This American Dad! review contains spoilers.
American Dad! Season 16 Episode 3
“We’ve never met Barry’s parents, but judging from Barry I think it’s safe to assume they’re—and this has nothing against Barry, we love Barry—monstrously stupid sewer people.”
American Dad!’s 16th season continues its run and it’s fair to say that there are very few relationships or blind spots that the series hasn’t been able to shine a light on by now. Whether out of genuine curiosity or sheer desperation, the show covers most of its bases and it doesn’t feel like much of Langley Falls is a mystery.
“Stan & Francine & Connie & Ted” has such an exciting energy to it because it discovers one area of the series that has gone overlooked and then digs in and totally plays it against expectations. The episode takes what could be a very stereotypical, hackneyed interaction and turns it into another weird reminder of why it’s amazing that this show is still around.
The most tragic thing in “Stan & Francine & Connie & Ted” is that in a way it’s Steve’s innocent passion for drawers that sets his parents on a collision course with Barry’s and complicates his life in the process. Steve is keen to take a trip with Barry and his family to visit the world’s largest chest of drawers, which prompts the larger topic that Steve’s parents—and the audience—have never met Barry’s parents before.
Barry’s the only one of Steve’s friends whose parents haven’t appeared in the series and it’s likely due to the fact that they almost seem like a foregone conclusion. Stan and Francine immediately write off Barry’s parents to be human garbage, but what makes “Stan & Francine & Connie & Ted” so much fun is how much it goes in the completely opposite direction.
Steve grows frustrated that his parents aren’t as carefree as Barry’s, so the two scheme to turn their elders into friends and hope that that they’ll rub off on each other in beneficial ways. Unfortunately for Steve, Barry’s parents are far more carefree and open than he realizes. Once Steve ostensibly gets what he wants here, he needs to backpedal and goes to serious lengths to break them up.
It’s a lot of fun to watch Stan and Francine consistently slam Barry’s parents and equate them to various ogre-esque monsters. The two lay into this angle hard, but it’s only because once they actually meet Connie and Ted the Shrek shtick vanishes and humor is found from how freaking cool they are.
It’s amusing to watch these sets of parents bond and even though the sexual energy is pretty high from the jump, their camaraderie over stupid bullshit is entertaining. The digression about playing “a little bit of ball” is the perfect illustration of the ridiculous, cocksure tone that this dinner between the parents quickly adopts.
It’s extremely adorable that Steve’s initial concerns are that the swinger nature of Barry’s parents will mean that his parents won’t let him hang out with Barry anymore, not that they two will become swingers and that this could implode their marriage. His naïve worries don’t change anything, it’s just that his mission intensifies when he understands just how dire this is.
This all flips the typical dynamic on its head when Steve turns into the overprotective guardian and forbids Stan and Francine from spending time with Barry’s parents. It’s a clever place to take this story. “Stan & Francine & Connie & Ted” embraces this position and soon Stan and Francine are resorting to Ferris Bueller-like stunts in order to escape Steve’s rules and hook up with their new friends.
The episode’s final act throws clothing out the window and is set at a nudist resort. The whole situation defuses surprisingly quickly when Stan and Francine prove their staunch ability to avoid the temptations of swinging, but then the episode takes another particularly surprising turn when it appears that Barry is the real antagonist here. And not only that, it marks the return of the regrettable “smart/evil Barry” who hasn’t been seen since the show’s first season.
I can honestly see the certain cache in returning to this well and proving to audiences that this wasn’t just a weird element of the series’ initial growing pains, that it worked out and refined as it matured (Craig Ferguson is even back to do the voice), but I’m still not exactly sure that it’s a good idea. It’s such a flimsy device that screams of American Dad! 1.0 (and Stewie Griffin) and even if this iteration on that take of the character is better than what appeared in the past, the material where Barry plays the villain role is the weakest.
What also makes this development much more awkward is that it features flashbacks to “With Friends Like Steve’s,” but Barry also reveals that the events of season one were mere months ago. You can see the type of humor that American Dad! goes for with this information, but it just doesn’t make sense, considering this is a show where there is a canonical story to some extent, like how Jeff and Hayley are married and Roger has a kid.
Furthermore, several episodes, even some as recent as last season, cover years of time. I understand that this is being incredibly pedantic over such a trivial detail in the episode, but it’s typically something that the show is more careful about. One alternative is that season one’s “With Friends Like Steve’s” actually takes place years in the future. Another is that I’ve entirely overthought this show’s timeline and it’s just a joke.
The fallout of all of this is rather messy. Barry’s motives don’t entirely make sense and Steve’s means of escape towards his hostage situation are equally random, but damn if that second “Steve goes bananas” sequence isn’t a gorgeous looking stretch of animation. The episode’s final act also deserves some respect simply for having its main cast naked for the entire time. You’re almost desensitized to it by the time the happy ending rolls around.
Steve wishes that he could un-see all of the nakedness that involves his parents, but Roger’s caught up in a situation where he physically can’t see. A rather hilarious eclipse viewing party gone wrong leads to Roger’s major predicament in this installment. Roger’s blindness and the cautionary warning that transition lenses are not sound eyewear during an eclipse should be the major takeaway here, but this is also the first time that Rogu reappears!
It may have been obvious for some that Rogu’s tumor-cum-homunculus offspring wasn’t just a one-off gag and that he’d be sticking around as Roger’s child, but this episode officially confirms it. Rogu’s back, cuter than ever, and for the course of this episode he has a blind guardian in his control.
There are a lot of classic gags that come from Roger’s obliviousness during his time of blindness that all make this storyline work well, but perhaps the best thing about it is that it’s Jeff and Klaus that take it upon themselves to help Roger out during his time of need. It’s an unlikely pair and an even more unlikely trio, which just adds a certain extra spark to this material. Roger’s blindness leads to a newfound confidence that’s mostly a riff on Daredevil, but it leads to a number of satisfying set pieces where he gets to be aggressive and feel powerful.
Klaus and Jeff’s efforts to help in this area (including the recruitment of Roger’s subpar improv troupe, Pizza Party Weekend) are all admirable and help make Roger’s difficult time feel less so. This all gets deliriously blown out of proportion by the end of the episode and while it briefly looks like Roger may have heightened abilities, he gruesomely learns that no, he does not.
Whether you’re crazy about the plots of this episode or not, it’s still hard to deny “Stan & Francine & Connie & Ted’s” many charms. The dialogue knows when to veer into weirdness and the characters pop especially well here. There are just two brief scenes with Hayley, but they’re pretty incredible and they get everything that makes her character so good come to the surface. That atmosphere is present with most of the cast here.
The extended sequence where Steve “goes bananas” is another highlight among many character gems this week. The episode even finds ways to give the controversial “Evil Barry” a little more depth, like the joke where he fails to remember his “dumb” voice, which is pretty damn great. His existence here surprisingly doesn’t derail the episode and comes across more like a weird Easter egg for fans.
There’s also just enough of a vein of insanity that courses through this episode to strong effect. The addition of rabid, kidnapped orangutans to what’s already a perfectly paid off scene or the kids-as-tall-man joke followed by frantic nudity are the sorts of touches that help “Stan & Francine & Connie & Ted” stand out even more so than typical entries.
The pinnacle of these sight gags occurs during Roger’s brief stint as Blind Justice. It’s a beautifully orchestrated scene that creatively plays with audio and knows how to toy with expectations. The payoff made me laugh out loud and it’s easily the best joke from this season so far. “Stan & Francine & Connie & Ted” isn’t perfect, but it’s deeply funny and it cultivates a comfortable, little place for itself and shows that the series isn’t yet done with exploring its past.
Now, to try and go secure my Goonies 2: The Next Gooneration tickets…
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.