DVD Review: "American Dad!" Volume 7

Reaching its 100th episode (and beyond), American Dad! surpasses the quality (if not ambition) of its other Fox counterpart, Family Guy.

By all rights, American Dad! should be long off the air, another failed show in the 9:30 to 10:00 slot on Fox’s Sunday night programming block. In fact, when it first aired back in the winter of ’05, this spawn from the mind of Seth MacFarlane seemed like an also-ran to his then recently-resurrected Family Guy. MacFarlane was mining sitcom territory again, skewering TV tropes with another dysfunctional nuclear family, this time with an alien and a talking fish replacing the talking baby and dog in its predecessor. Whereas Family Guy was a spiritual successor of the blue collar sitcoms that gave birth to The Simpsons, American Dad! was squarely in the mid-80’s mindset of upper middle class families (a.k.a. “comfortable white folks comedy” like Growing Pains or Mr. Belvedere).

The thing is, where Family Guy was increasingly about the non-sequitur (with the exception of the musical episodes, for the most part a FG story is really just the thin skeleton upon which to drape a bunch of disconnected gags), American Dad! was unabashedly dove right into the traditional sitcom structure with an “A” story, usually featuring patriotic patriarch Stan Smith somehow getting in trouble because of his ultra-right-wing values and a “B” story featuring his clan pretty much left to their own devices.

For all of that rigid structure (seriously, nearly every episode meets this format) American Dad! is actually the better of the two shows, owing mostly, I suspect, to having a more coherent universe to play around with. In Family Guy, anything can and usually does happen in the service of its increasingly surreal cutaways. On the other hand, American Dad!’s universe allows for an alien, or a talking koala that works for the C.I.A., but they’re constants in the series and therefore allowed to develop personality and quirks as the series progresses. It’s why the delirious weirdness of the Christmas episode, “For Whom The Sleigh Bells Toll,” or the Halloween episode, “The Best Little Horror House in Langley,” work: they may up the ante of what occurs on the show in terms of bending or breaking the rules (in this case, a very bad Santa and an even worse haunted house) but they’re acceptable within the constraints of the show and feel like surprises instead of the expected unexpected of Family Guy.

The episodes in this set make up the sixth season, which is very solid for most of its run (the last two or three episodes of the season including “Gorillas in the Mist” and “Flirting With Disaster” are a little thin). But overall, the bar is kept pretty high as the show crosses its 100th episode threshold with a violent homage to It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, (“100 A.D.”), and the addition of Hayley’s boyfriend, Jeff to the household after their elopement at the beginning of the season.

In addition to the scattered episode commentaries and deleted scenes, there’s a loving tribute to Patrick Stewart, who voices Stan’s boss, Deputy Director Bullock, along with the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con panel featuring the voice cast.

American Dad! Volume 7 is available now.

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