American Dad is an awkward show.
It seems to have been created as a replacement for Family Guy during the period after that show’s cancellation. But, Family Guy was brought back from the dead before American Dad even made it to air and so its entire existence has always seemed like an oddity.
On the surface, it seems as though American Dad is a tool for political humor. But anyone paying attention can easily tell that Family Guy is plenty political as exemplified in one recent episode where Stewie stole a Nazi uniform and found a “Mcain/Palin 08” pin on it*. Alternately, it might appear as though American Dad is a place for more action-oriented storytelling, but no episode of American Dad has ever matched the bizarre intensity of Peter Griffins fight with the guy in the chicken suit. The third obvious option is that the show is a place for science fiction stories. The show does feature prominent scifi elements that Family Guy lacks, but it rarely uses these elements as the basis for a episodes.
So, what is American Dad?
For years I struggled with Family Guy. The show made me laugh, but I was constantly annoyed by the total lack of narrative cohesion and character consistency. And then, slowly, I began to realize that Family Guy is not a narrative show at all. Instead, it is a show from an animated comedy troupe. Once I began to watch Family Guy with the likes of Kids in the Hall or The State in mind, it suddenly clicked. Sure, Peter Griffin looks like Peter Griffin in every scene, but he is actually playing a new character. Each of the animated cast members has a “type” of character that he or she plays, but everyone remains fluid, and the “story” of each episode remains for along the lines of a general theme that each skit relates to.
And this is actually the difference. Family Guy is a skit show; American Dad is a narrative show.
American Dad has a set of characters. The father, an oblivious, neo-con, CIA agent. The mother, a loopy, high voiced homemaker. The elder daughter, a rebellious liberal leaning 20-something who desperately wants her father’s approval. The younger son, an uber-geek in desperate pursuit of a girlfriend and acceptance as one of the cool kids. The goldfish, a strange German scientist trapped in a fishes body who makes snappy one liners. And the alien, an extra terrestrial that the father saved from horrible experimentation at the hands of the US government.
These characters have changed and evolved over the course of the series, but they are fundamentally the same characters, with the same fundamental functioning. Stan is always oblivious to his wife’s needs. The son is always on the wrong side of cool. And their struggles are more affecting as a result. For my personal tastes and standards, this makes American Dad is a better-written show than Family Guy. However, this set, “Volume 4” also exposes the show’s weaknesses—it’s not that funny.
Family Guy is often hilarious. It’s also poorly written. American Dad is better written, but it is also not all that funny. The show runners attempt to imitate Family Guy with a few episodes, most notably the out-of-continuity James Bond spoof, “Tearjerker”.
But it doesn’t work. American Dad was designed to replace Family Guy. But it was also made with the lessons that McFarlane learned from his first show’s limitations. But, the second show often tries to act like the first, and it falls apart because it is designed to fix the problems of Family Guy.
And that’s what you’re left with, a snake trying to eat it’s own tail, but not quite reaching.
Seth Mcfarlane shows always have pretty good DVDs and American Dad Volume 4 is no exception.
All 14 episodes are presented in “unedited” format. There are a few episodes with alternate lines and a some added seconds of footage here and there. It’s nothing huge, but it is good to see the intended versions.
Do note that these set contains ONLY the unedited versions, forgoing the televised variants. Nothing is X-rated, but it’s beyond the hard PG-13 of the show on occasion. So those with young children should be advised that some of the less than subtle double entrendre are even less subtle here.**
There is also a smattering of deleted scenes. Not every episode has deleted scenes, but many do and some of them are very funny.
In a nice touch, every single episode gets a commentary track from various above-the-line types. The anecdotes are better and fresher because there are so many different people who come in. unfortunately, all too often; none of these people have anything to say. I didn’t listen to all 14 commentaries, but I sampled 6 episodes and listened to the entirety of 2 others. None of them are great, but if you’re a fan of the show there are good nuggets here and there, mostly about battles standards and practices.
American Dad is not a great show. However, it’s pretty funny on occasion. This set is about on par with the other seasons and might well be worth a purchase for hardcore fans and completeists. If you think you will like it, you will. If you’re on the fence…it’s probably only a rental.
*This is one of the most stupid jokes in the history of the show. If you honestly think McCain is a “Nazi” you are an idiot and you know nothing about history. I didn’t vote for the guy, but this type of lowest common denominator party line BS is divisive and intellectually dishonest. It is identical to the hate mongering of Rush Limbaugh and slightly more erudite kool-aid drinking of Keith Olbermann.
**Your children probably shouldn’t watch this show, by the by. Go get the some more appropriate DVDs like The Iron Giant, or Coraline, or Invader Zim, or Batman: The Animated Series. All of these are options that won’t bore you or insult your child’s intelligence.