This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad Season 16 Episode 2
“Are you in support of that idea?”
“Oh…Oh yeah! You should totally do that!”
Episodes of television shows that hinge upon successful teamwork can often be problematic. It’s a familiar trope: a team in crisis bands together in the eleventh hour and learn to put aside their differences. What’s important is not so much the result, but the journey along the way. American Dad’s “I Am the Jeans: The Gina Lavetti Story” is such an episode, but one that also plays around with the show’s typical characterizations of the Smith family. It’s an installment that attempts to make an impact because of its character dynamics and brewing conflict but instead turns out to be an episode that’s more memorable for how it doesn’t quite come together.
“I Am the Jeans” begins in a fairly grounded place. Francine tries to catch up with one of her friends, who is actually just one of Roger’s personalities. I like the idea that Francine routinely gets together with one of Roger’s many personas, Gina Lavetti, but what makes this friendship particularly interesting is that we join it in the middle of its breaking point. Francine is desperate to make amends with Gina and their first scene in this episode gets a shocking amount of exposition out of the way.
This installment also rather masterfully plays with the complicated, overlapping nature of Roger’s personalities and the logic of how multiple personas can still occupy the same scene as long as they don’t share the same frame together. It’s a surprisingly structured take on Roger’s insanity.
After a trip to buy sexy jeans goes awry, Gina finds herself even more vulnerable than usual and in need of her friend’s support. Gina’s embarrassed by the whole encounter, but it does inspire her to launch her own line of jeans for “everyday women who have the body of a rabbit.” Gina is excited to help other women like herself that are disproportionately proportioned, but she wants her BFF’s support on the venture. Francine initially doesn’t seem that committed to the project, but she’s still in the doghouse with Gina and eager to prove that she’s a dependable friend.
Gina and Francine embark on this business venture and it seems like it’s much more about their teamwork and ability to trust one another than it’s actually about jeans. There’s a funny montage where Gina basically educates herself on how jeans are made and the aesthetics of the product, but the core foundation of their business is dismissively treated like an afterthought.
This is a rather honorable storyline as far as Roger’s plotlines are concerned. Gina’s main goal here may ultimately make her look better, but her aim is to help others. Gina Lavetti is a proud and brash character for Roger, but she’s also definitely one of his most unguarded personas to come along in a while. Most of the time, Roger drags Francine through some escapade whether she wants to be there or not, but here he’s petrified to act without her support. This team-up catapults Gina, her jeans, and Francine to the Langley Home Shopping Network where they have a real opportunity to reach people.
The big schism in Roger and Francine’s new venture comes from a fracture in their relationship rather than any faults in the products themselves. Roger is happy to reach any people at all, yet Francine begins to obsess over how they could bring in more business. It’s this divide between personal fulfillment and financial profit that splits this team apart.
Francine and Roger’s crisis is the main struggle within this episode, but the men of the Smith family find themselves with an even stranger problem on their hands—or rather, on their faces. The logline, “Stan and Steve swap eyebrows,” is exactly the kind of nonsense that you might expect from a show in its 16th season. It screams of a show that is not only out of ideas, but one that is out of premises that even border on the logical. That being said, this is exactly the kind of storyline that I pine for in American Dad. The series has an uncanny ability to turn what should be some of the show’s stupidest plot lines into extremely satisfying episodes.
Stan and Steve’s predicament in “I Am the Jeans: The Gina Lavetti Story” intentionally subverts and mocks the whole body swapping trope with a concept that allows the episode to have its cake and eat it, too. It’s just stupid and self-aware enough to work. The sequence where their eyebrows actually swap is perfect, as is their concern over how they’ll possibly be able to live their normal lives like this. It’s fair to say that most audiences don’t consider Stan or Steve’s eyebrows to be iconic or even that memorable at all. In fact, the two have identical, minimalist eyebrows, which makes this farce hit even harder.
This eyebrow swap shouldn’t really alter these characters in any way, but the series uses this opportunity to deconstruct them and exploit just how integral their eyebrows are in regards to who they are. It’s an absurd circumstance that leads to an identity crisis for these two, and it works. It wouldn’t necessarily be entertaining to watch Stan and Steve carry out each other’s daily routines, but the fact that it all comes down to eyebrows makes it strangely satisfying. This storyline never even resolves itself in the end. Stan and Steve’s eyebrows don’t swap back, which surely won’t impact future episodes, but the negligence towards any kind of conclusion here doesn’t do “I Am the Jeans” any favors.
The plot in “I Am the Jeans” proceeds rather slowly and goes down a predictable path for the most part. Gina’s co-dependent nature may be the point of the episode, but it becomes fairly repetitive. I appreciate Roger’s personalities taking on a little more range, but in this case, it’s actually a detriment to the story. The usual dynamic between Roger and Francine gets flipped, but the episode could still do more with this. The recent episode, “The Legend of Old Ulysses” swaps Stan and Steve’s typical archetypes in a similar way, but it also adds more to the equation than merely their contrasting positions.
“I Am the Jeans” does find a few occasions to use absurdity to underline its points. Gina’s message from God(?) that helps launch her product strangely works, although the even stranger West Side Story riff that shows Francine her place at the LHSN is slightly less successful. These moments help give the episode a little more of a voice, but they still never fully coalesce.
The episode also gets some decent gags out of the other programs that comprise Langley’s biggest shopping channel, but they mostly feel like missed opportunities. The supplemental material at LHSN kind of just washes over you and feels like the show’s usual bag of tricks (which lately means a whole lot of Tuttle). It’s not a complete misfire, but with such an eclectic roster of characters within Langley Falls, the other shows around Gina’s program could have stood out more and had a greater impact.
The episode’s final act is by far its most interesting, even though it also goes off the rails. It turns out that Gina’s popular jeans have actually become sentient and are transforming those who wear them into mindless zombies. It’s up to Francine to reverse this chaos as Roger glibly delivers a message about how people don’t need the jeans to be beautiful because they were beautiful all along. It’s a messy, easy conclusion that’s never fully earned, but it at least deserves some points for going to such a crazy place.
In many ways “I Am the Jeans: The Gina Lavetti Story” is a combination of some of American Dad’s weakest impulses. There are good ideas hiding within this episode, they’re just too far hidden under proprietary space denim to get through.
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.