This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 15, Episode 22
“You’ve got a real problem and it will destroy your marriage if you don’t do something about it.”
Homer and Marge Simpson are never going to get divorced. The series may even beg for it at certain points, but due to the show’s general status they’re not going to get divorced. While American Dad! largely plays by those same rules, it also doesn’t. Jeff went away to space and came back an alien. Roger had a kid. Hayley’s married. I don’t expect Stan and Francine to get divorced, but the show has been on for long enough and hasn’t been afraid to mix things up that it could happen and for that reason episodes like “The Future is Borax” do have a little more weight to them.
Episodes that focus on periods of weakness within Stan and Francine’s marriage are not new territory for the show, but it’s actually led to some of the more satisfying installments of the series. Two of the best entries that look at Stan and Francine in a volatile marital crisis are “When A Stan Loves A Woman” and “May the Best Stan Win,” both of which feature exceptional visual gags that act as the episodes’ climaxes.
“The Future of Borax” does the same with how it traps Stan and Francine in a renegade hot air balloon and then somehow goes to even higher extremes. It manages to be arguably as memorable as those past installments, it stands out as a strong chapter in the saga of Stan and Francine’s marriage, and holy cow does this episode cram in a lot of story!
Stan and Francine have stumbled upon the faults in their relationship in various ways in the past, but what makes this situation so humorous is that it’s Barry of all people that brings their communication problems to light and sends them on this journey towards marital bliss. He’s the sage mind that sees the cracks in their foundation and they implicitly trust his opinion to the point that they immediately jump into action over this. Who needs a therapist when you’ve got one of Steve’s weird friends?
All of this makes for an entertaining way to start off the episode, rather than have Stan and Francine go through some tried and true method to notice their issues. Barry knows a flawed marriage when he sees one due to his experience with his own parents and he handles the topic maturely with Stan and Francine. He lets them know that their problems are much deeper than sexual compatibility or physical attraction. Accordingly, the two are bound for “Re-Kindle-ince,” where everything and anything is shaped like a heart in order to foster the idea of love.
Stan and Francine are initially off to a good start and this change of pace is helpful for them. Their relaxation and romantic activities also lead to a fantastic visual gag where Stan continues to inadvertently eat precious butterflies as hard as he tries to avoid it. “Fran-splaining” is also a beautifully twisted term that provides all sorts of insight into this marriage. However, for every obstacle that Stan and Francine overcome, there’s still a leaky faucet somewhere in their marriage that continues to drip.
There are plenty of emotional breakthroughs and impressive examples of teamwork between Wind Rider and Wife—I mean Stan and Francine—but the episode wisely pairs marriage woes with hot air balloon insanity where things turn into a wild bottle episode-esque escapade. Their situation gets even crazier when their pilot, Frenchie, abandons ship and dies, which leaves Stan and Francine to fend for themselves against the elements and condors, the sharks of the skies. It’s nothing short of incredible to watch how these two build a self-sustaining ecosystem of sorts as they find a way to survive on the balloon with their limited romantic resources.
For a moment it looks like this survival prep may blossom into another area for Stan and Francine to argue, but they comfortably lean into their skewed relationship dynamic and find comfort in it. The moment where Stan leaps into the sky to battle condors mid-air should play like a suicide mission, but instead it’s a drastic, bloody gesture that makes Francine swoon. It’s an insane way for the two to get their groove back, especially when it gets to the point that their balloon leaves the Earth’s atmosphere, which is why it’s such a fun storyline for the pair.
It’s a real shock when it turns out that Stan and Francine’s balloon adventure is merely prelude to the larger discovery that they’re at their best when they have a challenge to overcome, such as survival against the elements. When the two see old, negative patterns start to resurface, Stan and Francine decide to throw themselves into the uninhabitable Australian Outback instead of returning to their cushy lives in Langley. It’s quite enjoyable to watch these two thrive while they’re at death’s door as they turn into efficient bird-killing machines and a happy couple.
This quest for danger takes the two to increasingly treacherous locations and so much happens here that I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing when cannibalistic cave monsters are the cause of Stan and Francine’s marital epiphany. It’s a long way to go from the episode’s initial setup, but the shocking scope of this journey helps makes it work.
As Stan and Francine reconcile their differences while they put themselves in mortal danger, the rest of the Smith family gets caught up in a jingle-writing contest for Pizza Overlord, because why not! It’s actually pretty cute to see them all work together as they each deconstruct different aspects of their possible song, like Klaus’ deeply politically charged lyrics (although Steve really does sell them, as inappropriate as they may be). It’s also an incredibly simple idea, but it weirdly works that Roger just has a good jingle out of the gate with no hitches to it while everyone else has weirder ones.
It’s also just enjoyable to see the entire family work together as a unit and get to share B-stories together, rather than to split the Smiths up into smaller sections. This family group dynamic has been present a lot in this half of the season. It’s a strategy that’s succeeded so far and gets to properly highlight how weird this family is when they’re surrounded with each other and don’t have an outside buffer.
Perhaps the most unexpected element of this jingle storyline is that the family wins the contest right away with Roger’s tune. Their story doesn’t focus on their efforts to win the contest, but instead looks at the aftermath of their victory and how quickly it goes to Roger’s head. When approached for another jingle job, Roger’s humble attitude towards his craft evaporates in seconds and he’s become a ruthless, pretentious Robert Smith-esque jingle God. His hubris ruins a locally run business and that’s about as much of an ending as there is to all of this, but it’s still amusing stuff (and it is a very big wig on Roger).
This episode squeezes the absolute most out of these storylines and pushes them to their limits. The escalations themselves are hilarious, but there are also plenty of random moments that land and go to weird places. The whole Travelocity $5 Insurance Rescue Force gag is fantastic and a well-seeded joke, but then its “Bye, have a beautiful time!” punchline plays into the show’s more meta humor. There’s also a truly upsetting visual where a malnourished Stan and Francine kiss in the desert and the skin of their lips melds and flakes off. Just like how the stories don’t hold back, every direction of “The Future of Borax” has comedy aggressively coming at you.
Overall, “The Future is Borax” stands as an extremely satisfying, confounding installment of the show that finds something for everyone to do and filters emotional catharsis through highly exaggerated wackiness. It’s a good example of how to do absurd situations in a somewhat grounded way and this also turns out to be one of the better looking episodes of the season thanks to unique locations like a butterfly conservatory, the Australian Outback, deadly borax mines, and the skies. “The Future is Borax” doesn’t redefine the Stan and Francine core dynamic, but it’s a fond reminder of why they’re a couple that you want to see stay together.
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.