Believe it or not, American Dad has been turning out some of the most cutting edge, consistent animated comedy for nearly two decades.
While the Family Guy successor 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 American Dad’s enduring legacy over 20 seasons, we’ve highlighted the series’ 25 best entries over the course of its twisted lifespan.
25. The Wondercabinet
Season 18 Episode 6
“Steve gets into new age mysticism” is the type of late-series storyline that’s likely to make some audiences wince, but “The Wondercabinet” takes some big swings and acts as one of American Dad’s more nihilistic entries. A career fair at school fills Steve with existential dread over not knowing what he wants to do with his life and the surprising amount of disdain that he holds towards adulthood.
New age mysticism provides Steve relief during this crisis and the episode goes on to litigate the truth and lies of this field. What makes “The Wondercabinet” truly stand out is the visual kaleidoscopic masterpiece that occurs during Steve’s out-of-body transcendence during the episode’s final act. It’s a really unique way to wrap the episode up and it allows American Dad to flex its creative muscles with its animation.
24. 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.
23. Between A Ring And A Hardass
Season 20 Episode 17
“Between a Ring and a Hardass” is one of American Dad’s newest episodes and a hilarious love letter to the convoluted nature of sitcoms. Steve’s future with his family is put in jeopardy once a social services worker gets assigned to investigate his home life. The entire family comes together to be on their best behavior to keep Steve in the picture, only for everything to go wrong at the worst times possible.
“Between a Ring and a Hardass” expertly juggles many different ideas, all of which are executed with precision. The writing is masterful here and the story continues to take surprising twists right up until its final moments. It’s very satisfying to see how American Dad can transform a classic sitcom trope, like an important dinner, into challenging comedy.
22. Fellow Traveler
Season 20 Episode 1
There have been some big looming lore questions in American Dad–most of which involve Roger–that have gone overlooked and audiences just assumed that some things would always go unanswered. “Fellow Traveler,” the big premiere to American Dad’s 20th season finally fills in the details that surround Roger’s arrival on Earth, which doubles as a compelling character study and lesson in paranoia and mob mentality that’s set in 1940s Roswell, New Mexico. “Fellow Traveler” is brave enough to have a cast of completely new characters and a very different version of Roger who lacks his trademark vices. “Fellow Traveler” is a great study in nature versus nurture that tells a story that’s steeped in the past, but presents an evergreen snapshot of society.
21. 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.
20. 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.
19. 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.
18. 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.
Season 17 Episode 21
It’s extremely rare for any television series to reach 300 episodes and even fewer animated series have reached this milestone. American Dad set high expectations for its 300th episode after its exceptional 200 and 250th event installments. “300” does not disappoint and once again focuses on the series’ de facto mascot, Roger, and his relationship with the Smith family. More importantly, “300” provides closure for American Dad’s longest running joke–the Golden Turd–in a manner that’s both gratifying and grandiose.
16. 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.
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.
14. 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.
13. 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!
12. 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.
11. 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.
10. 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.
9. 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.
8. 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.
7. 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.
6. 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.
Season 19 Episode 21
American Dad is frequently at its best when it lets itself off its leash and just indulges in compelling ideas, even if they’re not particularly funny. “Echoes” begins innocently enough with Steve starting an internship at Channel 3 News under Memphis Stormfront and grows to an apocalyptic scenario that’s teased through the precognitive powers of alien Doppler technology.
“Echoes” presents a big story across these 22 minutes and the episode was actually written as American Dad’s potential series finale when the show’s future was unclear after the Warner Bros and Discovery merger. This is a lofty task, yet “Echoes” would have been an excellent and unusual series finale for American Dad, if it had been its end. The stakes are now even higher for however American Dad actually ends.
4. Gold Top Nuts
Season 19 Episode 10
“Gold Top Nuts” has become one of American Dad’s most polarizing episodes, but anything that can elicit such a profound reaction from its audience is worthy of dissection. “Gold Top Nuts” hinges on a plane crash that strands the Smith family on a deserted island and finding refuge in a lighthouse. Amnesiac and shellshocked, the Smiths begin to rebuild their identities and language through an extremely limited tool: a dated commercial for nuts. “Gold Top Nuts” turns into an enlightening deconstruction of communication and community that’s akin to something like The Gods Must Be Crazy. It’s a big risk that pays off for American Dad.
3. 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.
2. 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.
1. Rabbit Ears
Season 16 Episode 4
American Dad has found tremendous success through the realization that its weirder episodes are often also its best. “Rabbit Ears” is American Dad doing its best impression of The Twilight Zone and it’s such a bizarre, beloved experiment that it’s established a new formula that other episodes like “Echoes” and “Gold Top Nuts” have adopted. “Rabbit Ears” features some of the best examples of Stan at his most blissfully chaotic. His selfish efforts to drag an archaic TV into his home turns into a conduit to a bygone era. “Rabbit Ears” cultivates such an unnerving energy and creates genuine tension due to its unpredictable nature. Chris Pine even provides the voice of the episode’s leading obstacle, Alistair Covax. It’s only fitting that American Dad’s best episode is one that goes so wonderfully off course and is from later on in the show’s run.