This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad Season 12 Episode 21
“That’s it, we’re gonna hang out! If you’re going to kill anyone in this family it’s going to be Francine.”
I’m not a big fan of bowling, personally.
That being said, I have this weird affinity where I harbor a great deal of enjoyment for episodes of television that are about bowling (like The Simpsons’ “Team Homer,” for instance). For whatever reason they seem to typically be well-rounded installments that hold a suspicious amount of resonance. “Next of Pin” is no exception to the rule, with it taking the men from the Smith family on a rather tumultuous journey.
The unhealthy scab that is Stan and Steve’s relationship begins to get picked at this week when Stan begins to worry that his lack of time together with Steve might cause him to grow up into a ruthless serial killer that murders him in his sleep. Not a second of time is wasted here as we’re immediately treated to a togetherness montage between the two of them that only seems to make their differences become more prominent. That is until Steve idiot savants his way into being a natural bowler.
I’m a little surprised that American Dad hasn’t checked “bowling” off its hundred-page long checklist, but the episode finds plenty to do with the topic. There is some wonderful comedy mined by the ever abstract “strike visualizations” that happen in bowling alleys. This is such a ripe ground for comedy that I haven’t seen explored anywhere else outside of a brilliant episode of Moonbeam City (points if you remember that show!), that I’m glad the episode digs into it a little. As Stan nurtures Steve’s burgeoning bowling skills the two continue to grow closer together. They even reach the point where sharing the gesture of—gasp—a hug is commonplace between them.
Of course things would be far too easy if this dynamic was allowed to continue untainted, so it’s at this point that a mysterious bowling coach gets between the two of them, and right after they’ve won the Father/Son Tournament, no less! Suddenly this symbol of their love is polluted with professionalism and pressure, turning it into something much less special. What works with this storyline is that it at no point becomes a story about Stan feeling replaced by Steve’s coach as the alpha-male or parental figure. That sort of story has been told countless times before on this show, so the focus instead being on something much more wholesome between the two of them works quite well.
The episode also dips into a nice “Gift of the Magi” territory where Stan endlessly supports Steve’s professional bowling as a fan in order to make him happy, and Steve continues to bowl because he thinks it’s what Stan wants. The two of them would both be happier just bowling together, but their desire to make the other one happy blinds them.
Outside of the bowling alleys, Hailey accuses the constantly plate-smashing Roger of having a short attention span, which he of course naturally throws back in her face. Klaus takes the opportunity to host a competition to see who truly has the shortest attention span, and suddenly this plotline of nothing rockets to the forefront. This is exactly the sort of non-story that I love, and Hailey and Roger are formidable adversaries when pushed to the extreme.
The gauntlet that Klaus puts the both of them through comes in the form of Ken Burn’s documentary on bicycles. The two are assaulted with monotony for over two days until a stalemate of sorts is reached: the inevitable conclusion that having a short attention span isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a cop out of sorts, but really, you want to watch them go through some sort of punishment or something? The documentary itself is enough torture. Also, while Francine might not have a central role in things this week, she’s really on fire this episode with her comments from the sidelines. “Now here goes the fish…” as she pours herself a glass of Jack killed me.
As Stan begins to pine for Steve’s companionship more, he jumps to some pretty bloody conclusions to win his son back that prove to ultimately be successful. It’s yet another example of American Dad not being afraid to pull out all the punches out for a joke. The end also goes to some pretty crazy places as Stan winds up with about a baker’s dozen of self-inflicted stab wounds.
Deep inside all of that there’s a lesson about being better at communication or maybe it’s something about mental breakdowns. With American Dad it never has to be one or the other.
Now go peruse a Goodwill, would ya?