This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 15, Episode 18
“You stripped me of superstardom! I should be on the red carpet! Not sitting on the couch in this weird position.”
When it comes to the various character pairings that American Dad! will turn to, the combination of Steve and Roger is usually a safe one to bank on. Some of the most satisfying stories come from when these two are together and while “Twinanigans” has a very encouraging premise for Roger and Steve, it’s an episode that tries to do too much and cover too many bases. While this is not a total misfire, a simplified take on these ideas could have led to a stronger episode that doesn’t overextend itself.
An innocent night of Stews and Views (Soups and Hoops can suck it, for the record) leads to Steve, Roger, and Klaus stumbling upon a retro Pizza Overlord commercial that clues Klaus into the duo’s child actor past and reignites their flames for their past life. “Twinanigans” chronicles exactly how Steve and Roger were scouted as children and recounts their brief run as twin child actors who were headed for the top until Steve turned his back on their career because he was pretty keen on going to kindergarten.
These reminders about the road less traveled re-open old wounds for Roger. At first it seems like he’s being completely unreasonable, but Roger’s pain is still real. Steve may not have done anything wrong back when he was five, but he can’t stand to see Roger like this and wants to help give him some closure. Steve proves to be an awesome “brother” here when he throws the two of them back into the twin acting game and they head to Hollywood (after some hilarious frustrations at the airport). Amidst all of this chaos, it’s also just oddly satisfying to watch Roger parade around in what’s essentially a Steve costume for the entire episode.
American Dad! doesn’t get enough credit for how it typically uses some very talented actors in extremely minimal roles. People like Rhea Seehorn, Aya Cash, and Forest Whitaker will voice incidental background characters, which is kind of a joke in itself. For instance, in this very episode Sarah Chalke and Christopher Meloni play characters who say maybe fifteen words each.
This isn’t a series that typically relies on its guest actors to carry a joke, but “Twinanigans” makes fantastic use here of Jason Mantzoukas, who plays the twin managers from Twinseltown who represent Steve and Roger. Mantzoukas gets plenty to do here and his work as these twisted twins is a definite highlight of the episode.
Surprisingly, this episode doesn’t lean heavily into dated twin sitcoms like Double Trouble and Sister, Sister. The closest that “Twinanigans” gets to this is when Roger declares, “You got it, dude!” before shooting a commercial, to directly draw parallels to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s tenure on Full House. It arguably would have been richer territory for the episode to go down the route of Roger and Steve getting their own twin sitcom and blowing it, but instead the installment focuses on the film industry.
Steve and Roger’s return to acting ultimately splits them apart when a big audition for Boy Bait—a male-centric reboot of The Parent Trap—results in Steve getting the role and Roger being left behind. Of course, Steve is completely sincere here and doesn’t try to steal Roger’s spotlight, but Roger’s acidic attitude forces a feud to form between these “twins.”
This progression certainly works, but it’s genuinely confusing to tell what’s going on with Roger during these auditions. It looks like he gets extreme stage fright when it’s time to perform, which results in insane behavior, but no one addresses these unusual tics. If anything, Roger acts as if his performance is exceptional, which makes this even more confusing. Maybe he thinks he’s doing some Brando or Kaufman-esque performance where he’s intentionally acting bizarre? It remains unclear if Roger is a good actor or not, but a simple line or two between Steve and Roger could have easily remedied this.
Roger decides to channel this rejection into raging spite, which is always one of his strong suits. He disguises himself as a cater waiter so he can be around plenty of Hollywood tastemakers and wow them once he’s in their proximity. This desperate, angry trajectory for Roger also leads to an homage to the final scene from Boogie Nights, which I’m always game for (and is unusually relevant at the moment, as it was also just referenced a few days ago in Krft Punk’s Political Party).
This too goes in an unexpected direction as the party that Roger’s at gets busted for drugs and some sloppy circumstances send Roger away with the DEA. Very suddenly Roger now has to take down a drug kingpin, “Nose Candy” Andy Benedict, or he’ll go to prison.
There’s some definite whiplash that goes on here with these events, but “Twinanigans” at least doesn’t abandon its core premise and finds a way to incorporate Roger’s acting malaise into his undercover work with the DEA. Steve may have a successful movie on the way, but if Roger can act so well that he can trick and take down Benedict, then he’ll have to be the better actor than Steve.
Roger’s tendency to overact nearly blows his mission, but Steve shows up in the nick of time and their patented “twinanigans” save their lives and murder a whole lot of criminals in the process. I’m very torn here because these twinanigans are extremely violent and call back to the infamous elbow drop from “Cops and Roger,” which may be my favorite moment in the entirety of American Dad!
In that sense, I am extremely happy to see something similar return, but this gag basically just copies what went down in that old episode. There’s a glimpse of something more with the House of Mirrors death gag, but the entire twinanigans sequence should have featured many more grisly murders if they wanted to play this card (although the gut gun is a graphic surprise).
On that note, another reason that this plot twist with Roger doesn’t exactly land is that it’s really just a variation of Stan’s problem in “A Piñata Named Desire,” which is one of the series’ better episodes. In that installment, Stan’s poor acting skills on undercover gigs force him to take acting lessons, but what’s even more problematic is that Roger is his acting coach there. After 252 episodes, I’m not going to hold it against this show when there’s some overlap in the plots of episodes, but that sense of déjà vu doesn’t help what’s already a scattered storyline.
Meanwhile, in B-Story Land, a completely innocuously plot that shouldn’t be very memorable turns into a moderate triumph for “Twinanigans.” Around all of the twin child actor craziness, the rest of the Smiths find themselves obsessed with the novelty gift store, Spencer’s Gifts. The circumstances around this fascination are just as spontaneous and inexplicable and involve Stan getting run over by a car and the only form of payment that the driver has is a stacked gift card for the novelty gift store. This is exactly the kind of shit that I want from American Dad! and the sloppy impetus to the Smiths’ new addiction just makes it all the better.
Granted, the Smiths aren’t immediately excited about their Spencer’s Gifts spending spree, but Klaus breaks it down to them why the place is such a goldmine of crap (and does so in a song set to “The Candy Man Can,” no less). There’s not a whole lot to this story, but the episode goes to town when it decks the Smith household with gaudy stuff like bikini mugs and donut chairs. Strangely, these tacky items help the Smiths understand what true happiness is, which doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense or feel earned. The nostalgia factor is fun with every item from the novelty store that “Twinanigans” throws at you, but it still feels like it’s missing something.
The conclusion to all of this mildly sticks the landing by first implying that their shopping spree has financially ruined the man that ran Stan over and then it reveals that he’s in fact the Spencer of Spencer’s Gifts and that Stan’s the chosen one that he’s been waiting for. And then the man just leaves. It’s a resolution that kind of feels emblematic of the entire episode. American Dad! had made a number of “non-plots” succeed to a surprising degree in the past, like Bongiovanni’s zesty pasta sauce, Roger’s quest for recognition for the perfect restaurant order, or Hailey’s new bandanna, but this one feels like a slice of the same sort of weirdness, only it doesn’t click.
It feels like both of the storylines in “Twinanigans” could have done a little more with their premises, but this is still a serviceable episode that’s far from bad. It just doesn’t meet the potential that it feels like it’ll achieve when the episode begins. There’s a lot of messy dialogue and situations as “Twinanigans” jumps through its many hoops. There’s also a general disregard for everything, where things like Stan’s legs can be destroyed in one scene and then be perfectly fine in the next. American Dad! is typically a little more careful than that. I mean, Roger saves the day by eating a gun? There are still plenty of great jokes and lots to laugh at in this episode, but the show has set itself to a high enough standard at this point that this just feels unpolished and derivative of former hits.
At the same time, there’s another slo-mo head explosion in this episode, so this is still a win for television.
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.