This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 15 Episode 10“Stan Smith: Me run for mayor.”
“Railroaded” begins with the famous W. Willard Wartz quote, “In the zoo of life, there is no more popular exhibit than the cage that holds the political animal.”
W. Willard Wartz is not a real person, nor is this a real quote of any actual importance, but American Dad! acts like they are and treats them with significance, even if they’re phony. In fact, “Railroaded” is an exercise in how nonsense can be spun into gold because isn’t that what politics is all about in a lot of ways? This fictitious quote from this fantasy person kicks off the episode as it immediately tries to inject some pomp and sophistication into the installment.
It’s almost like this is meant to be treated like some opulent political documentary that chronicles the history of some political maverick or hero. Instead it’s just the fumblings and misadventures of someone who’s in over their head, but American Dad! does a fine job at illustrating why that same individual can’t also be a hero.
A simple trip to the Bazooka Sharks stadium begins to get out of control when Stan and Roger find themselves gridlocked in traffic. As Stan and Roger bicker about the mismanagement of the city and the benefits of Urban Outfitters (where Roger is very excited to go Full Garofalo at), the two reach the topic of a bullet train, which would get them to the heart of the city in no time at all. While Stan’s solution is very much catered to his and Roger’s specific inconvenience, Roger is able to bolster Stan’s confidence to the point that he takes this suggestion over to the mayor.
When Stan gets laughed out of Mayor Woodside’s office over his bullet train proposal he’s ready to give up on the dream until the rest of the town actually seem to be behind his radical pitch. Without much effort at all Stan is able to get the rest of Langley Falls on his side and Roger is already deep into figuring out how to use this to his advantage.
Before Stan even has a chance to turn down the offer, Roger (or rather his failure of a political persona, W. Willard Wartz) already has a campaign office up and running within the Smith home. Roger is ready for Stan to take his bullet train idea and use it to usurp Woodside, take over the town, and finally give the people what they want.
This all makes for a solid foundation for an episode, especially since Stan’s goal here is so simplistic. He doesn’t want to be mayor, nor does he really want to help the city. He just wants a more convenient route to the Bazooka Sharks stadium and this whole mayor fiasco just happens to be the most efficient means to achieve this.
Stan’s apathy towards his major goal here provides the episode with an interesting energy. There’s a very real danger during the episode’s first act when it looks like “Railroaded” might simply try to be an inferior version of The Simpsons’ legendary “Marge Vs. The Monorail” installment. It would just be asinine to try and top this episode, so it’s a relief that American Dad! quickly sheds that skin and instead doubles down on the political aspects of Stan’s pursuit.
It also makes for a solid gag that Roger’s infamous W. Willard Wartz persona is terrible at his job and actually cost a number of his candidates their elections. In spite of this, he embraces his campaign managing full force and wastes no time with the optics of the Smith family. Steve is given a group of handsome, appealing friends to replace his usual crew and even though Hayley is more than willing to be appointed a new husband that brings in better polling numbers for Stan, Jeff weirdly gets results. There’s a reason that he got promoted to a series regular, after all.
As Roger pushes Stan further down the political rabbit hole, the episode adopts a rather chilling narrative that’s clearly meant to act as a parallel to Donald Trump’s rise through the election. Stan’s lack of experience is constantly addressed, but his ability to showboat and represent America’s lowest common denominator hits big with the community. Stan is soon the frontrunner to knock Mayor Woodside out of office and all that Stan needed was some catchy red baseball caps and an arrogant, misguided scheme.
Trump parodies haven’t quite hit their expiration date yet, but it’s a good thing that this episode could air this season rather than next year. While a few growing pains are felt with this plotline, it never gets to the point where it’s too distracting. The fact that there’s essentially only Stan’s mayoral story in this episode rather than the installment being divided up more also doesn’t do “Railroaded” any favors. It makes sense that the entire Smith family would get pulled into Stan’s orbit here, but an unrelated Steve or Hayley story could have helped balance out this episode more.
Once Stan wins the seat, he has immediate doubts and doesn’t think that he can handle his new responsibilities. Roger tries to help Stan by telling him that all of this is just about having a good time and then delegating his work off to Roger and more important people. There are once again shades of Trump in here as child-like Stan plays in his office and is oblivious to any of his actual responsibilities while other people take care of his work for him. As on the nose as all of this may be, this is all characterization that works pretty perfectly here. Even if all of the Trump connections are ignored, this still feels like exactly the sort of mess that Stan would find himself in.
“Railroaded” never really extends its view to outside of the whole mayor storyline, but it does give Francine a little something to do. Sort of. It might not amount to much, but this week Francine befriends a mouse—and then many mice—who appreciate her cooking and her company. A storyline like this isn’t always a lost cause and American Dad! has certainly made less eventful plots more exciting, but this never gets off the ground.
Lamonte becomes Francine’s sidekick throughout the episode, but he never really gains a purpose or grows behind a weird little helper for Francine. It feels like a half-formed idea and that attitude carries through the entire episode. However, Francine’s mouse menagerie do help explain the frequent bouts of rabies that Francine often has to deal with, but couldn’t they have actually played into the plot in some major way? Perhaps a ladder made of mice could have been used to help everyone escape from Roger’s prison or something? They definitely pull off more incredible feats under Francine’s rule.
One of the other small delights in this episode is just how many extraneous tertiary characters make random appearances here for no reason at all. It literally feels like the writers were just going through a catalogue of old characters and were like, “Hey it’s been a minute since we’ve seen any of these guys…” Sky Crooner returns, as does Detective Turlington, Krampus, Reginald the Koala, and so many others. Even Stan’s clone of dead ex-president James Garfield (who now has the entirety of Spin City’s canon in his brain) returns for some reason. It’s a weird aspect of the entry, but it is nice to see many of these eccentric faces once again.
Just as Stan starts to get comfortable with the puppet regime that Roger has propped up around him, he begins to learn that Roger has corralled anyone who’s opposed him (ie. the entirety of Langley Falls) into a dangerous prison camp. Roger’s tyrannical rule soon results in Francine (mice and all) ending up in the prison camp and then eventually Stan himself winds up there once Roger officially reaches the point of no return with his despotism. Stan’s appalled at just how out of control things have become, but he’s also willing to put in the work to bring Roger down and get things back to normal, bullet train or not.
“Railroaded” amounts to a frustrating episode of American Dad! in the end because the premise of this episode isn’t inherently bad. It just feels like none of these political threads come together quite as strongly as they could while the majority of the cast are turned into props for Stan and Roger rather than getting stories of their own. There are plenty of episodes that are worse than “Railroaded,” but it’s always a bummer when an entry washes over and just falls flat.
The final moments have good intentions, but continue to stumble. Stan declares the true villain here to be the concept of delegation and all of this has actually just been some half-assed scheme of Roger’s that connects back to Urban Outfitters in a rather unearned way. Even the conclusion at the end where Stan’s bullet train simply mows over Roger’s Urban Outfitter developers is lazy and messy, both in terms of resolution and the graphic visuals, but it’s emblematic of the episode as a whole.
But hey, at least the clone of a dead guy is now the mayor of Langley Falls!