Part one: B+
Part two: C-
Two-part episodes are exceedingly rare in the American Dad! catalog. And to be totally frank, they’re not really necessary. The writers have proved themselves time and again to be miraculously adept at shoehorning in sprawling, dynamic plots into a mere 22½ minutes over the last 13 years: episodes like “Rapture’s Delight” and “Lost in Space”, for example, feel like movie-length epics despite fitting into a neat little half-hour time slot.
So when the writers introduce only the third two-part episode in a catalog of over 200 episodes, fans like us expect something particularly special. Season two’s “Stan of Arabia”, their first two-parter, told the tale of the Smiths being relocated to Saudi Arabia by the CIA. Long-time fans are familiar with the fact that the show was still finding its footing in its second season, trying to develop its own unique voice to stand apart from its spiritual animated predecessors. The first part shows how (most of) the family falls in love with various aspects of the Saudi way of life, and the second part explores how those supposed positives are merely illusions and America is where they really belong. Perhaps not quite needing two full episodes for this, it still works fairly well and is overall enjoyable. Then the second two-parter, “100 A.D.” and “Son of Stan”, didn’t arrive until season seven, celebrating the 100th and 101st episodes respectively by having Hayley and Jeff finally get married (by eloping) and Stan and Francine sending bounty hunters after them to stop it. With so much going on and so much ground to cover, two parts work incredibly well here… stuffing all that plot into one 22½ episode would have suffocated the story.
Now, another five years and six seasons later, American Dad! debuts only its third two-parter ever. And, at first, it feels like we’re back in season two. Stan’s stereotypically conservative Christian religiosity, which had mostly faded into the background of his character over the years as he developed into a more complex, more dynamic character, was suddenly back in the forefront. When Steve finally gets booted out of Sunday School and up into the regular Sunday Mass services, he literally can’t believe what he hears in the sermon. Stan, furious about Steve’s blasphemy, then finds his own faith shaken to the core when Steve points out the numerous inconsistencies and fallacies of the Old Testament — most notably, the story of Noah and the Great Flood, and how a single wooden boat couldn’t conceivably fit two of every species of animal on earth. Now bereft of his faith, Roger finds it easy to lure Stan into a life of crime and vice, and Francine begs Steve to fix the problem he created.
Steve, realizing that it was his logical disassembly of the Noah story that pushed his father over the edge, discovers that ships large enough to ostensibly hold two of every animal actually do exist now, thanks to modern ship-building technology. Eagerly, he shows Stan a colossal natural gas tanker ship built and moored in South Korea, and this newly discovered possibility that Noah’s Ark could conceivably exist is enough to not only rekindle Stan’s faith, but sends him into a religious fervor that winds up with him convincing himself that he’s the new Noah, and the Daesong natural gas tanker is his new Ark. Stan won’t rest until he sees the ship for himself, so his family humors him with a trip to Korea to witness its glory in person. In a hilarious twist, it turns out the Daesong company is so accustomed to delirious men showing up thinking they’re the new Noah, they have an entire “Noah Experience” designed to simulate the Biblical Flood and satisfy their Noah complexes in a way that doesn’t threaten their extremely expensive tanker ships. Unsurprisingly, Stan goes through the motions in order to get rid of the “false” Noahs, then hijacks the ship himself.
Exploring the ship with his family, determined to prove to them that he’s correct about being the new Noah, Stan shows them the “pipe room”, the “extra pipe room”, and yet another pipe room… all conventional things one would expect on a ship designed for the transport of liquefied natural gas.
And then… a room full of animals. Two of every kind. On a ship designed specifically for transporting liquefied natural gas.
And here’s where the story takes a sharp left and goes totally off the rails. Hayley finds the ship’s manifest explaining that the animals are being transferred from one zoo to another, but then immediately points out that a natural gas ship wouldn’t be transporting animals. Back on deck, Francine and Steve side with Stan, mostly out of their love for him rather than any belief in his theories (and Francine’s desire to pet the alpaca she saw), whereas Hayley still thinks he’s crazy and makes to depart from the ship… only to see lightning destroy half of Korea and a huge surge of water blasting them out to sea. Apparently Stan was correct. Roll credits for the first episode.
A week later, “Daesong Heavy Industries II: Return to Innocence” airs. We find the Smiths afloat on the ocean, convinced that they’re the only humans to survive the new Great Flood. The family is now reunited in their God-given religious mission, until Jeff’s failure to monitor the ship’s operating temperature causes a catastrophic failure and blows the ship to pieces. Hayley and Jeff briefly do a Titanic-esque parody that just serves to show Jeff as even more infuriatingly stupid and incompetent than usual. Steve winds up in a life boat with Roger, whose bizarre character turns are more grating and annoyingly prolonged than amusing. And Stan and Francine wind up getting total amnesia and washing up on a deserted island, where they learn to survive and discover each others sexuality, à la Adam and Eve (accompanied by narration, for some strange and rather uncomfortable reason).
Eventually, a U.S. Navy ship winds up rescuing each of the paired-off family members over the course of part two. The family discovers there actually wasn’t a Great Flood, and Stan realizes he’s not actually Noah. Reset switch hit yet again; loose threads all wrapped up, things will be back to normal for next week’s wacky adventures.
But… uh… what about the animals on the “natural gas” tanker? What about the lightning destroying the Korean city and the gigantic flood? What the fuck was the point of Stan and Francine’s Garden of Eden experience? What was the goddamn point of the whole thing, other than a reason to do a bunch of random side stories that don’t really serve any unifying purpose or tell an interesting story?
One thing that American Dad! has maintained over its long history is a consistency to its absurdity: no matter how crazy shit gets, it’s always been grounded in the established nuances of the characters’ personalities, and has served an overall narrative purpose. This two-part episode throws all that out the window in the last few minutes of the first part and spends the second part chasing vignettes that are both too drawn-out and not very interesting or amusing. This kind of random story threads thrown together in an unconvincing and unsatisfying overall story arc is run of the mill these days for zombified shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, but sticks out like a sore thumb in a show like this that’s otherwise shown itself this season to have plenty of vigor and zeal left. Trimming the bloat down would have most likely created a really great single episode, but these two… weren’t.
“Mr. Smith, your son has outgrown Sunday School!” “Smart, lady, get rid of the one kid that can kinda go to the bathroom by himself!”
“Doubting Thomas stuck his finger in Jesus’s WHAT?”
The stylized animation during Stan and Steve’s debate over the Bible is fantastic. Yet more proof that this show really goes the extra mile.
“Pleasure is the road to happiness! People talk about filling the void as if it’s a bad thing! It’s actually full of nerve endings.”
“You scared Suckboy Tony!” Damn, he’s actually kinda hot.
“Have you tried meditating?” “Hey, Tony! That mouth’s not for giving advice!”
“Stay out of the basement. The furnace has been making a… moaning and wet-slapping sound.”
Steve knowing Suckboy Tony by sight is amusing and kind of disturbing.
“It weeded out all the fake Noahs!” [Entire family in unison]: “Ahhh, shit.”
“So… are we doing it? Or did I shave my legs with a tuna can lid for nothing?”
A wave somehow managed to put underwear on Stan while he was unconscious on the beach.
How the fuck is Roger getting cellular reception in the middle of the Pacific?
“Oongock!” “I… am… rock… hard.” The coconut shell pubes were pretty hilarious, I must admit.
“It’s ladies first to watch the dirty beach sex!”