series, with many initially seeing it as a watered-down version of Family Guy and never sticking around to give it a second chance. However, those who remained with the program got to see the show evolve into a weird, different, confident animated program that couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to what Family Guy is doing.
While these shows stand at near-opposite ends of the spectrum, with American Dad moving from FOX to TBS this October, it’s possible that certain creative and stylistic flourishes will also change with it.
While hopefully the show will remain unscathed, there have been times where there’s been considerable overlap from these two MacFarlane cartoons, and if you’re someone that’s always been a fan of Peter and his pals in Quahog, but never cared for the exploits of the Smith family and their cantankerous alien, here are ten episodes that might be able to change your mind.
BLOOD CRIETH UNTO HEAVEN (Season 9, Episode 10)
This bizarre episode is likely appealing to Family Guy fans as it’s almost one big cutaway gag. It’s as if a character exclaimed, “Remember the time we put on a version of the Pulitizer Prize-winning play, August: Osage County?” with the episode then being an entire production of that. There aren’t even framing devices around this that show the cast as “themselves.” The entire outing has the cast playing these theatrical counterparts as the Smith household is painted to more closely resemble a theater set, complete with an audience watching in the foreground.
While the episode does an effective enough job of cramming the story of the play into twenty-two minutes, while still managing to be funny in just how weird and different this all is, this sort of experiment can’t help but feel reminiscent of Family Guy extended jokes like their obsession with Conway Twitty. This takes that principle and doubles down on it by putting this entire episode in an “elsewhere.”
LOST IN SPACE (Season 9, Episode 18)
Here’s another episode that wallows in the land of non sequitur storytelling, “Lost in Space” is an anomaly for American Dad because the only main cast member featured in it is Jeff (with minor cameos by Hayley and Roger), as the stoner tries to navigate life on Roger’s home planet light years away in space. Let alone Jeff’s stranded-in-space status being a plot device that happened over a season ago and was largely thought to be abandoned.
This entire episode is a nonsensical outing steeped in the power of true love as this almost acts as a “Road to Uranus” sort of episode but instead of Stewie and Brian, you get Jeff and Sinbad (that’s right, that Sinbad). If all of this wasn’t enough of a departure to form, the episode also features a lengthy number choreographed to Tusk’s “The Majestic.” It’s perhaps the weirdest few minutes in American Dad’s run, but surely pleasing to Family Guy’s fans too.
MAY THE BEST STAN WIN (Season 6, Episode 12)
This episode starts off simply enough with it being a Valentine’s Day story with Francine feeling neglected by Stan. Things quickly escalate as Stan becomes preoccupied with the cyborg of himself from the future that the CIA has provided him with. It’s not long until this cyborg is informing Stan of the machine takeover that happens in the future and how he must begin training for it, with this actually being a ruse so Cyborg Stan can win Francine’s heart.
The episode offers up a number of ridiculous visions of the future, such as the Japanese techno music they all love, and the American-Canadian-Spanish accents that have become commonplace. If this all wasn’t crazy enough Steve’s B-plot revolves around him and his friends finding Toshi’s parents’ sex doll and putting it upon themselves to remake the film Mannequin with it. That’s right. Clearly this isn’t an episode interested in appealing mass audiences. There’s a niche pop culture embrace, with an outlandish, crazy premise on top of it that feels like the Family Guy formula in many ways.
WHEN A STAN LOVES A WOMAN (Season 3, Episode 16)
The whole premise for this episode is that an under-sexed Stan (the only woman he’s had sex with is Francine), upon learning of how many men Francine has had sex with, is no longer able to even perform his sexual duties with her anymore. There’s the idea that Francine has a “sex garden” where every rose planted in it is for each man she’s had sex with, as we see the large, large expanse of vegetation (it even makes the cover of Sex Garden Magazine).
This escalates to Francine divorcing Stan so he can see that sex with someone you don’t love is meaningless. He goes out and sow the oats he’s missed out on and have random, meaningless sex (for their marriage!), which feels right out of a Quagmire storyline, or some fractured couples’ therapy that Peter and Lois might received. American Dad manages to subvert this though by having Stan fall in love with his tryst (and becoming more preoccupied with the falling in love than the sex having), take it seriously, and learn that he might be more into this person than his actual wife, which is fairly deep, important ground.
TEARJERKER (Season 4, Episode 10)
In one of the more obvious, mainstream parodies that they’ve done, American Dad transports itself into the James Bond ethos with “Tearjerker.” Stan becomes the 007 analogue, with Roger playing the Goldfinger-esque, Tearjerker, with the rest of the cast neatly fitting into the appropriate roles. While the episode revolves around Tearjerker trying to make the film “Oscar Gold,” the saddest movie in the world which will cause everyone who sees it to cry to death (while simultaneously lampooning the film industry with a very acerbic, Family Guy-esque tongue), the bulk of it is just having fun with the secret agent fare, whether it’s the opening credits, the gadget briefing, or the over the top ending. While easily being one of American Dad’s smarter, more complete episodes, turning itself into another genre is pretty par for the course for Family Guy, with them having explored many similar set pieces, such as Star Wars. Even if you’ve never seen American Dad before you’d still be able to fully follow this episode as a streamlined Bond parody in its own right.
MY MORNING STRAITJACKET (Season 6, Episode 7)
Here’s another unusual episode that begins with Stan realizing that he’s never felt anything before, and the band My Morning Jacket causes him to finally experience said feelings. This results in him becoming obsessed with the band and becoming a groupie. The whole episode is a love letter to the band (who I’d say are at least far from being “popular”).
It almost feels like a sponsorship ad or like they commissioned the episode it’s so complimentary and entrenched in the band’s music. This all amounts to the outing essentially being one big pop culture reference with My Morning Jacket actually playing themselves and large portions of the episode just devolve to Pink Floyd-esque vision trips. This is an episode that is interested in trying to convince you that a band is good the whole runtime, or otherwise just cram them down your throat, which feels right up Family Guy’s alley.
RAPTURE’S DELIGHT (Season 6, Episode 9)
This is almost like an alternate reality episode, or one of Family Guy’s “What If?” endeavors, with this example being a huge apocalyptic mash-up. American Dad always makes their holiday episodes count, and this one may be their best entry as the Rapture takes place, leaving Stan, Francine, and Roger behind and battling (for seven years, otherwise known as the Tribulations) for a happy ending against the Anti-Christ. The episode is a thesis on the ultra-violence and religious skewerings that Family Guy is so prone to do, with the episode even ending with Stan’s death and the “happy ending” being a lie in his head. It’s all effectively concluded (or not, rather) in classic Family Guy fashion.
WHITE RICE (Season 7, Episode 5)
An episode very preoccupied with race, as a lot of the touchier Family Guy episodes are, this entry sees Francine following her lifelong (forgotten) dream of being a stand-up comedian. With the bulk of Francine’s material being about how she’s a Caucasian raised by two Asians, this shtick is eventually catapulted into her own sitcom revolving around the issue. While American Dad is hardly one to shy away from a topic like race, it’s seldom that the issue is as front and center as it is here. There’s an angrier, more sardonic vibe coming out focused on not only racism, but network television in general (Francine’s sitcom airs on FOX, in a number of jokes that feel right out of Family Guy), but it’s not as if it has nothing to say; Francine’s show is cancelled immediately after the first offensive Asian joke is uttered and the community goes up in arms. While this might have the bite and audacity of a Family Guy episode, it’s still looking to push things forward and actually display irony and intelligence, rather than simply being mean and funny.
RICKY SPANISH (Season 8, Episode 17)
This is an episode that’s not afraid to push the boundaries in all respects, whether it’s with violence, pop culture references, or cutaways (all of the former Ricky Spanish flashbacks are truly horrendous). While the subject matter is pure American Dad, it’s presentation and attitude is of a Family Guy outing. For an episode that seeks to explore Roger’s most notorious, hated persona (the eponymous Ricky Spanish), it makes sense that there’d end up being a Family Guy sheen on this episode’s face as it tries to wallow in the bottom of the well. What’s left is a very reference heavy episode (right down to Steve’s SNL “What Up Wit’ That” digression), plenty of jokes about the show’s format, and the fourth wall outright being knocked down (Klaus and Hayley essentially force themselves into this episode for a paycheck, which is a crazy joke). Not to mention the excessiveeeee “Tungee/Mister and Lady” call and response absurdism that happens for a long stretch of the episode’s duration, almost acting as a de facto Peter Griffin injured knee grab.
COPS AND ROGERS (Season 6, Episode 14)
Here is an episode that begins with an entirely regular, predictable storyline with Roger joining the Langley Falls Police Department in order to defend the underdog, with the position very quickly going to his head and Roger almost immediately becoming a crooked cop. This trajectory makes perfect sense for Roger, but where the episode earns its Family Guy stamp is in the heavy Bad Lieutenant homage it keeps pushing and pushing throughout the episode, almost for their benefit more than the audience’s. This familiar pop culture safety net is one thing, but the show takes another step closer to its sister series by the intense, outrageous violence that occurs in the final moments. It’s one of American Dad’s strongest, most unpredictable sequences, and it surprisingly works against all reason, but you can’t help but think of Family Guy with this random, gratuitous, “easy” ending.
Even when American Dad is being Family Guy it still manages to keep its own absurdist voice and be itself. Both of these shows offer much while providing very different entertainment experiences. Hopefully now, if you’ve been ignorant towards the latter, you can now watch both shows in tandem, seeing how they differ and also how they compliment each other. American Dad finishes out its nine-year run on FOX on September 14, before transitioning over to TBS for good, on October 30.