“There’s only one thing you need to know about karate: guns beat karate every time.”
American Dad has gotten some decent mileage out of Steve’s group of friends, Snot especially. He’s never resonated that strongly with me, but I think he serves his purpose and have probably grown to like him more throughout the years, rather than the other way around. So I wasn’t overly excited when I saw this was a Steve and Snot affair, but all-in-all it’s a pleasant episode.
We see Steve and Snot running upon a lesser loser at school and using him as a cloaking device that acts as a black hole to all of their bullying. Soon however they see this loser totally destroy the bully that goes after him (to the point that a bystander remarks, “Finish Him!” in perfect Mortal Kombat tradition, complete with a very appreciated “Brutality!” at the end) with karate (kara-tay, to be exact). Naturally Steve and Snot see this as the answer to their problems—and it also replacing glitter pens as Steve’s resident go-to cool item–and if dingus, or rather Martin can handle it, then surely they can too. Although Snot seems pretty preoccupied with trying to find a way to rescue Martin from juvey…
A lot of time in this episode is spent in the dojo, Dojo Biden, which is a pretty stupid joke (and apparently a name that Sensei Tom was not given permission to use), but it’s repeated enough times, and doubled down on itself effectively that it actually starts to get funny. The concept of combining a martial arts gym with the teachings of Joe Biden feels a lot more like an early-season American Dad joke, but it still fits in reasonably enough here.
Steve, who is “capable of nothing”, learns that he needs to channel into what makes him angry in order to be good at karate. Like say, focusing on your early varicose veins for instance. Interestingly enough, Snot ends up being more of the natural at the sport, due to all of the things that he has to be angry about, such as a dead dad and a subpar mustache. He soon begins to rise the ranks and impress Sensei Tom. Fortunately this plotline involves a lot of Steve screaming in distress or in pain which is always comedic gold and almost as good as him singing.
All of this leads into some fairly predictable plotting with Snot ditching Steve and bonding with his new karate friends, as a rift grows between the two, something that we’ve seen happen before as well as the other ideas going on in this story. It’s forgivable though, and it all flows and works pleasantly enough.
As a response to balance this mundane material out, we get the reasonably weirder B-story of Klaus gaining too much of a fishy smell and being rendered an “outside fish.” This entails Klaus getting pretty strung out as he’s pitted against a neighborhood’s worth of cats (and maybe an adventurous lizard) as he tries to stay alive, outsmart them, and trick the Smiths into letting him back in. Any Klaus is good Klaus in my opinion, and this storyline actually has some legs (even if Klaus doesn’t) rather than feeling ancillary like a lot of his stories do. There’s even a pretty inspired Warriors reference we get out of it. Frankly, I could have gotten more of this story and a more streamlined version of the Steve and Snot story. There are some really fun ideas brought up here, and it could have gone even further in a Looney Tunes sort of direction even.
Meanwhile Snot begins to get a reputation for fighting and is nearly expelled as he’s nurtured into an angrier individual and Steve worries for him. This goes down the foreseeable path of Steve needing to beat Snot in the upcoming karate tournament as a means of freeing him from Sensei Tom’s hold. Without having many options, Steve goes to Stan for help. When Stan’s advice is simply giving him a gun, Roger—in full Pai Mei regalia—says he’ll train him, and the second half of the episode gains a lot more energy with Roger’s presence. Roger has a much more unorthodox teaching style, like teaching Steve to brush wigs, having him mix drinks, and suggesting kissing his opponent to throw him off in combat. Ultimately, this is all useless, but it’s Steve’s love for Snot that opens his eyes to how controlling his anger is healthier than expelling it through rage bouts.
This isn’t the most groundbreaking American Dad, but it’s a lot of fun, more than passable, and perhaps even has one of the better Klaus stories we’ve gotten. If this was the lowest the season dips this year, I’ll be more than fine with the quality they’re maintaining, and while nothing this year has gone to the truly extreme heights that they’re capable of, even the “American Dad supports the NFL Players’ Association” joke was out there. They’ve still got it in them.