This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad Season 16 Episode 8
“The march ends at death!”
“The Long March” wisely pairs a rather significant storyline with the kind of empty non-story that initially feels like a random aside and not a major force of change in the episode. The contrasting scope of these plots compliment each other well and the episode surprisingly fluctuates between which plot has the higher stakes. However, the stories in “The Long March” also weirdly fit together based on how they both revolve around vehicles (and apps), whether it’s Hayley and Jeff’s new van home or the rideshare driver who terrorizes Francine and Steve. This connective tissue isn’t necessary, but it does provide the episode with a degree of focus that doesn’t hurt, especially since this is one of the more unusual episodes of American Dad’s current season, which has easily been one of the show’s strangest years.
American Dad season 16 has devoted a decent amount of time to Hayley and Jeff’s marriage, exploring their relationship dynamic more so than ever before. There has recently been a mix of growing pains and moments of understanding between Hayley and Jeff, but “The Long March” approaches a major milestone for the married couple as they decide to transition their existence into a van and adopt a wanderlust life on the road.
This major pivot comes after the news of Hayley’s recent promotion to assistant manager at Sub Hub, something which she’s appropriately apathetic towards, but Stan can’t contain his excitement over. Hayley just looks at this as a bigger paycheck, but Stan’s quickly planning out the rest of her life for her and reinforces that this climb up the corporate ladder is analogous to a never-ending, monotonous routine. “The Long March” concocts an incredibly effective sequence that taps into the paralyzing fear that Hayley faces at the repetitious nature of her job. The way in which this nightmare starts in a grounded place and slowly turns more chilling and grim really helps you understand the internal crisis that Hayley faces and why she makes such a frantic turn with her life.
The freedom of this seemingly limitless lifestyle quickly begins to lose its luster when Jeff and Hayley realize that they’re going to need money in order to carry on like this. Luckily, Roger has stowed away for the ride and begrudgingly takes them on as clients when he pushes them to capitalize on the “Van Life” Instagram trend. At this point, “The Long March” becomes less about a free and open existence, but instead focuses on how Jeff and Hayley can make their life seem brandable in order to obtain sponsors. This is a much less interesting scenario for Hayley and Jeff and unfortunately the episode loses some steam with this new direction, even if Roger’s agitated agent persona is fun.
“The Long March” contains some decent lampooning of Instagram influencer culture and the increasingly inauthentic nature of the platform where “spon-con” can reign supreme, but there isn’t much mileage to get out of this. It’s not long before the “easy” life becomes just as regimented and restrictive as Hayley’s job at Sub Hub. Jeff begins to grow tired of this routine and as he resists Hayley’s new passion, he finds himself pushed out. Hayley reaches the “success” that she was after, but her life is a shell of lies and devoid of any personality. Even if she was miserable at Sub Hub, she was at least still herself and had the real Jeff by her side.
As Hayley becomes more manufactured and edged out of her spotlight, the episode’s final act goes to some especially random places that don’t do this storyline any favors. Sometimes swinging for the fences can work (see sentient space denim or haunted television shows), but undiluted acai berry juice turning Jeff and Hayley into Hulks so they can bring down a slave labor camp of influencers is not one of those instances.
As Jeff and Hayley search for greener pastures on the open road, Francine and Steve find an innocent trip from an abhorrent Uber driver balloon out of control after they tarnish his rating. Rather than the two of them shrugging this off, the toxic exchange begins to fester until the two turn into paranoid wrecks over how the mysterious Ernie may exact his revenge. The slasher film aesthetic that this plot leans into is the perfect, twisted direction to take this. There’s still a bunch of unanswered questions regarding all of this, but the way in which the “curse” of Ernie passes over to Klaus is a decent enough resolution. It still worked better for me than the episode’s main story.
This situation that Francine and Steve get caught in is ridiculous, but this madness gains more points for how it chooses to pair together Steve and Francine. These two don’t get to work together very often, so this makes for a nice change of pace. Their base personalities are also so contrary to each other that this complication is so effective precisely because it’s the two of them in this mess, as opposed to Roger and Steve or Francine and Stan. I’d also be very into an episode that simply shows Steve and Francine’s time together at a Billy Joel concert, so get working on that, season 17.
“The Long March” marks a low point for what’s otherwise been a very consistent season of American Dad. It tells the kind of half-baked story that you might expect from a show’s 16th season, even if it does some creative things with the ideas. The larger pieces of this episode are clunky, but there are still some wonderful gags that punctuate this entry and help it stand out. Hayley’s ability to better express her emotions through freestyle rap (as well as Klaus’ relationship with Gucci Mane) is a lovely little character beat. The lingering shot on the Smith household’s roof and the wealth of keys that Francine has absently thrown up there is also the weird kind of visual humor that I wish the show would turn to more often. Stan’s absence isn’t always a bad thing, but it also feels like he could have added something to the episode’s second act. There’s lots to laugh at here, but “The Long March” just doesn’t feel as cohesive and challenging as the series’ recent run of episodes.
Oh, and someone in Langley is maybe murdering Sub Hub employees. NBD.
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.