This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 16 Episode 12
“We’re tricking them! And in my experience, people love being tricked.”
They may be symptomatic of lazy writing or someone running out of grounded storylines at their disposal, but the “huge inheritance from the rich relative we’ve never heard of before” is one of my favorite hackneyed tropes, if only because of how contrived it is. That’s not to say that it can’t breed good results. The Simpsons has subverted it well on a few occasions, but American Dad!’s “Stompe Le Monde” uses this wild premise for its jumping off point so it can justify the equally crazy idea that Stan buys the rights to Broadway’s Stomp. “Stompe Le Monde” finds a way to take an absurd plot and tell a touching, emotional story with it. It starts with what should be an extremely bankrupt premise and delivers a surprisingly deep look into the Smith family as a whole.
I love that “Stompe Le Monde” literally washes Uncle Mitch’s ashes down the drain within seconds, so as to move past the trappings of this plot as quickly as possible and just bask in the rewarding aftermath. It makes its priorities very clear. It initially seems that this giant sum of money is going to take American Dad down another sitcom cliché that The Simpsons has explored ad infinitum: the family trip. For a few moments the Smiths are collectively united with plans to hit New York City together and even though that’s not in the cards, it acts as a reminder of how little the Smiths get an episode where they’re all sharing a plot together. This season has mastered the art of finding unique character pairings that yield big results, but it’s also resulted in a very segmented version of the cast. Whether it’s a family trip or something else entirely, hopefully American Dad will feature a few more stories that have the entire Smith family working in tandem. What instead initially happens in “Stompe Le Monde” is that Stan turns the entire family (minus Roger) against him when he pivots to buy Stomp.
On paper, “Stan buys the rights to Stomp” isn’t exactly an idea that sounds very encouraging, but a major factor in what makes this work is how Stan gets conned into the prospect in the first place. Arguably any other character on this show would be smart enough to make such a risky investment, but Stan’s fearless arrogance makes him exactly the kind of person to not only jump on such an opportunity, but assume that he’ll knock it out of the park. He’s very much the kind of person who trades the cow for magic beans and then earnestly waits for a beanstalk to grow. Stan’s enthusiasm mixed with Roger’s propensity to leech off of fame results in the two of them sincerely attempt to bring this Broadway show to life in little Langley.
“Stompe Le Monde” wisely spends very little time in the production stage of Stan’s show. Auditions could have easily taken up a few minutes, but the episode shows restraint and is more interested in what happens after the performance. Stan generates a ton of buzz and the entire town is excited to see what he’s put together, but Stan was much more preoccupied with selling tickets and promotion than figuring out the bare minimum of what’s required of a Broadway show, like hiring a director. Stan assumes that Stomp is a show that more or less runs itself and he learns the hard way that that’s not so. Just like that, Stan and his family transform from Langley’s big shots to local pariahs and they’re forced to leave town.
Just when it looks like “Stompe Le Monde” has left Stan’s Broadway dreams in the rearview mirror, it shockingly combines them with the family road trip that it originally teased, albeit in a much less glamorous context. After the family’s patience is tested by a series of scintillating coyote attacks, they decide to use Stan’s Stomp act to swindle cities out of money and then flee to somewhere new and do the whole thing again. This development creatively mashes all of the episode’s ideas together and even though the Smiths are now technically together as a family, they’re still divided as Stan exhibits hesitation towards this grifting.
The Smiths continue to run this con and it’s highly enjoyable to see them work as a unit and put their individual strengths to use. They leave a wake of terror wherever they go (especially Sonic locations) and their family bonding hits unprecedented levels. There’s a brief hiccup where it looks like this camaraderie may fall apart and the family will return to their bickering ways, but it’s quickly resolved and only further demonstrates how efficient they are as a team.
This whirlwind version of the Smiths that blows in and out of towns and takes them for everything that they’ve got brings a fresh energy to the family. However, this would perhaps be even more engaging if Stan was against the grifting so there was some kind of conflict while the family works together. It’s fun to watch Stan give into these manipulative impulses like everyone else, but there still could have been a combination of these ideas where Stan begins to feel guilty over time.
The episode’s final act loses a little steam because it’s not able to cut away from any of this to another storyline and allow for a breather. The result leads to the Smiths getting caught in a very lazy fashion and forced to finally perform Stomp, under penalty of death. Even though it’s not the most exciting of developments, it still sees the family answering for their wrongdoings together and reinforces that a punishment isn’t necessary a punishment if you’re together with your family.
It turns out that the Smiths are actually Stomp savants are the episode’s entire plot flips on its head as the Smith family are whisked away to New York City to showcase their latent alternative theater talents. “Stompe Le Monde” crams a lot into its final act, but it means that a number of lazy concessions have to get made to make all of this possible. The Smiths spend an entire year in New York City as Broadway stars, but it’s a series of quick, simple solutions that make all of this happen. Stan’s production of Stomp becomes so popular that it ruins their family by how much it separates them. They no longer have any time together except when they’re performing. Stan experiences some somber soul searching through the streets of NYC before he decides to blow up the machine and send the Smiths back home where they’re just a normal family, but they’re at least happy. It’s a little messy in its reasoning, but it communicates the right sentiment.
“Stompe Le Monde” isn’t the flashiest episode of American Dad!, but it has a lot of fun with what it’s doing and it brings the show’s cast together in a way that hasn’t happened in a while. The plotting is fast and there’s the right mix of ridiculous and sweet on display during the episode’s many turns. In terms of sheer laughs, “Stompe Le Monde” is somewhat lacking, but the episode makes up for it with its impressive, focused story that doesn’t dilute itself with supporting plotlines.
And the Smiths’ new leather jackets are all pretty boss, too.
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.