This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad Season 14 Episode 17
“This is my origin story. Like Batman! Whose parents were bats.”
Francine has always been one of American Dad’s most interesting characters, even if the show does tend to underplay her significance. Francine’s history has a certain mystification to it that’s not present for any of the rest of its cast (save Roger and maybe Klaus). Accordingly, episodes that decide to deal with Francine’s childhood and past tend to reveal fascinating dimensions to her character. American Dad finds time to explore this side of Francine every so often with episodes like “White Rice,” but there’s certainly a lot more to be done in the area, which is exactly what “The Family Plan” tries to take advantage of.
It’s commendable to see American Dad still finding new veins of story and character to uncover this late in the game, with the area of Francine’s birth parents acting as a nice little stone that’s yet to be unturned. It’s always satisfying to see Francine’s adoptive parents get brought up in the show, but the direction that this episode takes has even more weight to it.
It’s only fitting that the union of marriage and the start of a new family is what puts these wandering familial thoughts in Francine’s head in the first place. The Smiths find themselves at Dr. Kalgary’s wedding (even evil geniuses deserve love and companionship, guys), which gets Francine to think about her roots—specifically, the large family that she grew up with. Steve and Hayley try to help with Francine’s restless thoughts by bringing up that Roger is essentially a whole group of people in himself (although none of which are a family, which he pointedly makes clear) and that her feelings might have something to do with the fact that she’s adopted. Francine takes her children’s words to heart, which of course results in her adopting a whole nursery worth of children.
Francine finds some solace in hiding in the obliviousness of just adding more people to your family in order to fill your emptiness. When this begins to deliver diminishing returns, Hayley helpfully reiterates that maybe all that Francine needs to do is to get in touch with her birth parents in order to achieve some sort of closure. It’s encouraging to see “The Family Plan” move at a rather quick pace where no story decision is allowed to grow stale. For instance, rather than half of the episode dealing with Francine trying to raise a gaggle of new kids, her focus quickly shifts towards making contact with her biological parents. Allowing all of this material to breathe does it a lot of favors in the end. Moments where the apathy of Francine’s birth father (her mother is dead “from” a car crash) gets through are especially painful. Francine’s not the “Francine” from the hardware store, after all.
All of this new information sees Francine experiencing an identity crisis of sorts. When she throws herself into her birth father, Nicolas’, life, Francine attempts to rewrite her past and who she really is. She continually puts herself in Nicolas’ orbit, with the hopes that it will trigger something and that a crucial piece of her past is unearthed in the process. In addition to the many new family members that Francine is learning about, there’s some smart plotting over the fact that Roger has apparently been spending time with Nicolas as the Dawson family’s disgusting Garfield knockoff, Marmalade. He appears to be a dreadful cat, but he’s also allegedly Roger’s lowest maintenance character, in spite of it being a whole production. Roger doesn’t leave much of a mark as Marmalade, but Hayley puts it best when she says that you’ve got to respect the guy’s commitment to staying in character.
Francine continues to love the connections that she’s making with her new family. She learns that she shares all sorts of common ground with these people, like how they all confuse Jack Nicholson and Jack Nicklaus. Francine’s sudden entrance into these people’s lives isn’t just blindly accepted by everyone. Many relatives become suspect of Francine’s motives and what exactly she’s trying to gain out of this. It’s not long before this hypothetical target on Francine’s head turns into a literal one, with the episode’s final act becoming considerably crazier.
Right after Francine finishes choosing her birth family over Stan and her children, Nicolas begins to show his more unhinged side. The episode has some weird fun over the fact that Nicolas’ trigger revolves around the data charges for his family phone plan, but it strangely works. It’s such a specific pet peeve and not the sort of thing you’d slaughter your family over, but hey, nobody likes phone bills that are a surprise.
Nicolas’ phone plan-related carnage results in this being one of the most graphically violent episodes of American Dad from recent memory. Tons of people don’t just die here, but Francine’s entire extended family get decapitated, bluntly shot in the face, and have their blood sprayed everywhere. There’s a particularly gruesome sight gag involving a woman who’s allergic to cats who’s attempting to shoot Roger’s Marmalade. With every sneeze her bullets end up missing Roger, with her final attempt resulting in her shooting herself in the head. The Smith’s “solution” to saving Francine in the end is also a particularly vicious visual. It feels a little bit like this episode is choosing to go over the top with the violence because it’s otherwise unconfident in the episode’s storytelling. “The Family Plan” never reaches the point where the violence is outright distracting, but it’s certainly the most memorable aspect of this more introspective entry of the series.
Around all of Francine’s attempts to fit in and find a sense of belonging, Stan ends up reaching that same level of contentment by devoting his life to picking up trash. Stan runs into the “fat guy” from American Pickers at Kalgary’s wedding and soon his passion flames begin to fan a little too strong. Stan’s soon deputized as an official “picker,” with him then being off to the races in this ridiculous storyline. All of this should be terribly, but it ends up oddly working due to Stan’s solid characterization. At one point Stan laments, “it’s not as easy as it looks. I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t have quit my job at the CIA.” It’s one of the funnier, throwaway lines on the topic.
As bizarre as the direction of Stan hunting for choice “pickables” is, the episode really doesn’t do much with any of it. There’s not really a plot happening here, with most of Stan’s scenes feeling more like afterthoughts. It barely gains enough steam to even be considered a B-story. Sure, Stan’s “picking” obsession is treated as the connective tissue that caps off the episode, but it’s a pretty forced connection. For the most part here, the American Pickers references just get dropped about halfway through the episode once the material with Nicolas begins to intensify. Francine’s plot is certainly strong enough to carry the episode, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just results in Stan’s plot sticking out as this incomplete thought.
“Family Plan” begins with Francine learning that she’s a part of a massive extended family, but only Nicolas is left standing by the time everything’s over. It also seems doubtful that he’ll reappear in Francine’s life anytime soon. The two are left to remain as estranged as they were before all of this began. At least Francine’s still got her real family. Besides everyone knows, the family that commits vehicular manslaughter together, stays together.