This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 15 Episode 14
“You never commit to anything. You’re a dabbler.” “Yeah, and now I’m dabbling with committing.”
When people talk about their favorite characters from American Dad, Francine is typically not at the top of the list. This reception of the character isn’t exactly surprising in a show where individuals like Roger and Steve run rampant, but it’s still a bit of a shame since she might be the show’s secret weapon. There’s a certain elegance to American Dad episodes that revolve around Francine. “Fartbreak Hotel,” “Shallow Vows,” “White Rice,” and “Stan Time” are all some of the best episodes that the show has ever made and a testament to how important Francine can be when she’s properly utilized and challenged (although it’s worth noting that the very last episode was also a Francine-centric entry).
“One-Woman Swole” isn’t a grand, epic installment of the show, but it is a strong, weird episode to use to break the season’s lengthy hiatus and welcome back these characters. Maybe it’s because the last episode of this season aired all the way back in May, but “One-Woman Swole” is a fun, surprising installment of American Dad that acts as a good reminder of how nice it is to have this ridiculous show back.
Rather quickly Francine reaches a somewhat sensitive place after Stan and the family lay into her on how she always quits things and doesn’t take her commitments seriously. Stan is reasonably skeptical when Francine announces that she won’t be quitting her latest love, bodybuilding. Stan is more concerned about being right and “winning” this discussion, but Francine’s decision to continue to bulk up is not just to prove a point, but rather to better herself. Granted, Francine has quit plenty in the past, but she’s also arguably strived and achieved far more than everyone else in the Smith family (perhaps excluding Klaus’ Olympic skier life before he became a fish).
Stan is initially critical of Francine’s new changes and the ways in which it complicates his life, but when he can’t persuade her to stop, he recruits Roger’s skills of self-esteem destruction. It doesn’t take long for them to put together a plan that pits themselves against Francine in the upcoming competition. They also find a way to steal Francine’s thunder while still entirely missing the point of what she’s doing. It’s more embarrassing to succumb to all of the empty aspects of bodybuilding than to simply try and quit, but Stan and Roger are so past that point. Ironically, once Francine proves that she can do something and it turns out to be marginally inconvenient for Stan, he can’t be more encouraging for her to quit it. Evidently he’s never really cared that she’s given up on things in the past, but rather only on how it affects him.
American Dad never struggles to come up with new and upsetting visuals and a lot of “One-Woman Swole” banks on Francine’s exaggerated look and its accompanying aggressive behavior. It’s one thing to put Francine’s character model through this drastic transition, but Stan and Roger also take to Francine’s latest passion and look even more unsettling than she does. It’s not just the overly muscular physique of their bodies, but the vibrant, fake spray tans are another nice touch.
Francine’s dedication to this regimented lifestyle paired with Stan and Roger’s instigation causes her to overexert herself in the bodybuilding competition and wind up in a coma after a nasty aneurysm (the sequence where the aneurysm climbs its way up to Francine’s brain is surprisingly morbid). This tragic trajectory for bodybuilder Francine is a smart, economical way to reflect on the character’s larger conflict in an extreme way. Francine’s coma status means that her body literally gave up on her, but her mind is so committed that she hangs on and pulls through. In spite of how everyone gives Francine a hard time for her tendency on abandoning projects, it’s hard to say if any other members of the Smith family would have the mental willpower necessary to survive a coma.
This major conflict is reserved for the episode’s final act, but Stan is understandably torn up over Francine’s grim condition and can’t help but feel responsible for pushing her to this place. Determined to fix things and prove how much he cares about his wife, Stan pleads to his wife that there’s nothing wrong with her scattershot lifestyle and she’s faithful to the things that count in her life, like her family. Impressively, the episode ties everything together and uses the fantastic joke of Francine’s one-woman show, “Francine Nothin’ Yet” as the catalyst. It’s a somewhat rushed final act, but one that still feels earned.
Francine’s body improvement is the major driving force in this episode, but that doesn’t stop Klaus from finding an absolutely wonderful B-story to bide his time. Klaus alleges that he’s responsible for the creation of the high five and it’s low stakes bullshit plots like this that American Dad handles especially well. Klaus becomes quite alarmed when he learns that an IFC documentary on the high five allegedly presents revisionist history that erases Klaus’ contribution to the creation of the high five. Instead it boasts that two basketball players, Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker, are responsible for the move, which is a wrong that Klaus cannot stand.
Klaus makes it his mission to set the record straight, which involves going down a twisted wormhole regarding alleged high five co-creator, Dusty Baker. This rage-fueled minutiae feels much more like a play from out of Roger’s book, but it still works here and provides many more laughs than it should, right up until the point that Dusty’s extreme insecurities cost him his own life. There are also some solid gags that keep all of this moving, like how Dusty’s estate is full of high five-based architecture or that during Klaus’ quest for vindication no one can keep track of exactly what he is the most upset about.
“One-Woman Swole” is a particularly funny episode, not only in terms of its dialogue, but just the visually slick way that certain sequences are composed. There’s a scene where Stan tries to persuade Francine to quit bodybuilding and the two reach a rather honest, emotional place, but the conversation takes place during non-stop exercise and aggressive cardio from the two of them. Busy, layered sequences like this are part of the reason this episode works so well. Other non sequitur gags, like Stan’s three-week wait for his “Good Point Guy” also help give the episode more personality.
“One-Woman Swole” takes what should be a rather forgettable storyline and turns out something that’s not only entertaining, but also even a little emotional. It’s yet again a testament to the show’s writing and characters that are able to elevate a “lazy” story into a worthwhile installment. Most of the cast is effectively used this week and even though the episode’s focus is on Francine, the whole Smith family gets to shine and demonstrate how insecure they are. This was a flashy episode to return with and hopefully the rest of American Dadseason 15 is just as strong and at the same level of the first half of this season.
So what are your thoughts on what Roger was up to with the cool park ranger persona? My guess is raping baby bears with the use of pic-a-nic baskets as lures.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.