October 20, 2014
The 10 Best Episodes of American Dad
At this point, I know it’s pretty much standard practice for me to begin one of these lists complaining about how hard it was for me to make said list. But look, I REALLY mean it this time; American Dad is one of my favorite shows on television right now, and the incredibly under-appreciated comedic gem has a bevy of fantastic episodes to choice from. So many, in fact, that I bet I could make a completely separate list that includes none of the below 10 choices and feel totally okay with the list as well. But all that said, these are my definitive choices for the 10 best episodes of American Dad which, starting tonight, you can now find airing new episodes every Monday night on TBS. Which, by the way, is a move I actually find to be completely fine: maybe the cable channel will give AD the love that Fox never did. Whatever the case, on to the list!
Since I’m an indecisive motherfucker (as always), here’s first some honorable mentions that killed me not to include on the list, so I feel I had to mention in some form. In no particular order:
Honorable Mentions: “One Little Word”, “Tearjerker”, “Family Affair”, “Roy Rogers McFreeley”, and “Merlot Down Dirty Shame”
Now for realsies this time, let’s kick off this list:
10. “Bully For Steve”
One of the most touched upon relationships in American Dad (and most sitcoms, really) is the one between our central father and son: Stan and Steve Smith, who couldn’t be more opposite from each other if they tried. Stan is of course the manly, athletic, and tough type, and Steve is the scrawny, timid, and weak nerd. This dichotomy has been used for many a great episode (“DeLorean Storean,” “The Magnificent Steve,” the next one on this list), but never so effectively in “Bully For Steve” in which Stan, in an effort to toughen his son up, begins to bully him. This concept could have become cringe-worthy and horrific if in the hands of say, Seth MacFarlane’s OTHER show, but it’s utilized here to such a degree that it becomes hilarious. The sideplot in “A Bully for Steve” is a bit slower than the main plot as it focuses on the Hailey/Reginald dynamic but, as a big Reginald fan (that koala just GETS me), I had little to complain about with this episode overall. And ask any AD fan out there what one of the best moments of the show’s history is, and the Stan vs. Stelio Kantos scene is bound to make the list. He was as mean as he was Greek…
9. “In Country…Club”
As a war movie junkie, “In Country…Club” is an episode that works for me everytime I see it, and an episode I am guaranteed to watch anytime it is on. “In Country…Club” just has so much fun with its central premise of a Vietnam war reenactment, spoofing films like Platoon, Rambo, and of course In Country along the way. It’s also an episode with the Steve/Stan relationship at its center which, once again, has pretty much always been a strong vantage point for the show. And, if anything, “In Country…Club” gives us our first introduction to Johnny Mind Quad, one of the show’s wackiest running gags. And once Jimmy Boombox makes the scene? Oh man, what a pairing.
8. “The Most Adequate Christmas Ever”
This might sound hyperbolic here, but I truly believe that American Dad has some of the best Holiday specials ever put to television and, whenever the show decides to craft another one, I always get excited about the results. “The Most Adequate Christmas Ever” isn’t the best of said Holiday episodes (rest assured, there will be more on this list), but it is one of the most creative ones, as Stan dies and is sent to court to prove whether or not he is a good enough person to be given a second chance at life. Yeah, AD sure does have some dark themes running throughout its Christmas specials, but that’s honestly the appeal of most of them, and the fact that they still find plenty of time to be funny despite the crazy plot-lines is pretty miraculous. And if you can say anything about “The Most Adequate Christmas Ever,” it’s that no other Christmas special in the history of mankind has ended with the main character pointing a Heaven Gun at the head of God, and in a comedy no less! Speaking of which, why do they even have Heaven Guns? I don’t want to be that guy, and I’m happy here, but why is this not an issue?
Ah, such a goddamn quotable episode.
7. “Joint Custody”
On the opposite end of the Jeff-centric episode spectrum we have “Joint Custody,” which might not really be a particularly ambitious episode of television, but is pretty damn funny one. Roger and Stan’s attempt to entrap Jeff and collect the bounty on his head was full of amazingly funny moments, from Jeff’s Dad’s deadpan about all the “stolen” awards on his wall, to the fantastic segment in which Stan and Roger accidentally get high on burnt Marijuana crop. Roger making a looney comment about a bag of cat food being the only thing keeping him tethered to the ground only to be proved correct when he floats away with out it remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever laughed at with this show. And that’s not even making mention of the wacky as hell subplot where, in a scheme to save Jeff from said entrapment, Steve believes himself to have psychic powers. “Joint Custody” was just American Dad flying on all comedic cylinders, truly.
6. “Lost in Space”
“Lost in Space” isn’t one of the funniest episodes ever for American Dad, but I’ll be damned if its not one of the most ambitious. Taking away pretty much all your main characters for a whole episode and focusing on a tertiary one in FREAKING OUTER SPACE is quite brave, but co-creator Mike Barker (who scripted the episode) managed to create something truly terrific out of the conditions. The Jeff character was always great as Haylie’s slacker boyfriend but here he gets to really steal the show as the essential lead, following up perfectly on what was set up in “Naked to the Limit, One More Time.” Add in a pitch-perfect self cameo from comic Sinbad and a wonderful set of music from the great band Wax Fang (try watching this episode and NOT having “Majestic” stuck in your head forever), and you have an episode of television that feels absolutely odd on network TV, but is right at home in the gloriously weird world of American Dad.
5. “100 A.D.”
If you couldn’t tell from the title, “100 A.D.” was the 100th episode of American Dad, and what a 100th episode it was. The show went a long way to bring back some of its notable guest characters (and kill most of them off in one moment), in addition to forming the action around a delightful chase to stop Jeff and Hayley from getting married. This let the series go through a wacky chase of an episode featuring some truly awesome moments, from the use of the always fantastic Principal Lewis to the wonderful subplot in which Bullock and Reginald fight for Hayley’s hands. Add in a sideplot return of the always great “Wheels and the Legman” running gag, and “100 A.D.” is American Dad at its craziest, and I love pretty much everything about it.
4. “A Jones for A Smith”
One of my favorite things about American Dad is the way it takes rather simple lessons (in this case, Stan needing to learn to accept help from others) and framing it around a progressively darker and crazy storyline. In this case, Stan learns his lesson by becoming increasingly addicted to crack — yeah, not your standard network comedy arc by far, but the show managed to turn such a dark story into something truly weird and hilarious. And Bryan Cranston has a guest role! So that’s always cool.
3. “Stan’s Night Out”
This is another one of my personal favorites — as I’ve explained many a time on this website, I’m almost guaranteed to enjoy something in the “One Crazy Night” sub genre of entertainment, and “Stan’s Night Out” is no exception. The series put a spotlight on Stan and his wacky CIA buddies to fantastic results, creating an increasingly dire and more manic situation that perfectly resolved itself all within a 22 minute runtime. Yes…Cheesers came back. He really did.
2. “Rapture’s Delight”
Oh and here we are — not just one of the most unique episodes of American Dad, but one of the most unique episodes of television I’ve ever seen. “Rapture’s Delight” is a glorious episode of television from literal start to finish, brilliantly scripted by the McKenna Brothers (of now Community fame) and chock full of the stuff I love about this series: the hilarity, the creativity, and ultimately the heart. And the episode even ends with Stan Smith dying, only to be sent to his own personal heaven in which he can continue to live the rest of his life the way he wants it — meaning that, yes, you can assume the rest of the show is just the heaven of our main character. Creative as hell stuff, all wrapped around a brilliant take on apocalypse fiction and boldly playing around with biblical archetypes. It would easily be my personal favorite episode, if it wasn’t for…
1. “The One That Got Away”
Don’t get me wrong; the gap between “The One That Got Away” and “Rapture’s Delight” is almost miniature in nature, and both represent American Dad at pretty much its absolute best. But the heart wants what the heart wants and, in my mind, “The One That Got Away” is an absolute masterpiece of comedy television. Roger Smith is one of the best comedy characters to ever grace a television show, and the way in which “The One That Got Away” illustrates what makes that character so wonderful is truly great. And just on a storytelling level, “The One That Got Away” is genius. Everytime “The One That Got Away” switches gears in its second half and focuses on the other side of its main twist, I always just marvel at the excellent formatting and pitch perfect writing of the episode. No surprise this one is also written by Chris and Matt McKenna — those two might honestly be my pick for best comedy writers on television at this point. They are so great guys, and just like Community’s “Remedial Chaos Theory” (scripted by Chris McKenna), “The One That Got Away” is always my first choice for the show that best represents the crazy genius of American Dad. You should really be watching this show, people. Shame on you if you aren’t.
American Dad’s tenth season makes its grand premiere on TBS tonight. What’s your personal favorite episode of the show? Let us know in the comments.