Believe it or not, American Dad had been turning out some of the most cutting edge, consistent animated comedy for over the past decade.
While the Seth MacFarlane vehicle might have been quickly written off in its earlier years, the series has gone on to establish a strong, surreal voice in television and offers some of the strongest stories and characters on the medium. In honor of of the anniversary of the show’s premiere, it seems appropriate to highlight the series’ 25 best entries over the course of its twisted lifespan.
1. Rapture’s Delight (Season 5, Episode 9)
American Dad has comfortably fallen into the tradition of their Christmas episodes having some unusual, epic quality. Just like The Simpsons champion their Halloween installments, American Dad has decided to make their annual Christmas episodes appointment television.
Each seasonal greeting from the series is special, but “Rapture’s Delight” might be the only episode of the show that actually made my jaw drop and say aloud, “Holy shit.” This episode really has everything, from turning Bible scripture into a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-esque romp, to bewildering action sequences and a twist ending that still gives me chills when I think about. “Rapture’s Delight” is American Dad at its most untethered and has become the benchmark for not only all other Christmas episodes, but also all episodes of the series, period.
2. Cops and Roger (Season 5, Episode 14)
It’s debatable, but I’d argue that “Cops and Roger” has the funniest visual gag to ever come out of American Dad (and I’d go as far as saying that it’s also one of the most surprising, satisfying gags in the history of animated sitcoms) and so for that honor alone this episode deserves mad accolades. On top of that, the installment also gets to have too much fun with Roger running amok in Bad Lieutenant mode, rising the ranks from trainee, to cop, to crooked cop before you have time to snort a line of coke.
This is just a good example of how to have fun with Roger letting loose, while also incorporating a strong stable of absurd visual gags that keep the episode perpetually unpredictable. Now seriously, just watch this on loop.
3. Lost in Space (Season 8, Episode 18)
In terms of “big” American Dad episodes, this one is certainly on the Mt. Everest side of things. The series would play around with serialization to some extent by having Jeff get abducted by Roger’s species. Hayley would experience a lengthy separation from her spouse leaving audiences to wonder if we’d ever be seeing the return of him. Well, before (a) Jeff would end up back on Earth, the series would deliver one of their more anomalistic episodes, with the entire endeavor set on an alien spaceship and focused on Jeff.
“Lost in Space” is a memorable episode for the simple fact that it’s drowning in aliens and we get a closer look at the rest of Roger’s kind. But beyond all of the space madness, the episode also has a shining emotional core to it: Jeff’s love for Hayley. The memory montage of Jeff and Hayley moments is sweet in itself, but the episode then shifts into the legendary category for the incredibly choreographed sequence set to Wax Fang’s “The Majestic.” None of this pomp and circumstance is at all necessary here, but the fact that American Dad goes that weird extra mile just for a satisfying visual is exactly why they’re so great.
4. Blood Crieth Unto Heaven (Season 8, Episode 10)
Anyone that has ever accused American Dad of not being smart should look no further than the stylistic experiment, “Blood Crieth Unto Heaven.” In a shining example of the sort of ambition that American Dad would cavalierly operate with, this episode is structured as a missing manuscript from a renowned playwright.
Accordingly, the entire cast is put into the roles of a fractured family in a production that’s aping on Tracey Letts’ August: Osage County. American Dad marries its dark sense of humor with the melodrama of theater perfectly. This episode might take a few viewings to win you over, but it’s such a unique, surreal experience that truly tries to make you feel like you’re watching Pulitzer Prize-winning drama and not an animated sitcom.
5. Fart-Break Hotel (Season 6, Episode 9)
Francine episodes are few and far between when you take into consideration how often Roger and Stan are filling up airtime. That being said, the occasions where Francine is allowed to take center stage are usually not only delightful, but some of the strongest, most emotionally cathartic episodes that the series has to offer.
“Fart-Break Hotel” is a homerun for the large strides that it takes with Francine’s character (while reminding us how capable she is when actually given the opportunity), but also for the deliriously silly detour it gets into regarding time travel and the art of concierging (including Hector Elizondo, as himself, in some A+ guest work). Let us never forget how incredible the concrete CEO, Sarah Fucking Blanch, is.
6. The Great Space Roaster (Season 6, Episode 18)
There are so many excellent Roger episodes to pick from in American Dad, but the more I think about it, the more I end up coming to the conclusion that “The Great Space Roaster” might be his finest outing. The episode sees Roger celebrating his birthday and wishing for nothing more than his family to mercilessly roast him, an event that he doesn’t at all take well.
The roast itself is an airtight sequence of comedy that highlights all of the reasons why Roger is such a fun character, such as his bizarre penchant for rape or the memo notes that he signs on his checks (“For drugs, yo.”). What follows is a bitter Roger setting out to kill the Smiths, with all of this culminating into one of the better bonding experiences between Roger and his surrogate family.
7. The Two Hundred (Season 12, Episode 10)
200 episodes is a tremendous milestone that only a select number of television shows have had the privilege of achieving. With the sort of spectacle that American Dad put together for their 100th episode (see: killing 100 characters), understandably a lot of people would be expecting something even more extravagant/blood-thirsty this time around. Very wisely, “The Two Hundred” takes a page out of fan-favorite, “Rapture’s Delight” and transports the show’s setting to a desolate wasteland, draping everything in nuclear holocaust chic.
“The Two Hundred” balances equal parts fun and mystery with the situation that it presents, with it all acting as a welcome detour from the usual playground that the series operates in. All of this is a ton of fun, but it’s nothing compared to the entry’s big centerpiece—a sequence that’s a true gift for the fans that have been sticking around for 200 episodes—as Roger’s most memorable personae are run through with laser-like precision.
8. The Unincludeds (Season 12, Episode 11)
“The Unincludeds” has what I consider to be the single most perfect Roger storyline, making this installment mandatory viewing. Roger is convinced that he has made the perfect order at a restaurant, and wants his waitress to acknowledge as much. That’s it. But that simple kernel of narcissism sends Roger on a beautiful tirade that is a seamless distillation of his character and the sort of story that is only possible after doing 12 seasons of table setting. And that’s not even touching on the episode’s main plot, which sees Steve and Snot confronting time traveling (and rapidly mutating) versions of themselves in a mission to lose while simultaneously retain their virginities.
This episode might not register or be a “clear choice” for many viewers, possibly because it’s such a recent inclusion (in fact, several episodes from last season have made the cut here, speaking to the overall quality of the series) or because it’s not a “big” episode. However, it’s exactly for this reason that “The Unincludeds” works so well and why I’m such a fan of it.
9. Bully For Steve (Season 5, Episode 16)
The topic of bullying is pretty rote for any show of this nature, especially with the predictable angle of Stan not approving of Steve’s methods of dealing with things. That’s why it’s so exciting that American Dad is able to break expectations with this tired trope. Stan ends up becoming Steve’s bully, which is a great idea, but what’s even better is Steve’s means of solving this problem, which is bringing in Stan’s old bully, Stelio Kontos.
The whole Stelio Kontos sequence alone makes this episode a classic, but other pieces of insanity like Principal Lewis seeing a werewolf on the security camera and Roger ultimately being hired by Cap’n Crunch for crime scene photography push this outing even higher. It’s also got one of the few appearances of Reginald Koala, the American Dad character that time forgot.
10. Virtual In-Stanity (Season 8, Episode 5)
Okay, there’s some pretty messed up stuff in this episode where Stan creates an avatar for Steve to go to prom with, that’s actually him in a virtual reality machine. We see Stan essentially dating—and nearly having sex with—his son, and yet the Roger sub-plot is what keeps bringing me back to this episode. Roger and Klaus start a limo service and a bunch of drunk frat boys stiff their bill of $20.
The rest of this storyline is pure insane bliss as Roger murders the five guys (and plenty more in collateral damage), with the series turning out just some truly graphic deaths in this episode. That final kill on the airplane is just nonsense and I love it! Also, the line, “Are you really going to kill five people over twenty dollars?” “Are you really asking that to the people who just last week killed six people over nine-teen dollars?” is just so, so perfect. And that car horn!
11. Ricky Spanish (Season 7, Episode 17)
It’s no secret that American Dad stumbled onto a veritable goldmine in the form of Roger’s many, many personae throughout the series. We’ve also been privy to witnessing Roger do some truly reprehensible things, so the concept of meeting the worst of Roger’s personae—someone that’s so vile that he’s gone as far as “retiring” the character—holds a ton of potential behind it. At the same time, such an idea also has the potential to inevitably be disappointing, with Spanish’s actions no way being as brutal as what we can imagine. Well, nope. Ricky Spanish is a pretty big motherfucker.
Much of this episode sees the always reliable pairing of Steve and Roger going around and trying to right Ricky Spanish’s many wrongs, with the results getting increasingly ridiculous. This is an episode that by design is meant to be extreme and it doesn’t disappoint on the matter. Add to that an absolutely bonkers ending narration by Werner Herzog, ostensibly turning the entire episode into a documentary about innocence and labeling theory, and you’ve got a winning ending for an already strong episode.
12. Chimdale (Season 4, Episode 8)
“Chimdale” is one of American Dad’s earliest winners and representative of a formative time for the series where they would begin to find their voice, get crazier, and shed the stringent patriotic backdrop that so often would inform the series. “Chimdale” is just classic, madcap craziness, with Hayley, Francine, and Roger all sharing two passes for the luxurious Chimdale spa, with Chimdale’s relentless Spa Cop, Turlington, determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
That ridiculous premise and Turlington’s strong characterization alone would be enough to make this a satisfying episode, but it also involves a side story involving the revelation that Stan is in fact bald, with this information helping Steve find some confidence along the way. “Chimdale” is just a great time playing with tense set pieces and as soon as you’re finished you’ll be asking yourself why we haven’t gotten a Turlington spin-off series yet.
13. Hot Water (Season 7, Episode 1)
“Hot Water” is American Dad trying to be weird, from top to bottom, with the results being just so crazy that you have to get behind them. An innocuous story involving the Smiths buying a hot tub transforms into a horror story where the hot tub attempts to murder everyone. Also, it’s done largely through song. Also also, Cee Lo Green is not only providing his vocal stylings for the killer hot tub, but he also frequently pops into the episode in live-action form to talk to the audience.
“Hot Water” is a strong kick-off to the season that signals a creative resurgence that would push the show forward. There’s such passion and energy present here that it’s hard not to be a fan. The music is just straight-up addictive gold, too. Plus, that “cut to black” ending involving Stan’s death gets me every time and is this show messing with the audience in the best possible way.
14. 100 A.D. (Season 6, Episode 1)
Hundredth episodes are always given lofty expectations. American Dad appropriately plays into that expectation by dramatically killing off 100 characters, but this episode is really an opportunity to comment on Hayley and Jeff’s relationship, and Stan needing to come to terms with it.
Jeff, and by proxy his relationship with Hayley, has been a welcome element to slowly grow through the show’s run and “100 A.D.” largely acts as the result of all of that hard work. Hayley and Jeff run off to get married with Stan off on a manic rampage to try and stop this. To be fair, while this is a two-part episode, more of the brilliance happens in this first half with “100th episode energy” punctuating every line. It really feels like the script has been carefully combed through and perfected so this important episode can be as successful as possible, and “100 A.D.” manages to stands out in all the right ways. There’s so much delightful fan service here (like a Wheels and Legman appearance) that reminds you why you love this show in the first place.
15. My Morning Straitjacket (Season 5, Episode 7)
On paper this episode shouldn’t necessarily work: Stan becomes obsessed with the band, “My Morning Jacket,” and proceeds to go on a Heavy Metal-like journey that is set to the group’s rocking soundtrack. And yet, I maybe became a “My Morning Jacket” fan because of this episode, so there’s a testament to the power of this bizarre piece of television. There’s really not much to this thing. The episode follows the basic pattern of Stan initially disapproving of something only to eventually completely co-opt the idea. “My Morning Straitjacket” is simply one huge, unnecessary love letter to the band that is fueled purely on co-creator Mike Barker’s passion for their music. Just embrace this weird premise, fall in love with some new music, and let the episode’s crisp, trippy visuals take you away. “We are the innovators and they are the imitators,” indeed.
16. May the Best Stan Win (Season 5, Episode 12)
In what’s surely the best Terminator and Valentine’s Day mash-up you’ll ever see, “May the Best Stan Win” sees Francine again feeling overlooked on Valentine’s Day. Suddenly a cyborg Stan from the future shows up, filling Present Stan with stories about he must train to take down the Robot Rebellion, with it all in fact being a ruse for Cyborg Stan to win Francine’s heart. There’s a lot to love in this story, like how Cyborg Stan speaks with a crazy American-Canadian-Spanish accent due to the state of the world in the future. All of this future business happens to have a really touching story hiding underneath it, and it is one of my favorite Stan and Francine episodes in the end.
Then there’s also a glorious side-plot that sees Steve and friends discovering Toshi’s parents’ sex doll and setting out to make a shot-for-shot remake of the film Mannequin with it. I’d be more than happy if that were it, but Roger soon takes over and turns this into a production of The Goonies, which is still pretty wonderful. There’s also some fantastic trademark Roger backstabbing at the end that goes on to an absurd length.
17. Criss-Cross Applesauce: The Ballad of Billy Jesusworth (Season 12, Episode 17)
“Criss-Cross Applesauce” offers up some wonderful Stan and Roger rivalry work as Roger first discriminates Stan against playing basketball with him, until Roger is finally forced into a situation where he must come groveling to play along with Stan. This feud hits some pretty high extremes, with both Shaq and Yao Ming both getting wrapped up into this mess, too.
That all being said, the real reason that this episode is on here is that Steve’s B-plot is very ambitiously told entirely through a “Trapped in the Closet” musical parody. Getting excuses for Steve to sing is always a good thing in my book, but this actually uses the music to tell an ornate story that goes as far as involving Principal Lewis and murder. “Trapped in the Locker” is a very bewildering decision, but it’s a fine example of how American Dad is still mixing things up so late in their lifespan.
18. A Piñata Named Desire (Season 6, Episode 11)
Some episodes of American Dad go for a bigger message beneath all of the craziness, but this episode is just a strong example of the show being silly. This installment boils down to Roger and Stan dueling over who is the better actor, which finds a ton of material to pull from.
Roger as an acting coach is a series of delights too, with his “Pudding Man!” non sequitur being the height of this nonsense. Just watching Stan and Roger fight over dominance is super satisfying and seeing this all culminating with the two of them performing in a play together (and then some) is such a bizarre route to take it all down.
19. Death By Dinner Party (Season 14, Episode 8)
American Dad usually handles stylized genre parodies rather well and “Death by Dinner Party” is no exception. The entry is a nearly flawless mega pastiche of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, and the episode has so much fun indulging in these tropes and breaking these rules when necessary. Francine decides to throw a murder mystery dinner party, but there’s a cautionary warning out that a killer is on the loose who specifically targets such functions. The following whodunit escapades are deeply entertaining, but “Death by Dinner Party” actually puts together a compelling mystery. The clunky insertion of Uncle Colonel Withersby is an inspired move and a lot more successful than if a Roger persona were the deranged killer. Furthermore, Roger is actually the brunt of this scheme and the episode ends on an incredibly foreboding note where he swears revenge on everyone. It’s a dark, unexpected conclusion that helps this genre experiment stand out even more.
20. Shell Game (Season 14, Episode 4)
Roger and Steve are always a reliable pair, but “Shell Game” launches them into a particularly complex predicament that puts their lives in danger and so much more on the line. The two innocently begin this episode as budding birdwatchers, but their eagle eyes wrap them into a sordid conspiracy that feels like something from out of National Treasure. “Shell Game” fits an absurd amount into its 21 minutes and ridiculous characters like Commodore Francis Stoat and his Order of the Hand and Nest don’t allow this episode to slow down. Details like Roger’s eventual “egg madness” keep this one unpredictable and make it much more than some story of betrayal.
The other story in “Shell Game” is peak surrealism. Francine buys a new zesty pasta sauce, Bongiovanni, for the family, which inexplicably turns them all into extreme Italian stereotypes. This metamorphosis is pure nonsense, but it’s hilarious nonsense and it’s appreciated to see the show commit to such an unusual gag. It’s a reminder that even a simple change in groceries can spur absolute pandemonium on American Dad.
21. Old Stan in the Mountain (Season 7, Episode 11)
Stan has displayed a number of staunch prejudices throughout American Dad’s run. Stan ends up besmirching the wrong old person’s reputation and gets a curse placed on him that prematurely ages him. Watching Stan cope with his new feeble body is a lot of fun, especially when he must scale Mount Kilimanjaro as the antidote to returning to normal. A lot of this episode coasts off of Stan’s attitude, but it’s a strong display of his firm, entrenched opinions opening up a sliver.
Stan and Francine pairings are also few and far between, but this episode executes one with hilarious precision as the two head to a dance competition together. Their story gets progressively complicated as Roger asks more and more of Francine, with dancing really being the last thing on his mind. This all involves a fantastic running gag as Roger reveals to Francine, “Francine, I haven’t been entirely truthful with you…” that starts off funny and then blossoms into magic by the episode’s end.
22. Toy Whorey (Season 7, Episode 18)
While another episode about the dissymmetry between Stan and Steve, it’s also a shining example of Steve’s power of imagination and the series’ ability to take risks and go on creative detours. Stan is determined to rid Steve of the toys that he plays with, coming to the solution that if he loses his virginity, toys will naturally lose their luster with him. Stan takes Steve to Mexico to sleep with a prostitute, accordingly, with their trip interrupted by a drug cartel that ends up taking them hostage.
It’s here where the episode takes its strong stylistic jump as Steve transforms their prison into a fantasy world that highlights how toys and imagination can be a necessary element to tone down the harshness of life. This fantastical makeover is beautiful to look at and all of the living toys make for enjoyable, off kilter characters. Oh, and Roger maims people for steaks and wine.
23. (You Gotta) Strike For Your Right (Season 15, Episode 6)
“(You Gotta) Strike For Your Right” tells one of the better, nuanced examinations of Stan and Hayley’s relationship when workplace conditions come under fire. The episode cleverly flips their dynamic multiple times so the characters are constantly learning lessons while the status quo never gets to rest. This character study between Stan and Hayley is the episode’s focus, but the entry’s B-plot is so insane that it’s easily the more remarkable of the two storylines. “The Smith family watches the show Breaking Bad in reverse and discover the show is hiding a scavenger hunt,” is so damn stupid, but it turns into easily one of my favorite storylines that the show has ever done. It’s also something that’s so purely American Dad in its audacity. Roger, Steve, and Francine become “Reverse-os” and learn that Breaking Bad is actually an Illuminati–like code that sends them all over Albuquerque. The fact that Vince Gilligan lends his voice to this insane experiment is the icing on the cake.
24. The Talented Mr. Dingleberry (Season 14, Episode 21)
“The Talented Mr. Dingleberry” is one of the better examples of American Dad tipping its toe in the horror genre. This episode is like if Magic, Annabelle, and Shutter Island were thrown into a blender together and it tells a surprisingly deep story that sacrifices an alarming amount of lives. Steve relies on Roger to pretend to be a ventriloquism dummy, but this clever act quickly gets out of hand. Steve learns that Roger’s dummy persona actually has a long, vengeful history and he’s out for blood. Roger as a killer manually articulated performative kinesio maquette (don’t call him a dummy) is such a strong premise that never lets the audience down.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Smith family also stays busy with an absurd storyline that sees them attempt to get into the honey business with the use of their own bees. This is immediately a disaster and only gets worse for the family, but Francine’s alarming allergic reaction and Stan’s homemade poultice solution are both the things of nightmares. If killer dummies and crippling allergic reactions still aren’t enough for you, “The Talented Mr. Dingleberry” also finds an excuse for Steve to sing, which is always the marker of an instant classic.
25. Kloger (Season 14, Episode 9)
When a show goes on for as long as American Dad does, it’s all too likely that every viable romantic pairing possible is pursued in an attempt to spice things up. The show has indulged in this trope a number of times, but no affair is stranger than Klaus and Roger’s romantic tryst. On paper such an idea should be the nadir of wacky hookups, but “Kloger” finds some real heart by making Roger the jilted lover in this equation. It’s an unexpected twist that leads to some extreme gestures that send Roger and Klaus to prison. “Kloger” allows its premise to evolve and even though there’s a lot of sentimentality in place, there are still plenty of disturbing visuals, like Roger dunking Klaus into his mouth for sexual gratification. The subplot also sees Steve on a twisted mission to acquire Hayley’s pink eye that’s just gross enough to be memorable.