This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad Season 16 Episode 17
“I’d like to just ask you to do one small, little thing and never sleep again.”
American Dad is one of those very special series that is able to ricochet between both incredibly outlandish storylines, like Stan inhabiting a virtual reality version of a date for Steve or warring against a robot version of himself from the future, as well as grounded, emotional stories about insecurities and growing up. It’s been a decent stretch of episodes since American Dad has had anything especially reality-breaking act as fuel for an installment, so “Enter Stanmen” is a welcome return to nonsense that inserts Stan into Francine’s subconscious dreamworld. This episode definitely goes to some very crazy places and plays outside of the norm, but it all stems from the very human idea that Stan is worried about his marriage. What follows is a highly unique and very sweet installment of American Dad.
Stan’s insecurities and doubts over Francine’s satisfaction with their marriage has been a consistent source of stories throughout American Dad’s run. There’s no doubt that Stan and Francine love each other and are devoted to one another, but the show has also pointed out on several occasions that they’d perhaps have more interesting lives if they were out on their own. When they work together, they’re a phenomenal team, but it’s also entirely reasonable for thoughts to wander and for worry to creep in. This is the major drive that pushes “Enter Stanman” forward once Stan becomes increasingly paranoid over the salacious content of Francine’s dreams.
What’s so entertaining about “Enter Stanman” is that Francine’s sex dream with Jeff is treated like a joke by everyone except Stan. Everyone is able to see how ridiculous and non-threatening this idea is—it’s why Francine shares it in the first place—but Stan still turns into a nervous wreck over the matter. Stan’s concern stems from the very simple position that in theory, it’s good to follow your dreams, so if Francine follows hers then it means, in this case, she’ll have an affair with Jeff. It’s a very juvenile perspective, which is repeatedly pointed out to Stan, as well as the fact that neither Francine or Jeff have any romantic interest in each other whatsoever.
Stan still can’t help but feel threatened so when his initial strategy to just keep Francine awake 24/7—switching their water supply with Monster energy drink is perhaps the best of his tactics—proves uneventful, the two turn to therapy to hopefully work through this relationship hiccup.
American Dad deserves some serious credit here for how it remembers its own continuity and that Dr. Penguin was recently killed off, so Roger plays the character’s twin brother. In what’s a very enjoyable scene, Francine and Stan make actual headway with their problem while Roger just scribbles down ridiculous names for brands of hot sauce. It creates a nice balance between the humor and the emotion of the scene, and shows that Stan and Francine don’t need a therapist as much as they just need to discuss their problems.
Even though Stan and Francine reach an agreement to let things go, Stan’s paranoia becomes so severe that it starts to manifest itself through song. In the past, Stan might use his assets from the CIA to solve a problem like this, but instead it’s Roger’s extraterrestrial-based powers that are what’s handy to infiltrate Francine’s dreams. This unseen ability of Roger opens up a lot of possibilities, and it may have been easier if it was just some piece of alien technology that eventually breaks. That being said, in spite of its usefulness I don’t expect this talent of Roger’s to come into play much in the future, if at all.
American Dad depicts Francine’s subconscious dreamscape as a very abstract, Dadaist world that becomes a decent deconstruction of how the subconscious works. Francine’s mind breaks Stan up into several hyperbolized caricatures that proceed to drive him even more insecure and act in extreme ways with his fragile ego looking past the fact that this is just a fraction of how Francine views her husband. Which is kind of how every brain works.
What could have been worked out through a mundane therapy session gets expressed in a very creative way where elements like a Steve/octopus hybrid get to explain heavy concepts to Stan. For a moment, it looks like the episode is going to fall into a predictable pattern where Stan adopts different reactionary personalities in response to what he sees in Francine’s dreams, but thankfully “Enter Stanman” curbs that formula quick when Francine discovers what Stan is up to.
Stan, in typical Stan fashion, continues to betray Francine and “dreamstorms” her one last time with a bonkers plan. Stan’s efforts to turn Francine’s disparate caricatures of him into cool personas through a synchronized dance number makes for a very hilarious disaster and invasion of privacy. It’s enough to tip Francine off to what’s going on and results in a chain reaction where Stan’s insecure personality, “Stanferatu,” grows in strength and gains enough power to exit Francine’s dreams and enter the real world. This marital squabble quickly turns into a Nightmare on Elm Street-esque monster battle and the final act of “Enter Stanman” is anything but predictable.
Francine retreats away from Stan into the connected dreamworld and Stan finds an unexpected partner in Stanferatu as the they travel across the country and make contact with people who have seen Francine in their dreams. Stanferatu’s attempts to acclimate with the Smith family and bond with Stan are great, but it becomes clear that Francine doesn’t want to be found. Finally, Stanferatu’s needy demeanor becomes too much for Stan to tolerate and he begins to grasp how irritating he must be to Francine when he doesn’t give her enough space. This overdue realization is enough to bring Francine back home and knock Stanferatu out of the picture.
“Enter Stanman” is able to create such an effective story because Stan and Roger’s various invasions of Francine’s subconscious really take up the bulk of the episode. There’s a bit of an ongoing runner with Roger’s hot sauce, but it hardly feels like there’s enough there to quality as B-story. Even still, it’s a solid gag to see the increasingly extreme and offensive hot sauce names and labels. The one that’s settled on does not disappoint either. A lack of distractions is not a bad thing for this episode, especially when the main storyline is bizarre enough to generate enough laughs.
“Enter Stanman” is another exceptional episode of American Dad from this season that manages to stand out due to the weird risks that it takes. It presents a focused story that digs into some classic issues from the series, all while it still finds a way to bring Stan and Francine closer together in a fresh way. It also often feels like Stan doesn’t actually learn a lesson, but this is a case where he absolutely does and all it takes is his Nosferatu doppleganger. Don’t ever change American Dad.
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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.