This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad Season 16 Episode 14
“Ham the meat?”
Roger so frequently operates like a caricature that it’s sometimes easy to forget that he has feelings and is real. It’s even easier to forget that Roger is his own character with his own desires when stories on American Dad constantly turn to personas that can cater to whatever situation is at hand. Roger is often seen unburdened by a costume, but he can still feel like a cipher due to how he’s used on the show. Accordingly, devoting some time to Roger and his needs is a decent area to explore after Roger’s personas have become so cumbersome he literally birthed a smaller version of himself to help deal with the workload.
Roger has plenty of fancy personas at his disposal and he could easily jump into one of these to mesh with what’s required of him for this episode, but he intentionally remains himself. Now at the same time, this episode is a deep look into who Stan is and how he could perhaps benefit from occasionally adopting Roger’s looser personality. While “Hamerican Dad!” focuses on one of the show’s core dynamics, it’s also an episode that goes all over the place and turns into a wildly unpredictable bonding experience for Stan and Roger.
Stan Smith is a man of many passions, but something that’s on the top of that list is the meat elixir known as ham. Stan’s love for ham runs so hot that he’s a member of a select group known as the Tappahonnock Ham Society, who cure and age hams as they get away from the stresses of the world. The only way to excel in the club is when someone passes away, so the recent death of a member has Stan in particularly high spirits and hopeful for the esteemed position of ham carver.
It seems like everyone but Roger is very exhausted over Stan’s ham club speeches. Roger also expresses the same indifference, but after he’s around Stan for a while and hears enough about the club’s odd details, he surprisingly becomes a fan. The clear amount of passion that Stan has for ham is evident in every line that he says about the organization. The same level of devotion is echoed in the extensive list of traditions and pageantry associated with the club. It’s for this reason that when Roger asks to join the prestigious meat group, Stan is firm over why he wouldn’t make a good addition. Roger takes this news hard and worries for the safety of his sanctuary, but after some feedback from Klaus, Stan decides that Roger’s complete lack of ham knowledge is enough of an obstacle to keep him out. He sets up an interview for Roger, confident that he’ll get laughed out of the room, but unfortunately for Stan’s ham sanity, he kills it.
“Hamerican Dad!” handles Stan’s reservations over Roger in a compelling way. Stan’s weary over Roger’s flamboyant personality and how that will clash with the austere vibe of the ham society. This initially manifests itself through extreme self-doubt in Roger when he tries to fit into the mold that Stan demands of him. It’s a disaster on all fronts, but when Roger embraces who he is through a ham-based rendition of Bob Fosse (both the performance and Stan’s realization of what’s going on are fantastic), he finds success.
Roger has invaded and taken over Stan’s interests in the past, which is precisely why he’s so protective of his ham club. So even though the development that Roger does eventually gain entry into Stan’s domain isn’t exactly surprising, what follows during his time there is certainly a worthwhile deconstruction of Stan and Roger’s relationship. Roger continually lets his loud, outrageous personality loose and even though Stan is mortified, the rest of the group grows to increasingly love Roger and his laid back attitude.
Not a full meeting of the ham society passes before Roger manages to completely dismantle the organization and turn meat into a background element. Stan can’t believe that Roger has destroyed yet another thing he loves. His fears were completely warranted! Stan clearly has some pent up aggression towards Roger about all of this, but rather than directly address those issues, Roger pushes on Stan his ideology to “take life’s ham.” Whether it’s ham—or anything—in life, Roger tells Stan that he shouldn’t be afraid to just take it, which is how he lives his life. It’s at this point that this story really gets out of control. This starts as a story that feels like it will culminate in some kind of ridiculous Ham Olympics, but it mutates into a vomit-filled case of Munchausen at its worst.
“Hamerican Dad!” plays with the expectations as to whether Stan and Roger are working together or not and there many more twists than to be expected here. This “ham-taking” philosophy turns into a bitter feud between Stan and Roger for the sacred carver position. This rivalry snowballs to the point that the entire ham society is dangerously poisoned and at death’s door, with the unqualified Stan and Roger looking after them all at a remote cabin in Maine.
The Maine portion of the episode sees Roger and Stan unsuccessfully nursing back the rest of the ham society to health. Stan’s frustrations boil over in this situation, but he realizes that this terrible lot that they’ve been dealt is all just an extension of the original argument he had over Roger joining his ham sanctum in the first place. The two don’t get that deep in the analysis of their actions, but Roger can’t help but be proud that Stan’s nearly homicidal efforts were just his way of acting more like him and following his advice. It’s a strange middle ground to be reached, but it works.
Stan and Roger decide that their best plan of action here is to prepare a ham so good that it will miraculously heal their fellow men; a redemption ham. As good as any redemption ham can be, it’s not strong enough to overcome the excessive poison that Roger’s been administering around the clock. It might be a bit of a messy conclusion—both figuratively and literally—but all of this has just been Roger’s way to spend more time with Stan. In spite of the several indiscretions against each other through the course of this journey, Stan and Roger remember that more than ham or anything else, they enjoy being together. Sometimes it takes the murder of nearly a dozen men to reach that epiphany and sometimes you’re just lucky.
As Stan and Roger are locked in their ham conflict, Francine sets her sights on terrifying a member of the community, which is such a simple, focused goal for her that it’s hard not to love this little storyline. Francine and her family are discussing the biggest scaredy cats in the neighborhood and when the conversation flips over to who they’ve never seen scared, they all decide that Greg has an impenetrable demeanor. What’s even better about Francine’s sudden obsession with scaring someone is that she’s incredibly confident in her ability to crack “Greg the Egg” and that her means to administer this fear is a classic, cold axe attack. She knows exactly what she wants to do here.
It’s very entertaining to see Francine brandishing an axe on her front lawn in broad daylight as she tries to muster the courage on how to best attack Greg. The whole courageous backstory that she’s built up for Greg and the internal monologue that she runs for herself to turn her neighbor into more of a target is Francine at her twisted best. This is a great reminder of how truly weird this character is.
Francine does manage to scare Greg, but it’s only because she’s mowed down by a truck when she runs over to attack him. Francine’s left in a coma for an extended period of time and while everyone is worried sick over her dire condition, she’s just satisfied that she could ultimately achieve her goal. There’s very little to this plot, but it’s incredibly efficient in its sadistic storytelling.
There are plenty of flashy moments that take place in “Hamerican Dad!,” but it’s many of the installment’s more muted sequences that really stand out. The casual way in which Francine, Hayley, Steve, and Jeff are all just hanging out as they discuss things like who scares easily in the community feels very intimate and natural. The special relationship that’s witnessed between Stan and Klaus is also really nice, but the animation alone over the work sequences where Klaus helps Stan unclutter of his formal attire is gorgeous. It’s easy to lose smaller scenes like this with an episode that moves around so much, but they help give “Hamerican Dad!” a very relaxed quality.
“Hamerican Dad!” goes to some very unusual places, but it’s all in the service of the celebration of Stan and Roger’s friendship. It’s an episode that underscores that these two are much better as a team than when they’re at odds with one another. Additionally, this is a story where both Roger and Stan subtly adopt some of each other’s qualities and understand why they need each other. The episode’s humor goes to some very big and very dark places (Francine’s subplot is basically attempted murder followed by intensive care), but there’s a very emotional, tender underbelly to it all. This is just a story about Roger needing to feel wanted and outside all of the axe attacks, ham poetry, and mass poisonings, it’s hard not to relate to that.
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.