American Dad Season 12 Episode 1
This American Dad Review contains spoilers.
“You can’t tear down my tree-father!”
American Dad is back, you guys! With its first TBS-produced season, no less! Remember when we thought that the show moving to TBS was all craziness? And now look at things! Forty-four more episodes (at least) are happening on the network, and while some definite growing pains might have been felt on the show’s first-year migration from FOX, by the end of last season they had found reasonably solid footing. Now, much later in the game, and with a wealth of episodes under production, presumably this new season should feel right at home with any bumps along the way hopefully smoothed out. At the same time, this is still a show in its twelfth (or thirteenth, depending who you ask) season, and regardless of how many cylinders it’s firing on, there’s still going to be an understandable degree of fatigue.
Thankfully, “Roots” rises to the occasion and is a pleasantly enjoyable premiere that manages to hit many of the extremes that American Dad does so well. The episode begins with a wonderfully chaotic cold open that introduces the concept of arena football and sets the tone for the episode rather well. Stan, obviously in support of the mayhem of arena football, invades a town council meeting that’s discussing the arena space. Stan steamrolls ahead about building this arena and moving Langley Falls forward with progress accordingly. They could even be the next Wilmington!
However, in perfect American Dad fashion, as soon as Stan begins to gain traction and it seems like the episode is heading into some arena football parable, he does a complete 180 saying that the new arena can’t be built. There’s some sweet nonsense going on here, like the idea of if you can’t open up to your town council, then who can you open up to? But very quickly the episode shows its impressive hand. Stan doesn’t want this arena to get built anymore because it will mean the destruction of a certain tree. A tree that Stan asserts is his father. And suddenly there’s a much more interesting story afoot than the march of progress or even that of the bombastic arena football (complete with water guns).
As crazy as Stan’s admission sounds, the reveal behind it is actually quite sweet. Stan’s absentee father is well documented at this point in the series, and the idea of a lonely child bonding with a tree—inferring kindness from it—is as touching as it is ridiculous. Just when it looks like Stan is going to get a happy ending, Roger rears his head just when you begin to wonder where he is. Stan versus Roger stories are amongst some of the series’ best, and so to deliver one of those episodes for the premiere is a smart move on their part. Last season of American Dad strangely had a lacking amount of Roger, but I’m glad to see him in wide supply here. He opposes Stan, championing the construction of the arena, as Don Fikowski, the most passionate asphalt pourer that you’ll ever meet in your life. He glad-hands the council meeting with a bunch of nonsense that shouldn’t work, chief amongst of which is free piping hot asphalt (and free third degree burns).
The episode also makes some fantastic use of the convoluted logic of Rogers many personas. It’s kind of beautiful to see Roger as Fikowski say that he respects his friendship with Stan so much that he’ll stop construction on the arena, only for him to pick construction back up as another persona, Frankie Carconi of the Carconi Bros. I’m always a fan of when the show intentionally trips over the reality-breaking that Roger’s alternate personas create, so to learn that he somehow has a human brother, Freddy Carconi, that’s the son of their mother–who’s another identity of Roger’s–it’s the best kind of absurdism. You’re not meant to make sense of it. You just roll with it.
Elsewhere in B-Story Land, Steve finds himself panicking over the fact (and his tailor, Petruchio, corroborates) that he hasn’t been growing at all. This all has fairly low stakes when it starts moving, but by the time Steve has visited Klaus’ twisted “growth specialist” out of desperation, the story finds a comfortable groove. It’s a shame that we don’t get to see more of this evil doctor in the end because the brief glimpses that we get of him (and his boy, Billy) are rather terrifying. This sort of dark well that the episode draws from here is present elsewhere, too. The head explosion of the robber in Stan’s tree-father flashback is exactly the sort of American Dad that I want (and maybe a “Cops and Roger” reference?), as is the weird existential montage of Stan waiting seven days in his tree while Steve simultaneously sees how the world favors the tall. It’s a strange episode, but one where almost every piece of crazy ends up canceling out a corresponding one.
This might not be American Dad’s best episode, but what it does feel like is a perfectly average installment that is still at a consistent quality where it’s producing the set pieces and gags that are seen here. Next week will be more of an indication of this, but if this is the quality that American Dad has leveled off at, I’ll be more than satisfied and eager to watch the many episodes that TBS has in store.
Now let’s all enjoy some delicious, toxic magnolia juice in the meantime.