“The way you write dialogue reminds people that it’s hard to write dialogue.”
Okay guys, a lot of great things happen in this episode, and it’s certainly their finest installment in some time, but first and foremost Wheels and the Leg Man are back!! And regardless of what you’ve thought of the quality of this season, Wheels and the Leg Man are a sure-fire guarantee to win you over, with this episode being no exception.
Early on we learn that Francine’s never-mentioned noir novel series’ latest book, The Cobra in the Bag, starring winning protagonist and alpha male, Tony Hurt, has made her the recipient of an award nomination. This sends Francine (under her clever pseudonym, F.R. Ancine) and the rest of the Smiths to New York City.
During this exposition, there’s a brilliant detour where we get the idea that Stan spends most of his time racing condensation drops rather than listening to his family. This is just perfect Stan writing, and the brilliantly bizarre joke that it leads to from Francine (“Sir Alistair Right-Drop was such a small character…”) is classic American Dad. Right from the start this episode puts a strong foot forward and proves itself. The entire cold open is laser sharp, precise comedy, as is the Mystery Writers of America Awards ceremony later on.
I know I’ve spent a lot of this season discussing whether the quality of the show has maintained or not, and while it has been very scattershot, episodes like this still justify this show’s existence. There’s plenty of weirdness to come out of this one and it’s a strong episode in terms of its larger parts as well as the smaller random moments within them.
Once the Smiths have hit New York, Steve and Roger become pretty enamored with getting James Patterson to pen a Wheels and the Leg Man novel (“That’s a novel idea.”), with the ultimate goal to be that sweet peach of having your work adapted into a Redbox exclusive. This is a satisfying reason to bring back these alter egos of Steve and Roger, and they are a warm reminder of just how much fun they are. The fact that their pitch to Patterson consists entirely of the bass notes to their theme song rather than any literary content is more brilliance.
There’s also a very unnecessary, but deeply appealing storyline where an arguing Hailey and Stan are coerced into going to An Evening with Robert Wuhl, who we all know “is a very funny actor.” This gradually turns into a hostage situation by the Arli$$ actor as the evening grows stranger and stranger while the depressing actor tries to bond with them. This is exactly the deep cut sort of material that I love American Dad for and the increasingly ridiculous, weird C-plot that the two of them find themselves in is much better than any C-plot deserves to be.
While all of these separate stories manage to be very funny on their own right, the best thing about all of this is how Francine’s award ceremony slowly turns into a mystery in itself with none other than Wheels and the Leg Man being left to solve it and find Francine. To interweave these two ideas not only makes a lot of sense, but it builds to a bigger theme in an episode that is about the nature of mysteries themselves. The whole thing is a love letter to the form. Roger tries to even spin the Wuhl story into the larger mystery as all of this beautifully tangles together.
What’s maybe even better is the reveal that Roger has kidnapped and hidden Francine the entire time as a means of building their brilliant mystery that would catch James Patterson’s attention. Steve knows Roger so well at this point that it’s great to see him figure this out before the end of the episode, rather than holding it back as the final reveal. It’s vintage Roger, acting selfishly to create the best narrative, and when that gets away from him, the story gets even better.
All of this material connects well, moves by quickly, and is firing jokes at you constantly. It does everything right that an American Dad should, and for what’s a very full episode, it never feels bloated and balances all of the storylines well. It’s a very satisfying installment.
Now I’m off to go read Skids and the Leg Guy before hitting up the Redbox.