This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dead Season 14 Episode 13
“I promise, nothing’s going to change this year.”
“Big boys rule the camp?”
“Big boys rule the camp!”
One of the more underappreciated relationships found within American Dad is the bond that’s held between Steve and Snot. Sure, the two have a whole gang of friends between Barry and Toji, but Steve and Snot gravitate towards one another like no one else in the group. The dynamic explored between these two has proven to be a reliable well of content for the show in the past, such as in last season’s exceptionally strong “The Unincludeds.” Steve and Snot’s adventures always see the two misfits needing to pool their strengths together or somehow find themselves at odds with one another. “Camp Campawanda” falls into the category of the latter, but in a lot of ways this episode juxtaposes two of its most evergreen couples against each other, Steve and Snot, and Hayley and Jeff.
“Camp Campawanda” puts together a rather simple story, but that’s nothing to hold against it. The episode is all about Steve and Snot’s time away at camp, but this year the two find themselves at opposite ends of the camping spectrum, leading to much friction between the two pals. It’s worth mentioning that while the bulk of the episode is spent at Camp Campawanda, Steve’s trip up to the campgrounds is also a delight. He nearly gets hammered by some unruly resident of Despairtown (formerly Hopeville) due to his flagrant, angelic singing. In fact, Steve’s infectious, soulful singing gets several opportunities to shine this episode, whether it’s singing through sobbing, or through the impassioned lyrics of GOTYE (which in itself leads to an unusual, fourth-wall breaking gag). More of this is never a bad thing.
As Steve simply tries to have a fun time at camp, Snot can’t help but rub his corked whistle in his face (that’s not a euphemism). It’s an attitude like that that will find Snot on his way to full whistle privileges while Steve is still slumming it with pre-teen campers. While on the topic, Steve progressively creeping out the young children that he’s taken under his wing is never not funny. His modest attempts at coolness only dig him deeper down the hole. Steve was excited to finally be tackling camp as an “adult camper,” but his wiener continues to get burnt by the black hole of rules that Snot has become.
Snot becomes increasingly corrupted with the power that he has, which leads to the character going on a curious Goodfellas riff for a moment. The scene is all good and fun, but it sort of comes out of nowhere and a solid Goodfellas riff has literally been done a hundred times at this point. Snot aping the stylistic narrative of something different like Sleepaway Camp—complete with the bonkers ending—would have at least been a little more unique, albeit a radical direction to go down. That being said, this is literally one scene of the episode. It’s not as if the entire half hour hinges on a played out reference.
As summer goes on and camp intensifies, Steve and Snot more or less become the metaphorical angel and devil on the shoulders of so many impressionable campers. While they both try to mold the next generation of Campawanda youth, Snot finds himself forgetting what it’s like to be a kid and becomes obsessed with structure and responsibility. He forgets what made camp so great to him in the first place. All of that Sprite goes to the guy’s head and he loses sight of who he is for a minute. Meanwhile, Steve can’t stop doing infinitely juvenile things, like the strange performance where he gives Snot the finger, but then takes his hands into his mouth in a bizarre act of backpedaling. It’s one of many delightfully off kilter moments.
As the Steve and Snot rivalry reaches its boiling point, there’s a deeply weird sight gag involving a bar that looks all-too-familiar named Meaux’s. Meaux’s ends up being the place that most of the townies in Despairville congregate (this might be a snide dig at the residents of Springfield over on The Simpsons all being trash, but perhaps I’m reaching). Steve bands all of these neglected townies together and before he knows it he’s turned an innocent panty raid into an all-out riot on Campawanda. This disaster appropriately culminates in both Steve and Snot seeing that they’ve collectively gone too far in both of their extremes. They understand that they’ll be happy if they can just focus less on labels and more on what they love about camp in the first place.
Outside of the campgrounds, Hayley and Jeff find themselves celebrating their anniversary, with Roger graciously offering (nay, forcing) a mass spectacle onto the Smith household. After Jeff finds himself screwing things up with Hayley by forgetting to buy Burning Man tickets (seeing Stan approve of Jeff’s shoddy husbandry is a nice little touch), Roger steps in to save the day. Now, for a show that’s been on for as long as American Dad has, its audience should be trained at this point to expect any act of kindness on Roger’s part to have some sinister undertone to it.
“Camp Campawanda” uses this knowledge within its audience to skew the expectations of what’s going on here. Roger fantastically doesn’t have any evil scheme hiding behind his good deeds this time (the random blood on the floor turning out to be the period blood of some dog is a little suspicious, but it’s so outrageous that I’ll let it slide). Instead he’s left to whine about how chivalry really is dead and how he could have been having more of a rager at his makeshift Burning Man.
The plotting here might not be perfect, but all of the Burning Man material justifies itself if only to get to the bizarre circumstances that see a sheet of acid floating into Klaus’ bowl. The fish goes on a glorious, mysterious drug trip as a result that is worth the price of admission to this episode in itself. On top of that, the information that Roger has actually been harvesting his own organs is worth it to get to the painful pun of him being “organ-ized,” which is then followed by the piece of Dadaist humor where Roger’s removed organs proceed to sing and dance before re-entering his body. And the only takeaway from the surreal moment is that Roger suspects that Jeff might have raped him. That’s American Dad in a nutshell.
“Camp Campawanda” ends up being a pretty decent offering of the show that manages to effectively share the wealth across its storylines. Stan and Francine are more or less shelved this week, but when that means that we’re getting more Jeff, that’s never a bad thing. Plus, I’m always happy whenever the show is remembering Hayley and Jeff’s marriage. This episode even has fun with the fact that the show itself might have forgotten just how long these two have canonically been married. Both of the installment’s stories land in satisfying places, one which has an emotional resonance and the other which manages to actually be surprising. All it needs is some lucid visions from a goldfi—no wait, it’s got those.