“That’s Julia, she’s new in town…”
This week’s episode of American Dad swiftly begins with Stan circling the drain of desperation. Stan’s up to some truly reprehensible behavior (with Roger doing some prime enabling) that does a good job at encapsulating how he can take Francine for granted. Before the credits even roll Stan has already hurt Francine in several significant ways, in spite of this episode not even being dominated as a Stan entry.
This leads to Stan and Roger flailing into recovery mode. A desperate Stan turns to Roger’s ludicrous plan to actually make the wine that they need to replace. This includes acquiring the grapes and soil from France that were used to make the wine and then driving to an area that has comparable weather conditions to when the original batch’s crop was grown. It’s a strategy that requires intense precision, much like how American Dad crafts its humor. There’s a degree of preparation and specificity, but the results can be deeply satisfying like fine French wine.
Speaking of the great lengths that the show will go to tell its stories, this simple wine-making venture is soon transforming into a life or death situation for Stan and Roger. After Roger gets some shocking truth laid down to him, he uses the nearby tornado (that’s right) to run away from this embarrassment and start over in Townsville. This so-bizarre-it’s-brilliant plot involving Stan hurting Roger’s feelings to the point of Roger not only running away, but doing so as a Julia Roberts character is just perfect. In this new persona, Roger sets up shop in a small town to further distance himself from what’s happened back at home. If that’s not the makings for an all-time classic Roger episode, I don’t know what is.
The introductory montage for “Julia’s” new life in Townsville is essentially the life that Roger’s always wanted. The members of the community whisper over how mysterious and deep Julia’s history must be and she’s seen as the fascinating enigma that Roger has always considered himself to be. In spite of Roger being a glowing social butterfly in his new Erin Brokavich-esque lifestyle, he continues to hold onto the grapevine that started this mess, almost as a haunting reminder of where he began. The whole thing is terribly melodramatic, but that’s it’s goal. It’s even easy to picture Julia Roberts going through some version of this narrative up on the silver screen.
Roger’s new life leads to him finding happiness and love within Jesse. Jesse allows Roger to finally be able to move past the trauma that he went through with Stan and get on with his life. If Roger plays his cards right, he might even find himself with a dance to the harvest festival (which does not have a dance, just to be clear). Just as Roger is finding peace as Julia, his past decides to messily intersect with his new life. Stan comes to Townsville looking to steamroll everything that Roger has built in the process.
This reunion between Roger and Stan involves a lot of showboating and hiding of emotions while all that Roger is really looking for is for Stan to admit that he actually wants Roger to come home. Stan and Jesse continue to be juxtaposed against each other as Roger tries to figure out what’s best for him. It’s the sort of trajectory that happens all the time in the films that this episode is poking fun at, like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
“Julia Rogerts” might tug at the audience’s emotions a little bit and make it truly seem like Stan is indifferent to Roger, but thankfully it’s revealed that his behavior is all part of a ruse. Surprisingly this ends up morphing into one of the better examples of an episode that explores Stan and Roger’s bond, of which there are already plenty of strong contenders. Then, just for good measure, the episode throws one final curveball into the mix by letting the melodrama take a backseat to the absurdism of Crow Gods. That’s nothing for the fresh team of Stan and Roger though.
Speaking of ruses, that “decoy” of Stan that Roger puts together at the Smith household is pretty damn brilliant. This sort of thing would actually work in real life if you had the wherewithal to create such a ruse. It’s a plan so perfect that it can even make something like grass-ketball seem natural.
The rest of “Julia Rogerts” is interested in the current obsession of Steve, which happens to involve two of his friends. Steve is well aware that some of his friends—namely Snot—can be an acquired taste. Once Steve zeroes in on how well Jeff and Barry would get along, he becomes relentless in trying to make some meeting between these two people in his life take place. After all, somebody’s got to clap for the grips, right?
It’s always fun when a show can get a little self-aware by acknowledging and then playing around with a character pairing that somehow has been missed over the course of its run. In this case, that falls on the characters of Jeff and Barry, with Steve making it his duty to rectify this situation and have these two meet.
In spite of this being a very simple storyline, it gains a lot of power by the deep importance that Steve bestows on the event. He’s acting like the Xenomorph from Alien is going to fight the Terminator. It’s a smart move on the episode’s part to also have everyone going along with what Steve’s planning rather than mocking his grand scheme. It continues to make this event—which is barely a plot—into something greater and more exaggerated. This episode could have explored the same idea in the totally opposite manner by delivering an entry that focused just on Jeff and Barry’s time together while ditching the rest of the cast. While such an approach definitely could have worked for the series, there’s also nothing wrong with this more roundabout angle of reaching forgiveness.
In fact, Steve’s whole story results in him getting so excited over what he’s pulled together that he gets right up in the “camera’s” face to celebrate. This storyline still might feel like it’s ultimately missing a beat somewhere in the middle, but it still pulls all of this together. I’m sure that the “To Be Continued…” that the story goes out on is a joke, but if Jeff and Barry’s project were to become a runner peppered throughout the next batch of episodes—in a Golden Turd sort of scenario—I wouldn’t mind in the least.
“Julia Rogerts” is an interesting installment of the series in the sense that it attempts to bank off of characters and dynamics that are less established within the show. The entry focuses more on its tone and overall atmosphere, which results in some poignant character analysis coming through on the other side. “Julia Rogerts” might not be one of the greatest episodes of this season, but it still operates with a helpful degree of confidence in what it’s trying to do.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Grumlins 2 and a Munions double-feature that’s about to begin.