Whether American Dad!
will ever enjoy Family Guy
's cult status remains to be seen, but the first 13 episodes of its inaugural season, collected in this extras-laden three-disc set, are promising. After a few episodes, CIA agent Stan Smith and family gradually emerge from the Griffins' formidable shadow, and the show finds its own comic voice. And it sounds a lot like Paul Lynde. That would be Roger (voiced by McFarlane), the housebound alien who saved Stan's life at Area 51 and now lives with the Smiths. Not as inspired a creation is Klaus, the German-accented goldfish who lusts after Stan's wife, Francine. He does, though, have an inspired meta-moment in the episode "Bullocks to Stan," in which he provides faux scene-specific commentary (during the episode!) in anticipation of the show's release on DVD ("I wasn't sure about the Squeaky Fromme reference," he offers, "but it's a smart joke, and the fans have come to expect that from us"). As for the rest of the clan, Steve's children are the typical dysfunctional siblings: Steve, a socially awkward geek, and Hayley, a liberal counterpoint to red, white, and blue-blooded Stan--at least liberal enough to sleep with Stan's boss, Bullock (playfully voiced by Patrick Stewart) in the episode "Bullocks to Stan."
Though the jokes in American Dad! are not as free-associative as in Family Guy, McFarlane cannot seem to resist dispensing with character integrity for a gratuitous potshot at, say, Lisa Kudrow. But as with Family Guy, American Dad! tears at the sitcom envelope. The blasphemous episode "Deacon Stan, Jesus Man," had the distinction of being voted "Worst TV Show of the Week" by the Parents Television Council. And American Dad! has its own version of Family Guy's surreal titanic bouts between Peter Griffin and that chicken. The episode "Homeland Insecurity" features a digression in which a Department of Water and Power worker greedily kills his partner over a gem-encrusted gold "turd," only to find out his wife is having an affair. As he wails to the heavens, the words "To be continued" appear onscreen. According to the audio commentary, the writers do indeed intend to continue this compelling soap opera. So that's something to look forward to. --Donald Liebenson