This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 15 Episode 13
“We did it Francine! We screwed the school! Yay!”
If you can’t follow your soul in life, then what’s the point in living? This gross oversimplification may seem obvious when presented in such black and white terms, but it’s easy to lose sight of at times. It’s much easier to stay on top of something like this in a television show like American Dad! where all of the characters embrace their stock nature. The fact that Stan and company know they’re all stereotypes to some degree can often be helpful to what they want to achieve, but it can often be counterproductive when Francine is the focus because she doesn’t have a purpose that’s so easy to define.
In fact, Francine’s purpose is almost built from knowing what she isn’t, as some of the character’s most important episodes have attempted to explore the areas that she doesn’t belong. Francine adores her family (most of the time), but who is she really beyond that? “Mean Francine” doesn’t exactly get to the bottom of that question, but it does see Francine embrace a new field and continue to figure out what is and isn’t the right fit for her soul.
“Mean Francine” begins with perfectly honorable intentions. Francine tries to do her due diligence as a concerned parent and become more involved with Steve’s school. This begins with a simple appearance at a PTA meeting, but it doesn’t take long at all for Francine to jump on as the school’s new guidance counselor when a position becomes vacant.
The PTA scene is a real whirlwind, but it’s rather entertaining to imagine that every PTA meeting that goes on gets derailed by a barrage of Roger’s personalities, like Clum Bizzlescottum, who attempt to make the PTA all about themselves and their selfish agendas (Clum, for instance, has republished all of the school’s “controversial” books in a new sanitized form).
This leads to one of those beautiful scenes that American Dad! does so well where nonsense just feeds into greater nonsense. This introductory scene helps launch Francine on her journey for this episode, but it impressively has just as much fun with unimportant silliness. This PTA meeting in particular has Francine present, but it’s satisfying to think of all of the other meetings that must go down where Roger just causes chaos for his own satisfaction. The rest of the parents from the school must be used to his antics at this point.
The circumstances around how Francine gets her new job are so ridiculous that it’s best to not really think about them too much. Francine is able to help Principal Lewis dislodge some doll furniture from his teeth, so apparently she’s qualified to mentor and guide the voices of tomorrow. In spite of how the opening here is rather clunky, it does get Francine into her new role incredibly quickly as “Mean Francine” kicks into high gear. So while some messy plotting does hold the episode back a little, it’s at least an episode that wastes no time.
In her new role as guidance counselor, Francine discovers that she’s actually able to help people and have a purpose. It shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise that Steve used to take full advantage of the school’s old guidance counselor, Sheila, who he apparently treated like a full-on shrink. When Steve faces the embarrassing reality that his mom will now be his therapist in so many words, he’s freaked out by it for a second before he becomes comfortable spilling the darkest corners of his guts out to his mommy.
For instance, Steve’s current dilemma is that he wants to get involved with the upcoming French club fashion show and even though he’s worried that it might cost him a few rungs on the social ladder, he claims that the creative field is in his soul and if you can’t follow your soul, then what’s the point of life? Francine tries to dissuade Steve from this path, but she learns that even more is on the line here when Roger fills her in on the Golden Girls. The clique may have an octogenarian-friendly name, but they’re the most ruthless girls that Pearl Bailey High has to offer and they’ll completely tear Steve to shreds here unless Francine can stop the impending disaster.
Francine doesn’t want to see her son’s reputation get ruined, but she’s also especially invested here because she’s dealt with this sort of bullying before first hand, from her own school’s vicious archery club. Francine’s ready to finally get revenge and confront some past demons, but she quickly learns that “word arrows” can hurt even more than “real arrows.”
Once Francine makes some progress with the Golden Girls, she immediately forgets about Steve and her initial mission to keep him safe. Francine’s own validation becomes much more important and although this sort of storyline is more common in a Stan and Steve or Stan and Hayley endeavor, it still works well here. Furthermore, Francine’s delightfully flighty nature adds more to all of this as she often loses track as to why she’s even at the school. It’s here that Steve becomes worried over Francine’s new attitude and their usual dynamic somewhat flips and Steve becomes more of the parent.
Francine becomes indoctrinated into the girls’ group and all this culminates at Steve’s fashion show where Francine must choose between her new cool friends and her son. Surprisingly, Francine falls to the dark side and decides to pursue popularity over loyalty, letting her defenseless son get covered in clam chowder and become a laughingstock. It’s a harsh, bleak moment for Francine, but the episode’s final act focuses on her search for redemption. It’s not often that Roger gets to act as the voice of reason, but the fact that he helps Francine see the light here is a testament to just how much she loses her way.
While the broader strokes of “Mean Francine” leave a little to be desired, the episode’s resolution is surprisingly poignant. Steve gets to temporarily play guidance counselor to Francine and he helps her understand a little better that what others think of you isn’t important, as long as you’re following what’s in your soul. Once you’re able to satisfy that much, nothing else matters, not even a bucket full of chowder on your head.
This episode remains fairly focused on its central characters and it’s a little surprising to see other characters like Stan basically sit this one out. However, Stan’s limited, brief scenes are certainly a highlight of the installment (other than Roger’s excited “cream-covered boy” aside) and they even play into how hopelessly out of the loop he is this week. It’s a clever way to address the character’s lack of screen time in this episode.
Meanwhile, outside of the walls of Pearl Bailey High, Jeff also finds himself in a rather seismic predicament—he’s lost his hat. It’s pretty exciting that “Mean Francine” not only provides a Jeff storyline, but that it’s one that capitalizes on the useless futility of the character.
A missing hat should be as high as the stakes get for Jeff (although lets not forget that he’s technically still an alien at the moment now too, right?) This plot mostly features Jeff screaming at Hayley while she fails to find his trusted head garment. Hayley even tries to trick Jeff with a new hat, but he quickly sees through it and the deceit makes matters even worse. It’s also such a simple joke, but the visual where Jeff wakes up and immediately exhales smoke really did it for me.
“Mean Francine” goes about this story in exactly the right way. None of the Jeff and Hayley scenes ever run for too long and they’re more so used to help separate the action with Francine at school. Something like this works a lot better as quick vignettes that get in and out of the action. Every few minutes there’s a new little scene that appears to be about pointless hat business, but it will actually hint at another level of desperation in Jeff and Hayley’s marriage.
Something as basic as a hat can be the glue that holds their entire relationship together. The uplifting, “suspenseful” note that all of this goes out on is also hysterical. I have no idea if Jeff will actually have a different hat the next time that we see him, but the fact that the episode treats this with the same dramatic weight as a life-or-death situation is perfect. Whatever hat Jeff decides on, as long as he follows his soul and is true to himself, then he’ll be okay.
“Mean Francine” has fun with what it attempts to do and tells a fairly concise story in the process. Francine entries can always be difficult and while this isn’t a definitive episode for the character, it still does justice to her finicky personality. “Mean Francine” doesn’t attempt to overstuff itself and it definitely benefits from its focused nature.
The episode is never too wasteful with its scenes and the humor in the more random moments connects. The various ways in which all of the Golden Girls are messed up is also great and reminds the audience that American Dad! can be exceedingly dark when it wants to be. It’s unclear if Pearl Bailey High is safer with or without Francine running the guidance department, but Principal Lewis should probably start cracking down on Roger’s many personae that seem to secretly run the school.
Also, the moon is such a Debbie. How dare it even. Next week’s a repeat, guys! Enjoy the break!