Everything about American Dad's debut five years ago screamed "poor man's Family Guy rip-off": Its characters perfectly matched those of the Quahog universe, the show was run by Seth MacFarlane, and gags were just as random and belabored. But as Family Guy has sunk deeper into the sinkhole of meta commentary and given birth to boring demon spawn The Cleveland Show, American Dad has been, slowly but surely, figuring out what works. It's become the only FOX animated show I look forward to every week, because even its worst episodes have a few solid gags—and when it's on, as it was on Sunday, it is on. Here's how American Dad defies its many cliches to churn out original, hilarious TV.
Cliche: Buffoon dad be buffoonin'
Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin do stupid stuff. And while that stupid stuff used to be rooted in some sort of desire to "do good," despite not knowing how to show it (at the very least, Homer was like that), now they do stupid things for the sake of being dumb. Because, you know, they're dumb. It's not very compelling. American Dad's Stan Smith, though, continues to be a character in every sense of the word. So Roger kissed his wife; rather than sit back and ask "Whaa happened," Fred Willard-style, he proved himself an extremely passionate (if not misguided) person and threw Roger under the bus. The repercussions—Roger desperately trying to get back in Stan's good graces—made for some good comedy with a little weight to it.
Cliche: Quirky kids be quirkin'
Hayley and Steve Smith share a lot of traits with Lisa and Bart Simpson: They're outcasts at school, and not above playing off each other's blind spots for pure entertainment value. Last night, Steve discovered that he's been having very lucid dreams, and after he insulted Hayley for no good reason, Hayley (with help from Klaus) decided to get back at him. They tricked him into believing he's dreaming when he's still awake, and let his weird fantasies play out in the hopes of embarrassing him. This would have been one scene on the always gag-focused Simpsons, but on American Dad it took up the entire B-story of the episode, and the build was worth the reward. Steve arrived at school pantsless and insulted his teacher as the class looked on in shock. But it cut Hayley too: She had to run multiple red lights to get him there (Steve had insisted she drive through them, and she had to keep up appearances with the fantasy, ya know) and she was forced to watch as Steve actually found success with the girl he has a crush on (she was taken aback by his boldness). Then Steve jumped out the window to fly, and we got a sudden laugh to end things.
Cliche: The weird one be weirdin' (one)
Roger the talking alien is a lot like Brian the talking dog on Family Guy. Brian likes martinis and has adult relationships; Roger has impeccable taste and likes to don elaborate costumes. (This week he was headed for wine country, so he dressed up like the guy from Sideways.) But Brian rarely finds himself part of the larger story, something Roger usually has no problem with. Roger's always game for whatever, and last night that attitude had him going to great lengths to protect his sacred friendship with Stan—even if it meant burying Francine alive. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
What do you guys think about American Dad? Will you watch, oh pretty please?