This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 13 Episode 2
“What if Lindbergh brings the baby back to life with the power of RC Cola?”
“Fight and Flight” is that special version of an American Dad episode that is capable of getting by on its strong wit and script regardless of what’s actually going on. When I saw that this episode might be about Steve becoming a pilot (it’s not), I was appropriately apprehensive. It’s a plot that doesn’t really make a lot of sense for the character, and yet it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time in the later end of a show’s life.
How many out-of-character jobs or passions has Homer Simpson had at this point? If this were the case I’d have given the show some slack for scraping this bottom of the barrel in its 13th season, especially with a script as strong as the one in this episode. However, what instead goes on here is Steve receiving his first F and things turning into a classic Steve and Stan tug of war for power over what is done next.
The episode starts off in pleasant territory with Stan actually worrying more about Steve’s F than Steve himself. Stan panics that grades are all that his son has and if he stops being a good student, who knows what dark path his life could go down. This leads to Stan more or less commandeering Steve’s next history project, using his CIA pull and power to guarantee that Steve brings in an A, at whatever the cost.
Watching Steve and Stan out of sync throughout the episode consistently delivers laughs. There are some particularly strong moments like Stan confusing Charles Lindbergh with a contestant from The Bachelor. Whether it’s just smart dialogue like this, or absurd dives in reality like Francine’s Laugh In-esque “Oh Mama!” jokes, there’s a lot to be happy about here. In fact, the “Oh Mama!” joke is good, but then the twisted tangent it follows, becoming a riff on Francine’s fear of Candyman pushes it into classic territory.
As Stan and Steve work to deliver the best possible project on Charles Lindbergh, Stan pulls out all the stops, recruiting Vin Diesel and turning the report into a big-budget film. The startling scope that Stan is operating at here to keep his son’s GPA intact is funny stuff, but it also allows Roger to pop up as a union gaffer by the name of Cheese. The idea that Roger is lending a hand as Cheese when he wouldn’t before is great Roger-logic (Rogic), too. It’s great to watch him bitching about past movie experiences while constantly breaking lights around set. This persona of Roger’s, like most of this episode, just feels really natural.
Stan’s fear and passion ends up getting so out of hand that he’s stolen the real Spirit of St. Louis and Steve’s audience in the end isn’t a classroom, but a movie theater with a fancy gala premiere. Along the way Steve naturally wants to make edits to history to tell a more pleasing story that’s conducive to an A, which is also a satisfying direction for things to go. His vision is the best sort of disaster. Right from the elaborate Dreamsmith Entertainment logo that kicks off the blockbuster, all of this material lands. Whether it’s outlandish lies that Lindbergh invents the airplane, the elaborate deaths in any of the Vin Diesel-led action set pieces, or the use of Sugar Ray’s “I Just Wanna Fly” to close out the film. Stan and Steve coming to a head over all of this would already work well as a plot, but the fact that this also parallels Lindbergh’s own story about being able to fly solo is actually some pretty slick storytelling.
The main Stan and Steve story seems weighty enough on its own, but the episode still counterbalances it with a side plot about Klaus’ passion for buying clothes that he one day, maybe, might get to wear. We even get a pretty musical number from Klaus about dressing the body that he doesn’t have. This unusual angle sees Klaus teaming up with Hailey to track down some missing items that they’ve ordered, which has some surprising mileage to it. These two are always a good team when they’re put together. While I had my suspicions that the man that they hold hostage and assault hadn’t taken their packages, the reveal that is ultimately turned to is a satisfying one. The text prompt that follows the segment makes the bizarre segment hit even harder. Everyone’s a villain, basically.
Inexplicably, the episode’s final act sees Steve actually going and flying a plane to make a point to Stan about “flying solo” and being a capable individual. It’s a pretty crazy, unsubtle leap to take, and the direction is a little discouraging since everything up until that point is so strong. That’s not to say that the episode’s final act doesn’t work or isn’t funny (it even undercuts the unusualness of it all with the results of Steve’s flying), it just feels like a tacked on angle. I can’t help but feel that the book report portion could have been mined a little further and given one more beat rather than this sudden turn. That being said, they still make it work, so perhaps a little unwarranted nonsense isn’t the worst thing.
And speaking of nonsense, by far my favorite joke of the episode was the idea of Francine being trapped in the Candyman dimension. That’s just brilliance and the show is always better when it embraces this sort of absurdity. I was hoping that we’d get a final beat on this gag, or someone saying Francine’s name a third time to pull her out of this dimension, but it’s still funny as it is as a runner. It’s just that there’s ample opportunity to call back to it, especially with Stan saying “mother” in the episode’s final seconds.
“Fight and Flight” is a perfectly run of the mill American Dad episode that’s still an above average time. I’ve said it before, but it’s remarkable to see this show getting sharper and more ambitious in its later seasons, as opposed to becoming tired and derivative. If episodes like this are the standard, then the show really has nothing to worry about.
Now off to investigate those weird feelings that I’ve been getting from cereal boxes…