|American Dad: Volume One (2005)
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Wendy Schaal, Scott Grimes, Rachael MacFarlane, Dee Bradley Baker, Patrick Stewart
During the short period of time between the unjust cancellation of “Family Guy” and its welcome return to the airwaves, Seth MacFarlane and Co. were already hard at work on creating a new hit show for FOX. It was by pure coincidence, however, that MacFarlane’s original series would be given a second chance on the network at the same time that “American Dad” would debut. The marketing team probably thought this to be a wise decision on their part, mostly because they were using the success of “Family Guy” to help promote the newest MacFarlane creation. Unfortunately, “American Dad” is about as different from “Family Guy” as oranges are from tangerines, making it a much bigger pill to swallow for fans anticipating something a little more different.
Written with a post-9/11 America in mind, MacFarlane leads the cast of voice talent as Stan Smith, a right-wing CIA agent whose extreme dedication to his country is complemented by a constant paranoia of the wavering national security threat levels. Along with his trophy wife Francine (Wendy Schaal) and his two kids – liberalist daughter Hayley (Rachael MacFarlane) and nerdy son Steve (Scott Grimes) – the Smith house is also occupied by an alien named Roger (Seth MacFarlane, again) and Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), a goldfish with the brain of a German man. And though the series is quite different in many respects, it’s hard not to compare the show’s six main characters to the Griffin family. Stan is clearly a conservative version of Peter, while Francine is more or less a carbon copy of Lois. Klaus the goldfish is Stewie with an Oedipus complex, Roger is Brian, and Steve is a combination of the eccentric Chris and outsider Meg. Even Stan’s boss (played to perfection by Patrick Stewart) is a healthy mixture of Peter’s boss Mr. Weed and Mayor Adam West.
In fact, the right-winged Hayley is about the only original character in the series, which is an important distinction, since the political tone of “American Dad” relies heavily on Stan’s disapproval of Hayley’s hippy exploits. This is certainly one of the key differences between the two shows. While “Family Guy” does dabble in political incorrectness now and again, a majority of the humor comes from its pop cultural references and hilarious cutaways. “American Dad,” on the other hand, is a lot more straightforward with its comedic moments, like, say, “The Simpsons.” And as the series progressed, so did the writing. It’s unfortunate to think about how many viewers were lost in the shift from “Family Guy”-style humor to a comic panache of its own, especially with episodes like “Bullocks to Stan” and the two-part “Stan of Arabia” season finale.
Perhaps the series will gain a new audience with its release on DVD, a three-disc affair including all thirteen season one episodes and a nice collection of special features. Presented in the standard, 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, the first season of “American Dad” also includes cast/crew audio commentary tracks for every episode except “Threat Levels” (episode two), a making-of featurette (“All in the Family”) on the development of the series, and a U.S. Comedy Arts Festival performance (“How’s Your Aspen?) that’s really not worth your time. Extras that are worth checking out, however, are the twenty-six deleted scenes, a little training tape entitled “The New CIA,” and the “Threat Levels” featurette that provides three different ways to view the episode: as a table read with the cast, as a series of animatics, and as the original broadcast version. The rest of the bonus material includes a short featurette on casting the show’s many voice talents, a collection of animatics (“American Animatics”) that can easily be skipped, a Super Bowl pre-game promo, and a “Family Guy” TV spot.
All in all, “American Dad” is a pretty tough concept to sell to fans of MacFarlane’s baby, especially now that they can put away their scratched DVDs and watch new episodes every week. Part of me even believes that “American Dad” would have been a much bigger success had the return of “Family Guy” never happened, while the other part is doubtful that the show will last past its reported second season. Regardless, “American Dad” will remain to be a worthy supplement for those of us left wanting more of MacFarlane’s sharp sense of humor, and until it is finally cancelled, we’re thankful for whatever we get.