American Dad!: S13E01 “Roots”

Episode grade: C+

Howdy, friends! Well, it’s been nearly half a year since we’ve had a new American Dad! episode, and the A.V. Club has long since abandoned giving it the kind of treatment a lot of us think it deserves. So, with the Mothership continuing to fail us, it’s up to us here at The A.V. Club After Dark to operate in its stead. Over the next few months, I will (attempt to) provide a level of coverage as close to the original as I can.

Few people would blame one for insisting the show is a shadow of its glory days of a few years ago, though I would continue to argue it’s still in the territory of “better to have it than not”. Episodes like “Roots” test this belief somewhat, however. There are some cute moments and some hints of the witty banter and absurd, brilliant comedy that set the show apart from its other Seth MacFarlane associated brethren, but compared to the golden era of (approximately) seasons 5 through 10, it’s just not quite as sharp and subversive.

In the A-plot, we see that Stan has somehow attributed much of his upbringing to the paternal influence of a local tree, in a somewhat misfired reference to Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”. A twist like this might have worked fairly well in a less established show, but considering how many storylines we’ve had with Stan’s parents, it seems way too forced and artificial. The Langley Falls town council wants to tear down the tree, along with a historic local store, to build a new arena football stadium, and in a plot worthy of the tiredness and lackadaisical plotting and ludicrously out-of-character story-advancing convenience of latter-day The Simpsons, Stan decides saving the tree is his personal mission. Roger’s involvement seems almost disposable, a very bad sign for one of the greatest and most dynamic sitcom characters ever created.

Suturing in the B-plot in the final act, the only thing that gets Stan to relent is a rescue mission for his son Steve, whose lack of growth recently has convinced him to undergo a highly experimental (and obviously ill-advised) surgical procedure to gain the height he feels he’s not going to gain from natural processes. Stan manages to salvage some scrap of his fatherhood by letting Steve know that the Smiths have a years-long growth pause
and that he will soon experience a growth spurt. Never mind the fact that Steve has ranged (at least in emotional age) from pre-pubescence to (physically) elderly over the run of the series and has never varied in his diminutive statue.

In the end, I am still glad the show is continuing to produce more episodes. I love these characters and the world they live in, and the art continues to be a generally higher quality than its Fox-borne brethren. I will confess to a level of apprehension, however, that it’s all downhill from here. Nothing can ever be as good as it was at its best, and at this moment, I’m content to stay with it in its golden years.

The episode wasn’t a total letdown, of course. Many of the characters had some great lines, delivered by the same voice acting troupe that has been delighting us with their talents for over ten years now.

“I made us have our wedding there!” “Oh. I just thought you were a cheap asshole.”

“Oh my god, Freddie, we can’t chop down a tree with a homosexual man in it!”

“Honey, you’ve blown me away with this commitment to this hunger strike!” “It wasn’t supposed to be a hunger strike, I kept asking you to bring me food!” “But I stood strong!”

For once, we see a hint of the kind of worldly influence Roger seems to have, except this time with Klaus and Steve’s pediatrician.

“What’s there to think about? If B.B. King had come to me, he’d have never died! … at the height he was!”

“It says it’s been a-three days since you a-pooped!” “Let me see that book.” “A-never.”

“Motherfucking WILMINGTON!” Principal Lewis is always a welcome addition.

Nice to see Richard Kind returning as Al Tuttle, though he’s lost a LOT of weight. Will this be addressed in future episodes?

Always hilarious to see just how much Roger can change his physical form to fit a character.

“That paperboy always finds me.” “It’s because I’m in love with youuuuuu!”

The Left Shark reference is lazy and incredibly antiquated; really surprised this show went with that… usually that’s Family Guy territory.

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