American Dad! Season 14 Episode 16 Review: The Bitchin’ Race
American Dad! plays into the reality television genre in an episode the stumbles to the finish line.
“It’s called a television ‘show’, not a television ‘don’t show.’”
American Dad Season 14 Episode 16
It’s often surprising that a show that has been on for just as long as American Dad! has is still capable of delivering such a consistent batting average. The series has produced over 200 episodes and I’d argue that less than ten of those are outright bad entries, with most of those even coming from the show’s earliest years. The show’s current season has been primarily turning out stellar installments, but unfortunately “The Bitchin’ Race” is one of the more forgettable episodes.
Episodes of television shows that are structured around the cast acting as contestants on game shows, let alone reality shows, are typically never the formula for all-time classic entries. With that disclaimer, American Dad! finds a bunch to do with their Amazing Race rip-off, “The Bitchin’ Race,” but the episode still crumbles under its own design. But hey, at least you get an American Dad! episode that’s set in Sidid Bou Said, Tunisia. That’s certainly not the norm.
The episode immediately throws the audience into this reality parody, with it wasting no time showing elements of the process like the Smiths auditioning for the program. By the time the series checks in with the Smiths, the show is already on its big season finale. As this all kicks off, the installment unsurprisingly follows much of the structure of an Amazing Race episode. The five teams respond to their latest clue with talking heads and docu-drama filming style capturing the pair-based adventures. With more seasoned explorers like Rick Steves and Bear Grylls getting caught up in what luxury hotel to stay in, the Smiths are allowed to rise to the lead.
“The Bitchin’ Race” is an entry that inherently has to rely on character, much like how these reality shows live and die by their casts. The beginning of the race originally sees Stan and Francine competing against Steve and Hayley (#siblingrevelry is pretty damn cute), but thanks to a Tostitos Partner Swap, in conjunction with a Dollar Shave Club Temporary Alliance, the pairs mix themselves up as Stan’s cutthroat nature becomes much more in line with Hayley’s competitive drive. This later pairing works much more in the episode’s favor, with the similarly strong-willed attitudes of Stan and Hayley leading to some satisfying laughs.
Over half of this episode plays around with globe hopping reality show hijinks until the newly formed team of Stan and Hayley misinterpret a clue and find themselves in a Tunisian prison camp. The humor for the back-end of the entry is in the father-daughter team spending time in a grueling labor camp and not even realizing it. Meanwhile, the other Smith team of Steve and Francine navigate their way through massages and other exercises in relaxation, having no idea that the rest of their family’s lives hang in the balance.
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Stan and Hayley eventually do figure out the gravity of their situation, but what’s genuinely surprising here is to see this episode connect back to “CIAPOW” from a from seasons back. The irate Thai king from that installment has seen his life take a turn for the worse and he’s eager to see Stan Smith gets what’s coming to him. While this dot connecting to the show’s history is certainly a nice touch, it doesn’t really save this installment from its overall middling status. Although, if “CIAPOW” is your all-time favorite episode, then “The Bitchin’ Race” is likely a dream come true.
Roger—or rather Yeagar Chillax—is also in this race too, along with his trusty partner Johnny Bananas. Roger is consistently fighting for the attention of the camera, with him literally pulling it in his direction at times. It’s an enjoyable quirk, but it never goes quite as far as it could (the same of which can be said with Roger’s dynamic with Johnny Bananas). It’s still fun to see the structural mechanics of the episode getting played around with though.
Right from the start it’s pretty clear that the episode’s focus is the human members of the Smith family, with Roger getting shelved surprisingly early. It doesn’t exactly feel like Roger’s presence is needed in this installment, especially when there’s such bonkers material like Stan getting skewered by a bull and using it to will the beast into submission. But come on, this is Roger. He could just be jumping from team to team, constantly betraying everyone—or even a part of a team where the members are somehow both inexplicably Roger. Any of this would be a more fun, useful direction for the character this week.
“The Bitchin’ Race” uses Klaus channel surfing alone at the Smith house as a nice distraction and a means of jumping out of the action whenever it’s needed. His playful banter is lots of fun, but I was more impressed to see the guy simply reminiscing over his (apparently lecherous) days as a skier. It’s minor attention to detail, but it makes his small talk connect a little more than it would otherwise. That being said, other detours with the character during his alone time, such as the fact that Klaus apparently plays a daily game of Russian Roulette, don’t connect in the same way and amount to puzzling gags.
The downfalls of “The Bitchin’ Race” come together in a rather messy final act. Stan and Hayley experience a change of heart regarding their dire labor camp whereabouts where they’re suddenly into the new change of pace. Furthermore, Francine and Steve more or less relax into oblivion to the point where the show’s host has to come and tell them that they’ve wasted their time. These storylines sort of just end as time runs out and Roger becomes the new star of Thai Idol. This rushed nature is solidified in the episode’s final scene where Klaus complains that this can’t possibly be the ending, until unexplainable nonsense carries him away into adventure. As Klaus disappears he’s shouting that “if you believe, you’ll be a winner,” but unfortunately it’s going to take a whole lot more than belief for this one.
“Yeager Chillax” is still totally a name that deserves to be trending though. We’ll get it there, Roger. We will.