This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad Season 15 Episode 15
“May the record show that my son-in-law has no identity!”
As a warning, this episode is a whole lot crazier then it seems like it will be, and it deserves serious credit for the fact that by the end, there’s an exorcism being performed on Jeff to remove a gluttonous, immortal demon. This is an episode about relationship problems, so “Flavortown” becomes a standout installment simply for taking such a cliché premise and going to some utterly bizarre places. But that’s American Dad for you.
“Flavortown” is a Jeff episode, first and foremost, which is always an exciting thing. Jeff’s slowly become a more central character to the show, but he still usually is used in smaller, supporting doses. “Flavortown” is encouraging because Jeff absolutely deserves more opportunities to take center stage (what happened to his missing hat arc, by the way? #HatAnswers), but unfortunately this isn’t the best showcase for his character.
The episode begins with some very innocent couples’ games between Hayley, Jeff, Stan, and Francine. It’s sweet to think of these two married couples within the Smith household having regular game nights together, and thankfully “Flavortown” doesn’t stoop to the well-trodden territory of game night exposing the flaws in these happy couples. Instead this episode does something much more interesting, and even though Hayley and Jeff prove that they’re super compatible, these games highlight the larger issue (at least in Stan’s eyes) that Jeff doesn’t have much of a personality besides his penchant for marijuana. This accusation is just meant to throw off Jeff’s game, but it causes him to do some real introspection. He becomes determined to learn who he is and what he cares about beyond weed. And evidently, the answer to both of those questions is Guy Fieri.
It’s heartwarming that through Jeff’s complacency, Hayley is considerate toward him and is absolutely not the problem here. She loves Jeff just how he is. Stan is the agent of chaos, and as soon as he senses Jeff’s vulnerability, he pounces and uses the opportunity to push him into getting a job. Accordingly, Jeff throws himself into his new gig at Pizza Overlord, but his crummy job becomes a lot more exciting when a bleached blonde ray of hope enters. Guy Fieri is in town to scout out locations for Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives, and he and his obnoxious entourage, the Pesto Crew, quickly take a shine to Jeff.
Jeff is very much a compliant sponge in most cases, so he quickly finds purpose and validation in the form of Guy Fieri’s persona. This is considerably ridiculous for a number of reasons, but it also reinforces the worst tendencies in both Stan and Jeff. Stan recklessly pushes Jeff deeper into the Pesto Crew so he can vicariously experience Guy Fieri’s wonder, and Jeff’s new persona annoys absolutely everyone, especially Hayley. Jeff persists because Stan selfishly manipulates him into thinking that his marriage will fail if he doesn’t, when in fact this act only makes Hayley resent him further. These are weak character beats all around, which is why it’s refreshing to see Hayley address these problems right away with Jeff, and the two of them talk through their conflict rather early in the episode. Then Stan mucks everything up.
Fieri decides to appoint Jeff as the new leader of the Pesto Crew and Stan convinces him that he can do good from the inside and that this won’t be a problem. It’s disappointing Jeff doesn’t have more of a backbone at this point, but his passivity sees him step right into Fieri’s skin and shed any ounce of his own personality. This roadblock in Jeff and Hayley’s relationship is a little regressive for the show, but the episode then takes a completely unexpected turn where the second half distances itself from Jeff’s marriage and is much more a mystery that pits Stan against supernatural deep fried forces.
This is an idea that initially seems stupid, but the show commits to it so hard that it quickly turns around and becomes a wonderfully inventive development. Guy Fieri is in fact a demon known as the Eternal Fieri, who’s been around for as long as mankind itself and continually rotates through hosts. “Flavortown” chronicles Fieri’s storied history through the ages with stunning artwork that’s representative of the changing time periods, whether it’s via cave paintings, decoration on vases, or stained glass windows. It’s a sequence that’s so well done and effective that it makes it easier to look past the episode’s larger shortcomings.
The episode’s final act somehow gets even weirder when Stan takes Guy Fieri/Jeff to a faraway island in search of the literal Flavortown. Not only do they find this mystical location, but there’s also a band of living skeletons called the Generic 5 that play music to entertain some monkeys. The big climax at the end involves the Eternal Fieri returning to the habanero mango queso-primordial muck that he came from. So yeah, business as usual for American Dad.
It’s easy to just focus on the more insane story beats of “Flavortown,” but in spite of all of the unexpected places that it goes, it ends on a particularly sour note regarding Stan. Stan still doesn’t seem to truly turn around on Jeff in the end, and he wishes that Guy Fieri could stick around instead of his son-in-law. This certainly muddles the episode’s message a little, but the status quo is returned, and Stan and Jeff are a little closer by the conclusion (although I question if Stan will cry as hard as he does over Fieri’s death at Jeff’s funeral).
These Fieri shenanigans take up most of the episode, but there’s also a mild B-plot where Roger and Klaus stumble into a valet opportunity. This gig quickly gets away from the two of them. Then Klaus dies and Roger goes on a murderous rampage. It’s all a little confusing, but then, almost as if to prove that this B-story can go to just as many weird places as the main plot, it turns out that all of this was just a comic book called “Valet the Vanquisher” that Steve is reading (shhhh, don’t tell Francine). The episode does hint at this when it initially seems like Roger and Klaus are hearing Steve’s thoughts, but the fact that they’re just in his imagination is even crazier.
Honestly, this episode is so bizarre that I don’t quite know what to make of it, but in the end I want to side with liking these weird eleventh hour turns. Greg Cohen, the episode’s writer, also penned “Daesong Heavy Industries” and “American Fung,” which are considerably weird installments, but this is by far the most extreme. For those disappointed with where this storyline eventually goes, it’s not as if Roger and Klaus weren’t already valets before in the past.
“Flavortown” is one of the more insane episodes of American Dad to come along in a while, which is saying something. I was half expecting the episode to end with a live-action Guy Fieri reading an American Dad comic book that contained the whole episode. That’s the tone that “Flavortown” generates, and either you’re going to love this episode or really hate it. I’m sure it’ll be a controversial entry among American Dad fans (much like Cohen’s other episodes), but controversy breeds discussion, guys! It’s definitely easy to find fault and hate on this episode (the fact that the primordial cheese goo just transports Stan and Jeff back to the Smith household makes absolutely no sense, for instance), but I still support the show taking ambitious detours like this. It’s not as if the series hasn’t done crazier things, and as long as it doesn’t come at the cost of actual story, it’s not a problem. “Flavortown” comes out on top, but a better utilization of Jeff will hopefully come sooner than later.
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.