This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad Season 15 Episode 21
“Looks like everybody’s all over Jeff’s dick after he won the Chimdale Stakes.”
American Dad has quite the exceptional cast of entertaining characters, but it’s the lovable stoner, Jeff Fischer, who may be the series’ best secret weapon when properly put to use. It’s not as if the character never receives any attention, but it happens rarely enough that it’s always pleasant when he gets some focus. The way in which Jeff initially expresses anxiety over his new talent, but then quickly extinguishes that worry due to the very Jeff-ness of his essence is exactly why stories where he’s at the center are such a ride. Jeff exhibits dumbfounded zen awe in a way that’s unique to the series and “Fleabiscuit” and is one of the better examples of the power of Jeff.
The past few American Dad episodes have all been very quick and direct in terms of getting to the installment’s story. Little extraneous time is wasted in these introductions, but “Fleabiscuit” is the most extreme version of this yet. “Fleabiscuit” positions Jeff as a top-notch race dog coach, but at the start of the episode Jeff is already at the tracks and a few races in. It’s a highly economical way to begin things and effectively trims the uninteresting fat from Jeff’s journey through the Chimdale Stakes.
It’s very sweet to see the entire Smith clan supporting Jeff, but it’s not only the Smiths that become invested in Jeff’s dog racing abilities. Soon he’s a local celebrity that everyone wants a piece of, which leaves Hayley in a tough position where she’s increasingly pushed out. Even though Jeff’s indifference towards dog racing should suck the stakes out of this episode, the real conflict lies within his relationship with Hayley, which remains engaging. Conflict between Hayley and Jeff is usually a rewarding area to explore, even if “Flavortown” wasn’t that long ago. What makes this hurdle between the two of them particularly more compelling than Jeff’s Guy Fieri flavored adventure is that Hayley begins “Fleabiscuit” very on board with Jeff’s new hobby. She’s proud that he’s finally found an area to excel in, which makes her turn over the attention that he receives hurt even more.
Admittedly, at first Hayley’s not too worried about any of this, but Roger makes the supposed power dynamics in relationships explicit and tells her that the energy between her and Jeff has now shifted in Jeff’s favor. Roger eggs Hayley on when he convinces her to start racing dogs herself and that he’ll even step in as her trusty stead, “Ryan” (the reveal that Hayley’s dog is one of Roger’s personas is also very well executed).
This team of Hayley and Roger makes for an enjoyable counterpoint to Jeff and Fleabiscuit. There’s even a training montage set to the soothing tones of Green Day. Roger and Hayley don’t get paired together that often and this weird owner/dog relationship provides a lot of uncomfortable laughs, especially with how Roger frequently adds a sexual component to it. “Ryan’s” backstory is also that he used to play Eddie on Frasier before Kelsey Grammer attempted to rape him and so he ran away to become a race dog, which is such insanity that the show just strolls by like it’s casual dialogue. “Fleabiscuit” features all sorts of unusual, unbelievable asides of that nature. It’s all just one big trip to the BK Royalty Lounge.
“Fleabiscuit” decides to root most of its stories in the dog track, which provides the episode with a level of focus that really works for it. Disparate plotlines can obviously be a success, but there’s a real charm to the causal effect that happens to each member of the Smith family after Jeff competes in his first dog race. In the case of Klaus, he takes it upon himself to add some bite and a bit of a personal touch to the track’s motorized decoy rabbit, but finds that he also becomes addicted to the corresponding adrenaline.
It’s an entertaining use of Klaus through all of this that always happens in tandem with the racing so it also never really steals any time away from anything else. Stan and Francine experience a much more tragic story when they decide to live at the racetrack after they lose a slew of bets and hit a financial low. This is all fairly absurd as Stan and Francine resort to pickpocketing and become tantamount to vagrants. In spite of these dire straits, Stan and Francine couldn’t be more chipper about the whole inconvenience.
The fact that they just treat all of this like some bizarre, sexy roleplay scenario is also a welcome dimension to it. Francine and Stan are just always looking for new things to get horny over and this is the height of their concerns in “Fleabiscuit.” Meanwhile, due to Stan and Francine’s continued stay at the racetrack and Jeff, Hayley, and Roger’s preoccupation with this activity, Steve finds the entire house to himself. Steve chooses to immediately get naked, which is rather hilarious, as he tries to throw his weight around as he’s home alone.
There’s nothing too significant about Steve’s nude side story, but it’s still a fun diversion and a clever way to examine what alienated characters may resort to when other characters are tied up in their own situations. Steve’s naked presence is put to fantastic use during one scene where Hayley and Jeff’s turmoil bubbles to a head, but while this tense, dramatic moment plays out between them there’s the ridiculous visual of Steve’s attempts at inconspicuous behavior while he commits his “naked challenge.” All of this is avoidable and there’s no reason why Steve can’t just put on clothes, but his creative wonder over this obstacle is what makes Steve such a pure joy. As both Jeff and Hayley’s pursuits on the racetrack intensify, Jeff continues to win and finds himself as close as possible to win the Triple Crown, something that hasn’t been done in Langley in nearly fifty years, until he winds up in direct competition with Hayley. Jeff seems poised to win until a desperate Hayley asks Roger to take Fleabiscuit out of the picture so she can be the one to take the Crown.
Accordingly, Roger breaks Fleabiscuit’s spirit in a considerably sociopathic way that’s somehow even crueler when it’s done to a realistic dog that has a heightened capacity for emotional scarring. During the big race, Hayley and “Ryan” are all ready to win until a broken Jeff causes Hayley to have a crisis of conscious. In the end she sides with her husband rather than her new frivolous fascination. This may not make for the deepest conclusion, but it’s one that respects Jeff and Hayley’s marriage and what they mean to each other. It’s a sweet reminder of how much they love one another.
The majority of the jokes in “Fleabiscuit” go off on unexpected tangents, like the glimpses into both Hayley and Fleabiscuit’s respective futures, and it’s mostly successful. The episode also has a lot of fun with the many aspects of dog racing, whether it’s the ridiculous names of the dogs, the mechanics involved with it, or the stuffy pageantry behind the “sport.” Additionally, there’s a whole lot of Tuttle in this half of the season as well, which isn’t so much a bad thing as it is a curious development. The recent fascination with the character is almost as strong as the early TBS’ seasons focus on Klaus. The guy is definitely getting around this year.
“Fleabiscuit” is an episode that works because it features stories and character combinations that haven’t been overdone, but there’s just generally a strong script here, both in terms of structure and humor. It’s a reminder of what a little focus can achieve and it makes a healthy case for why Jeff deserves more chances in the spotlight. Oh, and Klaus dies. But it doesn’t take.
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.