This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad Season 14 Episode 20
“Eating cake outside and then driving a garbage truck; what an amazing day!”
There’s something empowering about having turned out over 200 episodes of a television show. Creating such a backlog of content and being around for so long can cause certain long-running shows to feel invincible to a degree. This longevity, when put together with the reality that most shows that have been on for 14-plus years have told their best stories, can lead to some rather unconventional (see: sometimes desperate) storytelling. American Dad has done an incredibly good job at bucking expectations and continuing to turn out logical episodes over their decade-and-a-half on the air. “Garbage Stan,” on the other hand, feels like the sort of story that you’d see flailing on current-era The Simpsons.
The episode begins at a storage locker facility where Stan and Steve come into contact with Stan’s father’s old garbage truck. Steve seems to be genuinely interested in learning more about his grandfather, while Stan appears to be apprehensive about digging into his past. Stan’s initial reluctance here means that Steve gets to be the driving force in this plot, which is a nice little break from the norm. So often episodes see Stan as the one that’s dragging Steve into some sort of nonsense that’s against his nature. To get a bit of the reverse happening here helps the episode distinguish itself. In spite of Stan coming in hot towards Steve’s new garbage truck, it doesn’t take much coercing to eventually get Stan on board. He continually chastises Steve for disobeying him, but it’s impossible to hide his glee when he’s pulling that lever and gorging on dash browns in that truck.
The most perplexing thing about all of this is that the “Smith & Son Waste Removal” business has never been a piece of Stan’s backstory that’s contributed to the series before. Episodes such as “Con Heir” and “Jack’s Back” have helped shed some details on Stan’s father in the past (who, is still currently Krampus, lest we forget), but all of this waste disposal business is fresh territory. It might be a little out of nowhere, but Langley Falls’ reaction to the “return” of “Smith & Sons” shades in all the necessary backstory on the matter.
It’s not longer after Stan is reminiscing about this enjoyable slice of his childhood that Steve is shown the dark underbelly of the trash racket. Jack Smith was a garbage man all right, but he was apparently a deeply crooked one who made ends meet by aiding and abetting criminals on his garbage route. Steve’s passion for the garbage game dwindles accordingly, but he can’t bring himself to tell Stan what’s actually going on because Stan has found the only pleasant memory he has regarding his father. Rather than rip that away from Stan, Steve carries on the ruse, crossing an increasingly chaotic tightrope walk in the process.
The antics at the storage lockers also see Roger adopting a Storage Wars-esque persona and coming into ownership of a bumper pool table. It’s not something that you would expect him to be that excited about recovering, but when the alternative is hundreds of doll heads, it’s easy to understand his enthusiasm. “I’m doing a thing here!” Roger confidently shouts as he wheels himself and the bumper pool table out of frame. Indeed he is.
Roger’s new bumper pool table leads to a storyline that should be the least interesting of the episode, but ends up being rather entertaining. Roger learns that Hayley is a natural at bumper pool, so of course, he begins using her as his ace in the hole in order to dominate at the game. She might even be talented enough to take on South Dakota Slim—the best bumper player in the world—and come out on top.
The episode treats all of this bumper pool material with a sort of weight and elegance. Shots are constructed with an unusual amount of care while the visuals show off the intricacies of this parlor game. “Garbage Stan” never leans too hard into it, but there’s a real Color of Money vibe going on in regards to how Roger and Hayley’s bumper pool scenes are put together. Don’t expect “It’s In the Way That You Use It” to begin blaring, but there are still meticulous shots here that are solely meant to make bumper pool more thrilling.
Due to the territory that it explores, Stan and Steve’s story in “Garbage Stan” ends up wielding a surprising amount of emotional resonance. As Steve continually tries to cover up the wrongdoings of his grandfather, he bonds more with Stan in the process. In spite of being uncomfortable over the work that he’s doing, Steve is having a genuinely great time with his father and building the sort of memories that Stan was wanting to with his own father. The whole thing is just steeped in murky moral ground. The pressure and guilt begins to be too much for Steve, but moments like Steve and his father breaking out into an impromptu version of “The Boys Are Back In Town” on trash that they’ve found are surprisingly sweet.
As Steve gets brought further into the small-time crime world of Langley Falls, he begins to pull in even more money. Steve’s light at the end of the tunnel is that if he can keep this charade going on for long enough then he can trade in their old truck for the swank, new Sidewinder XTR. With a truck that pulls in that much power, Stan and Steve could actually go straight and leave the organized crime aspect of the garbage game behind them. All of this posturing on Steve’s part is quite generous, but his actions begin to lose a little weight if you think about this episode too hard. Does Steve really need to get Stan a new garbage truck to fix this situation when he’s still incredibly satisfied doing his job at the CIA? As nice as this sentimental detour for the show is, don’t expect to see a garbage truck becoming a new fixture in the Smith’s driveway.
Meanwhile, as Hayley and Roger’s bumper pool shenanigans hit their climax, the revelation that Roger is South Dakota Slim is not only unsurprising, it’s actually expected. As soon as Roger first mentions the bumper pool legend to Hayley, I naturally assumed she would interject with the knowledge that it’s him. So the fact that this is the direction that this B-story ends up going in is rather disappointing since it’s pretty much Roger 101. That being said, the fact that South Dakota Slim is also just a boy persona of Roger’s named Justin Delano Hemingway saved things a little. There’s not much of a resolution to the bumper pool madness, but Hayley just immediately exiting out of the storyline, refusing to take any of it seriously, works as a solid end to it all. Sometimes Roger just wasting someone’s time because he’s got an afternoon to kill can be enough.
It’s also only a matter of time until Stan finds out about the shady dealings that Steve is involved in. Not only is Stan disappointed in his son, but his wholesome memories of his father are also assassinated in the process. Steve manages to get that fancy Sidewinder XTR, but even though he’s determined to go straight, his clients have a hard time letting go of the treatment that they’ve been receiving. “Garbage Stan’s” final act sees Stan coming to Steve’s rescue and a garbage truck standoff going down in the junkyard. Bonds are healed, trucks are destroyed, and murders are covered up. Isn’t that what father-son bonding is all about?
“Garbage Stan” comes together with a strong conclusion that banks on the foundation built between Stan and Steve. In spite of the frayed journey that they go on this episode, they emerge stronger than ever and aware of the powerful team that they are. Not strong enough of a team to beat Buca at track and field sports, but still a hell of a father and son pairing.
Now let’s all enjoy some cake outside, where it’s meant to be eaten.
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