|American Dad: Volume Two (2006)
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Wendy Schaal, Scott Grimes, Rachael MacFarlane, Dee Bradley Baker, Patrick Stewart
When news hit that Seth McFarlane’s new show, “American Dad,” would be packaged together with the return of “Family Guy” as part of FOX’s Sunday night animation block, my heart skipped a beat. Already a big fan of the latter, it seemed silly to think that McFarlane’s latest project would disappoint. Unfortunately, it did, and after only a few weeks of watching what amounted to a sorry “Family Guy” rip-off, I forced myself to delete the Season Pass from my TiVo. Then, the season one DVD arrived on my doorstep, and feeling compelled to watch the remaining episodes in order to write a proper review, I quickly realized that the show had made some serious strides in creating a unique voice of its own. Granted, the changes weren’t enough to warrant reinstating the show as part of my weekly DVR programming, but with the release of the season two DVD, McFarlane can rest assured knowing he’s earned at least one new fan.
Part of the reason “American Dad” finally won me over is because the character of Stan has been drastically toned down. Sure, he’s still an arrogant, NRA card-carrying Republican, but the emphasis on those specific traits isn’t the focus of every episode, as it was during the first season. Instead, the focus has been shifted to his duties as a husband and father, and as such, the stories offer better character development (though that’s not entirely necessary for a cartoon) and funnier gags. The rest of the family hasn’t gone under such drastic personality modifications, but they do receive their equal share of the spotlight, perhaps with the exception of Klaus. The German-speaking goldfish is only given one episode to call his own (“Finances with Wolves,” where his brain is transplanted into the body of a black man), and even then he’s sharing the story with Stan.
Still, with the exception of a few ongoing plot threads (like Steve’s new girlfriend, Debbie), all of the episodes are standalones, with the events that transpire during a single episode just as easily forgotten by their conclusions. This is where the series excels, because it allows the writers the freedom to tell whatever silly story they want without any consequences, whether it’s Steve becoming a bestselling children’s author (“Star Trek”), Francine exacting revenge on George Clooney (“Tears of a Clooney”), or Stan traveling back in time to fix the future (“The Best Christmas Story Never”). In “Camp Refoogee,” Roger and Francine playact as a married couple who constantly one-up the other with crazy lies. “Irregarding Steve” features a subplot involving a brilliant send-up of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” with squirrels. The aforementioned “Finances with Wolves” features a hilarious gag involving a single rocket boot, a cactus shop, razor blades and a lemon juice waterfall.
And in perhaps the best episode of the season, and one that would have received more press had “South Park” not just done a far superior version of it, “Dungeons and Wagons” spoofs both “The Fast and the Furious” (as Stan tries to impress Francine by street racing) and “World of Warcraft” (as Haley must revive her brother’s in-game character after purposefully killing him by saying his name backwards). The making-of-the-episode is also covered in the 11-minute featurette “An American Dad Like No Other,” which discusses the origin of the idea (hint: the writers are a bunch of D&D nerds) and the production of the in-game sequences at another studio.
Also included in the special features (located on disc three) are a series of cast/crew interviews discussing their favorite scenes and episodes, the seven-minute animation featurette “Drawing Roger,” and a handful of deleted scenes. Oh, and did I mention that all 19 episodes feature a cast/crew audio commentary? Pretty nice, huh? Too bad they’re not as entertaining as the “Family Guy” tracks, though they’re still a great addition this three-disc set. As is “American Dad” to McFarlane’s ever-growing empire of television entertainment. It doesn’t quite have the comedic zing (or the audience) that “Family Guy” has been lucky enough to maintain over the past five seasons, but it’s still a worthy counterbalance to the other animated families in FOX’s Sunday lineup.