This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 14, Episode 4
“Where are good citizens supposed to go for egg-related crimes?”
“Oh, you boys have an egg problem?”
American Dad! really struck gold when it found out how reliable and versatile the combination of Roger and Steve would be for its storytelling. The pairing of these two always results in greatness and “Shell Game” acts as the first strong episode of the season that puts these two together in order to create fireworks. This new episode doesn’t happen to be another Wheels and Legman installment, but it operates with the same variety of enthusiasm and Steve and Roger’s escapades even have their own theme song.
“Shell Game” turns Roger and Steve into budding birdwatchers and the calm subject matter still features these two at their finest and allows them to feed into each other’s bad habits. This also allows for some really grade-A birdwatching conversations as the episode explores the beauty of this simple hobby. It’s not long until Roger and Steve’s eagle eyes lead them to a spotting of the rare scarlet tanager. However, what’s more important here is that this brings to their attention that a thief is robbing the tanager’s nest of its eggs.
This information leads Roger and Steve down a path where they stumble upon a secret society that worship rare bird eggs. Suddenly their lazy afternoon turns into quite the surprising adventure. It also doesn’t hurt that American Dad! communicates all of this within its cold open. This is a story where the show easily could have devoted an entire act to Roger and Steve’s mild birdwatching antics. “Shell Game” crams so much into its 21 minutes though that it streamlines this story and doesn’t waste any time. This all helps this heightened storyline, which starts at a fairly ridiculous place and only becomes crazier as the episode continues.
A lot of “Shell Game’s” success is a result of the episode’s tone, which operates like this shady underground egg world is all over the place, but is just always slightly out of sight. “Shell Game” acts as if these egg factions are no different than Stan’s team at the CIA (there’s even a very Bullock-like leader) and that they’re an organization that is constantly under the threat of espionage and attack. This storyline’s grandiose scale makes the episode feel like it’s some sort of umpteenth National Treasure sequel and it’s a strong angle to take. Furthermore, Roger and Steve are often the ones that come into a situation hot and are ready to escalate matters, but here they are the outsiders that slowly get taken into the hidden world of egg collectors.
On that note, Commodore Francis Stoat and his Order of the Hand and Nest are exactly the right kind of absurdity for this series. They’re an eccentric bunch that believe that eggs are such symbols of power because life begins and ends with them (many of them mistakenly think that people enter eggs when they die). The dangerous society push a lot of nonsensical principles that apply to eggs, like how everyone has the latent want to possess an egg or that the longer that people are left alone with eggs the more likely that they are to snap. All of this egg-based lunacy only makes the episode more hilarious.
Roger and Steve begin this episode with the same goal, but it’s only a matter of time before Roger succumbs to “egg madness” and becomes a member of the Order of the Hand and Nest. It initially seem like he’s spending time there undercover, but he’s actually lost his way and stopped valuing the birds that make those precious eggs possible in the first place. As Roger’s egg madness intensifies, Steve finds himself allies with Professor Hadley and the Noble Army of Bird Defenders. Steve becomes a fellow bird protector and along with the groups other members (which include Mr. Tuttle and Buckle) they try to take on the Order of the Hand and Nest with the hopes of putting this longstanding rivalry to an end.
Roger and Steve’s contrary goals take the competing egg organizations all the way to Scole Island (not to be confused with the home of King Kong) where they find themselves face to face with the elusive century eagle. Once everyone is able to take in the beauty of this majestic creature, bygones are able to remain bygones and everyone returns home peacefully together. Actually, egg madness hits an all-time high and all the members of the Order of the Hand and Nest meet their grisly deaths. A lot of innocent people return to the final egg of life.
“Shell Game” is mostly concerned with all of this crazy egg business, but the rest of the Smiths find themselves in an unusual situation. Francine, Stan, Hayley, and Klaus are put in the lowest of stakes storylines where a coupon brings new “zesty” pasta sauce into their lives. This foreign sauce runs the risk of tearing the family apart if it’s not a success, but thankfully it’s a rousing triumph. However, this sauce is so good that it turns the Smith household’s kitchen (and eventually the entire house) into a collection of Italian stereotypes for some reason.
This B-story is actually quite interesting because this is undeniably a pretty stupid, nonsensical storyline, but all of the performances are so much fun that they manage to sell this madness and make it worthwhile. American Dad! has definitely done better stories before that have had less impact in the end, but this one just weirdly works. Apparently that’s the power of Bongiovanni for you. There isn’t even really an ending here, but if you just let this silliness happen then you’ll have a lot of fun with this half of the episode. If American Dad! ever decides to embrace this “Italian Dad!” impression again, it won’t be met with resistance. Hayley’s relationship with Jeff is a particular delight.
American Dad! is a program that always excels at how it fleshes out its background characters and how it makes it feel like there’s a full world at play that audiences only see a portion of. “Shell Game” does a lot with supporting characters and background details, whether it’s a miscellaneous downed Russian satellite, a shootout at the police station, Professor Hadley’s burgeoning relationship with Tuttle, or the entire bonkers sequence of Steve’s Italian heritage.
This is an episode that is simply packed with jokes and even if viewers aren’t on board with the plotting then it’s likely that they’ll still laugh at something here. Even expository dialogue finds ways to inject non sequitur comedy into the scenario, like when Roger workshops new characters on Steve while they assemble egg clues (keep your eyes out for a hypersexual cousin who keeps trophies of his conquests in upcoming episodes).
Overall “Shell Game” is a lot of fun and benefits from its secure foundation. The main storylines work well and move with an effortless flow while the supporting material is also hilarious and helps tie the episode together. It also pays off to have Roger and Steve start this one off as a team, only to eventually pit them against each other. The past few episodes have all been encouraging, but “Shell Game” is proof that this season of American Dad! is still prepared to churn out classics. After all of these years this show is still in no jeopardy of running out of steam.
Oh, and Klaus is now a black belt, so watch out.