“Christmas isn’t something we skip. It’s something we endure. As a family.”
For whatever reason, American Dad! has taken the opportunity for Christmas episodes to deliver some of the most powerful, poignant chapters from their library. Just like The Simpsons treats their yearly Halloween installments with a certain reverence, American Dad’sholiday episodes have too gained a certain lofty reputation. I still think “Rapture’s Delight” might be the series’ best episode and I know a lot of fans still hold that as the benchmark for Christmas outings moving forward.
I was particularly excited for this season’s Christmas episode, however, because the plot involving Santa hunting for ancient, special relics is flat-out bonkers and a great continuation from “For Whom the Sleigh Boll Tolls.” Additionally, it looked like, according to the press image, Minstrel Krampus (aka Grandpa Smith, aka Grampus) would also be returning.
“Ninety North, Zero West” does not disappoint. It might not be the series’ finest holiday entry of all time, but it’s certainly the strongest in recent years. It also just happens to be one of the season’s top episodes of so far.
(P.S. It’s crazy that we’re already at the seventh episode of the season. Remember when Fox would air new episodes so sporadically that it could be months until we got a handful of new episodes? Tell your grandkids of that dark time.)
You can tell that you’re going to be in good hands here when the episode’s opening conversation addresses all of the canonical Big Event Christmas episodes that the show has experienced. The Smiths’ plans this holiday season are even directly related to the chaos that so typically rains down upon them each December. They’re opting to just ignore the holidays this Christmas, going into cryo-sleep until the 26th. They even take it as far as setting up a decoy family in their home to keep the vengeful North Pole dwellers at bay. That is until they realize that Steve is out in the unrelenting hellscape that is Christmas, and they need to find him before they’ve got another disastrous holiday on their hands.
It might have been the residual “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” that was getting to me, but having Jim Rash as a disgraced (stretched out) elf named Puddin’ is a piece of casting that I can fully get behind. Networks: your impulse is going to be to get Jim Parsons voicing your elf scamps, but Rash is where it’s at. He’s a perfect addition to help the Smiths track down the child-napping Santa—that is until the episode wonderfully pulls the rug out from under the idea. Instead the rather clever decision is made to consult Krampus and use his Christmas Magic to get to the North Pole. It’s another example of the series using its existing Christmas mythology as a way to solve their problems that’s just too much fun for fans that have been around for the long haul (Krampus’ bus driving gig in Baltimore even gets a shout-out).
The episode’s plot is very singular but there’s more than enough non-sequitur nonsense to keep you laughing as the hunt for Steve intensifies. There are some strong, unusual gags here like the synchronized version of “No Kids” sung to the tune of TLC’s “No Scrubs,” the dude explaining the concept of a candy cane, Klaus’ porn preferences, and whatever is wrong with Stan’s taste buds and affection for plaster. I was laughing out loud plenty during this one and was surprised at how much “Ninety North, Zero West” manages to fit into its 20 minutes. It’s an incredibly full episode that never stops moving.
The final act of all of this revolves around Santa’s “Grand Design” after he acquires the necessary relics that he’s been expelling countless children’s lives to obtain. If you were finally waiting for American Dad! to pull the trigger on their big Gilgamesh and Hoon-Baba story, well it’s going to be a Christmas miracle for you. Santa’s end game here is so ridiculous, yet somehow fitting with the rest of the unrestrained mayhem that’s seasonally been experienced through the show’s 13 years.
A pretty monumental bombshell is dropped regarding why Santa resides in the North Pole, let alone why we have a Christmas, and it’s a conclusion that left me wholly satisfied. There’s even some nice dialogue that the Smiths share about how perhaps it’s their destiny to have perpetually ruined Christmases that puts a nice bow on everything.
These guys always kill it, but it’s worth mentioning that Walter Murphy’s score in this episode is just off the charts. It seamlessly mixes Christmas music iconography into the show’s usual fare and it’s so damn good. Also, I actually paused my episode to just fully take in the Oz-esque rendition of Santa’s kingdom as Steve is being carted to the North Pole via magic train. There’s a lot of gorgeous, precise work going on in this one that really gives it that extra dose of scotch in the egg nog.
“Ninety North, Zero West” is a worthy addition to American Dad’s list of Christmas entries that acts as another strong notch in the quality of this current season. Some great groundwork is set up here for the future of their holiday installments and it’s simply impressive that they’ve managed to mine so much out of the material at this point. This is the perfect Xmas gift from American Dad! to its audience.
And I’m with Steve 100 percent—big “Xmas” writer, but I’ll be caught dead if you ever hear me saying it.