This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 16 Episode 13
“I got ya, pal. From here on out it’s going to be you and me forever.”
Steve’s chemistry with his friends is always a fun area for American Dad to play with. But Steve and Snot have an intimate dynamic that rises above the rest. It’s why previous episodes that put their friendship in the spotlight can turn into some of the series’ best episodes, like “The Unincludeds.” What makes “Mom Sauce” an important chapter in Steve and Snot’s relationship is that this marks a rare occasion in which Steve is actually the weak and needy one. It’s a simple reversal of power between these two, but it allows for Steve and Snot to both learn more about themselves and each other. It’s fascinating to see just how much can go off kilter when the scales are thrown off balance between Steve and Snot’s established dynamic. On top of that, it’s a dipping sauce of all things that causes this moment of crisis between these longtime friends.
“Mom Sauce” is so interested in the evergreen foundation of Steve and Snot’s friendship that it goes back to the moment when they first met. Since the genesis of their relationship, Steve has been the one in this duo that lends a helping hand. This codependency evolved to the point where it has its own currency between the friends. While most viewers who have a cursory knowledge of the show understand this dynamic between Steve and Snot, it’s appreciated to see “Mom Sauce” establish just how long this has been going on between them and that it’s actually the foundation of their friendship.
Snot’s success and sudden wealth strikes Steve in a complicated way. At first it looks like he’s sad that’s Snot’s self-sufficient nature means that he won’t be able to assist his friend anymore and that Steve might have needed someone to help just as much as Snot needed that help. However, a moral component is added when the conduit of Snot’s success, his mom’s dipping sauce, is actually just a modified version of Francine’s recipe. When this comes to light, Steve’s anger towards Snot seems perfectly justified, but Snot also behaves completely sincere and without malice. Snot argues that his family needs this more than Steve’s does, so can’t he just be happy for him like the rest of his friends?
All of Steve’s feelings towards Snot and this situation mix together and form a venomous rift between them that really has weight behind it. This feud also curiously teams the boys up with their mothers as they’re pitted against each other, which allows them to fight for someone else’s honor and make this fight go beyond just themselves. The fact that the product is called “Snot’s Mom’s Mom Sauce,” a name that really only makes sense to Steve and the Smiths, not the general public at large, pushes this storyline into a strange absurdity. This characteristic makes it feel like the success that Snot’s family experiences is personally weaponized against Steve. It’s not, and Snot and his family absolutely deserve a break, but Steve’s resentment towards them is a little more understandable under this lens. What’s more telling than anything else is that Snot’s not even thinking about Steve or this feud, but Steve can’t help but obsess over it and let it fester. He’s not able to function when Snot’s successful and that’s really the larger story of this episode.
Steve’s paranoia brings him to Francine, who reveals that not only did she gleefully give Snot’s mom her recipe, but that’s it’s also not even her recipe! It’s just store-bought ranch dressing. At this point Steve should be able to move on, but he instead decides to take down his friend and restore the status quo. It’s a dark moment. Steve instantly regrets his actions when things spiral out of control and Snot’s mom is sent to prison, but it does seem like on some level that Steve’s grateful to have restored order.
Snot may be poor again, but he hates Steve’s guts after he learns what he did. It briefly seems like the episode’s final act will deal with the Smiths taking Snot into their own home, but it veers hard to the left and only further pushes Steve and Snot apart. This leaves Steve with the lofty task of getting Snot’s mom out of prison so her relationship with her son can be fixed and everything else can return to how it used to be. Steve actually comes up with a clever solution that parlays the skills that Snot’s mom has developed in prison to sell a new product that clearly his debt and gets her out of jail. The best thing about this is that it’s a solution that puts Snot’s mom first and allows her to have a win. She doesn’t need this extra boost at the end, but it’s sweet.
While Steve’s issues with Snot cause his ego to take a hit, Stan, Roger, and Jeff have never been more confident after they’re nudged in the directions to be models at a mall fashion show. This is obviously small potatoes, but everyone treats it with such a level of seriousness. Stan’s complete earnestness towards being a model is almost just as funny as Roger’s runway fantasy that materializes through a living thought bubble. All of these characters are so deluded and full of themselves that it’s believable that they’d drop everything to become the best models at a mall’s fashion show. Hayley may opt out of this “opportunity,” but Klaus latches on in her absence and is appointed the modeling coach for this operation. Stan, Roger, and Jeff have all mastered the basics of gorging on cotton balls and not eating, but Klaus tries to instill in them other necessary model talents, like walking down the runway and being comfortable in front of an audience.
This isn’t a particularly complicated plot, but with how so many of the B-stories in American Dad’s recent run of episodes feel more like asides than full stories, it’s nice to see these mall model shenanigans get plenty of time to play around. The story doesn’t necessarily get deeper, but it is well worth the time to get several examples of just how terrible Stan, Jeff, and Roger are at being models. The surreal turnstile record player joke is on the same heightened level as Roger’s living thought bubble gag, but Stan’s casual attempt to have sex with a motorcycle is absurd gold. The broad strokes of this plotline aren’t anything special, but it’s the little details along the way that make this story work. This half of the episode also features considerably more visual gags, like everyone’s increasingly gaunt physiques or the absurd tapeworm finale, which pleasantly compliments the episode’s main story, which is much more emotional.
“Mom Sauce” turns out to be a surprisingly complex episode about Steve’s feelings for his friend, explored in a mature way. The episode deserves credit for the places Steve’s emotions allow him to go and how it lets him honestly try to figure out how he feels. The resolution between these two is very lovely, but the episode as a whole is also stronger due to how well written Snot is in it. The entry highlights just how harrowing the boy’s life is (Barry also seems to barely be holding it together, for what it’s worth). “Mom Sauce” is a strong mix of tenderness and nonsense, but it’s emotional core that keeps it going.
Oh, and Snot would aspire to the family in the Dinosaurs. Those guys were working class as hell.
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.