American Dad!: Standard Deviation Review

American Dad! closes its season out the same way Game of Thrones does: DJ battles and hallucinogenic teas.

This American Dad! review contains spoilers.

American Dad!: Season 12, Episode 22 

“You have to beat Bullock in a rap battle, dad!”

So here we are at the end of another post-Fox season of American Dad!, a detail that will be less and less of a shock with each passing year. With this being a particularly strong season—and at 22 episodes at that, nearly double the length of some previous years—that’s a particularly impressive detail. While some more recent season finales have chosen to be biggish spectacles like Jeff going into space, or Klaus being reunited with his body, “Standard Deviation” is just your run of the mill, dedicated episode, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The crux of this episode sees Stan coming to the conclusion that Hailey needs more structure in her life—specifically, more planning. This tactic goes up in flames in the worst possible way when the plan that Stan takes Hailey on ends up being a suicide mission from Bullock. Suddenly plans carry all sorts of potential danger behind them.

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This season has seen a surprising amount of Stan and Hailey stories, with this one sort of tying them all together with it ultimately coming down to Stan accepting Hailey for who she is, rather than some Stan-ified version of herself. In order for Stan to confront Bullock over the danger that he’s put himself and his daughter in, he inexplicably has to best him in a DJ battle in a premise that is simultaneously ludicrous, but also makes sense in the twisted world of this show. This episode is all about following dreams and chasing spontaneity rather than embracing a plan and “controlled” life.

While the episode is already having fun with the world of DJing, there’s a nice bit of commentary on what Stan—and older generations, by proxy—think DJing is, versus what Hailey and millennials think of the “career” now. These varied perceptions of the field ultimately also come down to the idea of planning versus improvisation in some very nice symmetry that brings all this back together.

This season finale also decides to put Jeff in the spotlight for the B-story of the final half hour, a decision that I’m always on board with. Jeff’s been neither neglected nor embraced this season. He’s hardly taking up the focus that say, Klaus has, this year, but he hasn’t been “forgotten” like he has during past years, either. Hell, this season even saw the lovable stoner returning from space!

When I spoke to American Dad’s showrunner and co-creator, Matt Weitzman, he revealed the fact that the show’s “current Jeff” is actually an alien will be something that will eventually come into play. While “Standard Deviation” doesn’t dip into this territory (something to look forward to in season 13, I suppose!), it still manages to be a highly pleasant adventure with Jeff.

I’m sure that many people’s favorite Jeff moments are the ones that revolve around him being super high (with the show still managing to be creative in this area), so the fact that his storyline here is one involving copious amounts of drugs should hopefully be information that comes across as exciting rather than reductive. Rather than pot, Jeff’s on the hallucinogenic tea train, which transports him to a world where he’s the master of an elusive instrument called the turin. Naturally Jeff becomes determined to realize these powers outside of a drug state.

This all makes for entertaining fodder, but it unfortunately kind of just fizzles out—I mean, there is a fitting enough conclusion but there’s not much to it. Jeff figures things out just because the episode’s about to hit its runtime (I suppose his “visions” coming true holds some poignancy…), but it’s still all a worthy companion to the hefty Stan and Hailey material that’s happening.

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“Standard Deviation” isn’t afraid to put a lot on its plate in the best sort of way. Like when you get a plate of food that is just staggering in quantity, and yet you’re not going to question the amount that’s there staring you in the face because it’s all to your benefit. For instance, we get to see Stan’s experience on these teas, which leads to a trippy drug sequence that acts as some wonderful, fucked up madness that is the welcome sort of spectacle to save for a season finale. The show has done some ambitious, messed up sequences through their decade and change of programming and this one stands tall amongst them with a delicious 2001 slant to it, too.

In a great set piece that ushers in the end of the episode some true spontaneity takes place when a situation that sees a DJ plummeting to his death (and another one breaking Stan’s thumb drive in what’s a very solid gag) and Stan stepping in as the DJ entertainment for a girl’s birthday. Some more twists and turns take place and after some improvisation and lack of planning nearly kill both Stan and Hailey, they eventually get to the other side of this okay.

With the conclusion of American Dad!’s 12th season, it’s so exciting to see that not only has its edge not been dulled, but neither has its quality. This season has told some bizarre stories, included some glorious callbacks, had some of my favorite moments from the series, and contained perhaps the only episode of the series that I don’t like. I can honestly say that I’ve had my fill of the show for the year—in the best possible way—and that’s something I could never say when the show was on Fox. I couldn’t be happier that the series truly has a supportive home, and this absurd, challenging show seems far from finished saluting the flag.

See ya next year, all!

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3.5 out of 5