Episode grade: A-
The trials and tribulations of teenage sexuality have been explored and exploited a million times in a million different TV shows, and yet it’s a vein that never really runs dry. And no character on TV has ever embodied that awkward, fumbling, clueless, but ever-hopeful teenager like Steve Smith. He’s not the typical one-dimensional loser archetype found in most nerdy teenage characterizations, however: due in large part to the irreproachable voice acting of Scott Grimes, Steve has the complex personality and emotional range of a fully formed character, and he’s not without his own personal successes. He has had a long-term girlfriend (Debbie), a good amount of romantic success with Toshi’s hot sister, and other notable one-episode-long relationships.
The vast majority of the time, however, he’s just pining for the kind of romantic affection (read: boob grabbing) that lettermen get, so, thanks to Klaus controlling his body à la Ratatouille, he gets himself on the water polo team and succeeds beyond his wildest expectations, becoming the star player of coach James Hetfield (not THAT James Hetfield, insists James Hetfield)’s team. Predictably, Steve’s hubris eventually causes a rift between him and Klaus and the episode resolves by returning to the status quo… but in true American Dad! fashion, it takes the hilariously absurd road-less-traveled to get there. Klaus bringing Steve up to the surface of the pool while still inside his Speedo was the kind of insane visual you really only get in this show.
At first it wasn’t really clear to me how Klaus managed to control Steve’s actions. Perhaps I could have taken a hint from how Remy controls Alfredo with his hair… “hair”… but Steve has been consistently portrayed as rather underdeveloped in that particular area. Despite being 14, he only got his first pubic hair (“hair” as in singular noun, rather than mass noun – pathetic as always) in season 5’s “1600 Candles” (which he promptly lost). But, as with any long-running cartoon show, the never-aging children find themselves portraying a wide range of ages as the script demands, so Steve suddenly sporting a normal 14 year old’s bushiness is hardly beyond the pale.
Francine absolutely shines in this episode, proving yet again that she’s one of the best, most complex TV mom characters ever. Her unmitigated disappointment in her children’s inability to achieve the sports glory required for her to be able to hang out with the cool parents might have seemed cruel and vindictive from other TV moms, but Francine is nearly as flexible and dynamic a personality as Roger, and the quality of writing and Wendy Schaal’s fantastic voice acting allow her to not only get away with it, but to make it absolutely hilarious as well. Every line of hers tonight was a delight.
Tying in with the aquatic theme, the B plot has Stan and Roger attending an auction of government-seized items. Adding yet another character and outfit to his staggering array of personas, Roger (disguised in a blonde wig and busty red dress) makes an impulse bid on a sailboat seized off the shore of Colombia, and after the auctioneer confirms that the boat has indeed been scoured of its cocaine haul, all other bidders drop out and Roger wins. There’s several cute scenes with Roger and Stan paling around as boat guys, which is a nice treat as their relationship usually tends towards melodramatic adversity. Jeff Fischer’s first appearance this season is a welcome one as well: when he sets sail with Hayley on the boat, we get to see he’s actually more than competent in something for once. The boat’s comically rapid sinking happens despite his excellent sailing skills rather than because of them.
Overall I found this episode to be thoroughly enjoyable and much more reminiscent of the show’s peak years than last week’s season premiere. Both the A plot and B plot felt like fresh ideas that weren’t just merely tweaked retreads of previous eras, and my outlook for the season is much more optimistic than this time last week.
“I love springtime, when the bulky sweatshirts come off and you can see which guys were in the gym all winter…” Another amusing glimpse of the boys’ somewhat loosely defined sexuality.
“Is there a ‘Rubbing One Out In The Library’ team?” Toshi’s usually not the one to go there. Nice job, Tosh.
“Can we get a Farsi translator? Please please please?” “Will you feed her and take her for walks?” “No…”
“I got cut from water polo tryouts!” “So you’re not on the team and I don’t get to hang with the cool parents for yet another year. Gotcha.” [storms off]
“You look like a broken Barbie doll surfacing after a ferry sinking.” Ouch.
“Look at those guys with their tit-eating grins.”
Steve’s high-pitched shudder when Klaus grabs on to his short n’ curlies is yet another awesome example of Scott Grimes’ voice acting magnificence.
“I never thought I’d be part of their world, because you and Hayley have always sucked at everything!” “Hey, what’s for breakfast?” “Nothing. Beat it!”
Snot, Toshi, and Barry with “S”, “T”, and “EVE” respectively painted on their chests was a nice touch.
Human-sized Klaus in a letter jacket French-kissing Amy was more than a little bit disturbing.
The crowd’s reaction to Steve wanting to show the “little guy” in his shorts was another classic: first a gasp of horror, then an immediate “ooh!” of intrigue from both the ladies and the guys.