This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 16 Episode 16
“Actually, I’m looking to avoid graduating.”
“Totally understand, it’s hell on the other side.”
Recent episodes of American Dad have featured moments where its largely static characters are able to show signs of growth in small, yet significant, ways. The current season isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but it’s still been satisfying to see minor changes take place, whether it’s the addition of Rogu, Steve’s efforts to get his learner’s permit, Francine’s secrets to get through wedding malaise, or even a surprising amount of development for Snot and his family.
“Pride Before the Fail” explores similar territory when it sets its sights on Hayley and her journey to finish community college. Hayley’s status as a student is something that defines her nearly as much as her pride towards being a stoner, so panic understandably sets in when that foundation gets threatened in this formative episode of American Dad.
Hayley may often complain or act ambivalent towards her education, but “Pride Before the Fail” nicely illustrates that she’s got a cushy Van Wilder situation going on. Hayley’s gotten so comfortable at Groff Community College that she feels like she basically runs the place. Hayley has turned community college into a safety blanket of sorts, so when she confronts the news that she’s a credit away from graduating she begins to worry about the realities of what lies beyond college. As dread takes over Hayley, Roger offers to help her out and slow down her expulsion into the real world.
“Pride Before the Fail” has some fun with how it briefly looks like Hayley and Roger will be allies through this mission, but then Roger gets distracted with some characteristically selfish motives that have him work in complete opposition to Hayley. Roger is suddenly without a place to sleep (Rogu and his ska band have occupied the attic), so he has his sights set on Hayley’s room. Obviously Hayley is still using her room, but due to the stringent Smith Family Rules that Stan can’t wait to enforce, Hayley will be forced to vacate the house after she graduates.
Hayley decides that her best means to avoid graduation is to take a “forever class” that she plans to just perpetually flunk. This isn’t the greatest or most cost effective plan, but it’s admittedly one that will still work. However, the conflict between Hayley and Roger intensifies when Roger enrolls in the same class under the guise of bookworm and valedictorian Lacie Crinklehole, who sets out to guarantee that Hayley passes the class.
It might seem difficult to make someone else pass a course, but Roger’s attempts, as Lacie, are honestly pretty brilliant. There are some tactics that reflect Roger’s usual extreme level of dedication, but strategies like projecting Hayley’s face on someone else as they do a presentation shows just how hard he works to ensure that she doesn’t fail. Lacie’s efforts look to be unbeatable, so Hayley stoops to some impressive manipulation of her own to turn things around in her favor.
Rather than focus her efforts on her schoolwork, Hayley instead preys upon the fragile personality of Lacie Crinklehole and gets her to party and indulge too hard, which causes them to blow the final (among other things). It’s a believable way for Hayley to take power away from Roger here, but it’s also all in favor of her intentionally avoiding progress and getting on with her life. It’s an extreme amount of work, all in the name of regression, and as impure as Roger’s motives are through this episode, he at least is still trying to help out Hayley.
Just when it seems like Hayley has bested Roger, the episode shifts over from Van Wilder to Dead Man on Campus as a darkly humorous and over the top Pirates of Penzance-inspired suicide from Lacie Crinklehole takes place. Lacie’s ultimate sacrifice bumps Hayley’s grade up to an A and it looks like Hayley may finally have to face the fact that it’s time to grow up. As clever as Hayley’s previous plan was to trick Roger, she thinks up an even smarter solution to help herself grab control of her life for good.
Hayley viciously preys upon Roger’s affection for his personas and his grief over how Lacie had to take her own life. If Roger has any sort of weakness, it’s his commitment to his many characters, so this strategy is truly the best way to get under his skin. After Hayley lets loose some very disparaging remarks that do their best to shame whatever fond memories of Lacie Crinklehole are left, Roger can’t help but resurrect the character so she can properly defend her name.
Hayley’s attack on Lacie and how Roger is unable to stand by amounts to an impressive conclusion for “Pride Before the Fail.” I didn’t necessarily expect Hayley to leave college at the end of this episode, but I could have perhaps seen a little more of her addressing the destructive implications behind her desire to not graduate. Roger even briefly tries to prop Hayley up a little by telling her that he thinks she’d do all right outside of college, only for Hayley to quickly dismiss it and reinforce that she’s excited to not have to find out.
That level of fear is certainly believable, but even getting a day or two where Hayley and Jeff are moved out of the house before they have to return when graduation doesn’t happen could have gone a long way. I understand that this is American Dad! and not BoJack Horseman, but a little more of Hayley outside of her comfort zone and figuring out who she is independent of her identity as a student would have been nice.
As Hayley tries to come to terms with her quarter-life crisis, Francine gets irritated over a dent in her car that she discovers as the vehicle’s lease approaches. An unlikely source of support comes to Francine in the form of Klaus, who brags of his previous mechanic experience and that he could buff out that dent and save her the trouble and cost of taking it in somewhere.
Francine’s skeptical of Klaus’ claims, but she gives the fish a chance, which is her first mistake here. Klaus’ method for repairing Francine’s car gets wildly out of control and soon the dent is the least of her problems. The direction that Klaus’ unhelpful help takes isn’t too surprising, but it’s satisfying to see how Klaus progressively raises the state of chaos each time Francine checks in.
This simple cosmetic operation balloons to over a month of scattered work and Klaus seems to be more concerned about cultivating the proper grease monkey atmosphere than actually fixing the car. Francine’s aggravation over Klaus’ destructive assistance is entertaining, but if someone else also had to use the car and was in this crusade alongside Francine there’d perhaps be a little more to latch onto here (although Steve is periodically incorporated to good effect). This is a fairly inconsequential storyline, but the final state of Francine’s car is awfully hilarious, as is Klaus’ deflection that even though he does considerable work on her vehicle the dent still remains and a goldfish shouldn’t be expected to be able to fix a car in the first place.
“Pride Before the Fail” banks on the chemistry of enjoyable relationship pairings and sees how long characters can last outside of their usual comfort zones. There’s a good deal of focus to this entry’s stories and it doesn’t allow much time for distractions, but there are still some really surreal visual gags (like the motivational poster that’s actually a window) and other wild highlights, such as Roger’s calculated attack on some studly movers or the asides to the guidance counselor’s unusual life. It’s an episode that skirts around some profound territory, but it only confronts it without going any deeper. This may prove to be a setback for some, but in an episode that’s rife with clever plotting and funny jokes, it shouldn’t be the priority or be enough to wreck the fun that “Pride Before the Fail” creates.
Now let’s please get a cover of American Dad!’s theme song performed by Rogu and his ska band.
Read and download the Den of Geek SDCC 2019 Special Edition Magazine right here!
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.