In 10 Words or Less
The post-Bush Administration American Dad! starts here
Likes: "American Dad," "Family Guy," Seth MacFarlane
Hates: Getting less for my money
The Story So Far...
Seth MacFarlane parlayed the popularity of his "Family Guy" series into another cartoon with Fox, introducing the world to Stan Smith, a CIA operative with the kind of household problems that have plagued TV dads since the family sitcom was invented. Using the political atmosphere in America as a backdrop, the show parodied the right-wing and told the kind of silly stories "Family Guy" fans enjoyed, while avoiding being a repeat of the same concepts and techniques. The first volume of "American Dad!" DVDs, collecting the first 13 episodes of the first season, was released in April of 2006, followed by a 19-episode set in May of 2007 and 18 more episodes in April 2008. DVDTalk has reviews of all three sets.
The last American Dad! DVD collection showed a series in the midst of change, as the political and topical parodies fell a bit by the wayside, and the show became more like your usual sitcom, a mix of family and workplace comedy, as Stan's wacky family and bizarre job offered plenty of plot options. While his job as a CIA agent left room for gags about the government, episodes frequently focused on the struggles of his kids Steve and Hayley, his wife Francine's efforts to maintain a happy home and Roger's misadventures, fueled by boredom.
This time around, the change is pretty much complete, which, in a way, makes a lot of sense. American Dad! was somewhat a reaction to the Bush regime in America, and with his government in full-on lame duck mode, the show had to change a bit, otherwise it wouldn't work the same. Sure, there's the chance to tell stories about Stan being resistant to the changes of the Obama administration, but as comedy has learned since President Obama took office, that's only so funny.
The big episode in this set has to be "Tearjerker," a James Bond parody casting the American Dad! characters in a spy story told with the show's sense of humor. Though Stan doesn't change much while playing Smith, Stan Smith, Francine gets sexed up as the cleverly-named Sexpun T'come, and Roger gets to play the villain, the nefarious Tearjerker, in a plot that's as ridiculous as any bad spy flick. Though it's one of the longest segments the show's every done, and is similar to a gag in Tropic Thunder, Tearjerker's revelation of his scheme is pretty funny, and there are plenty of silly twists on the Bond theme, including a really impressive title sequence inspired by the classics.
The plots in this group of episodes is a tad repetitive, with three main themes: Roger's behavior, Stan and Francine's marriage and incest. After the subject was a major plot point several times before, there are no less than five episodes in which the Smiths' marriage is on shaky ground, which is just ridiculous, no matter how forgiving Francine is. Meanwhile, Roger gets even more time in the spotlight, including an episode about his love of disguises getting out of hand and manifesting itself in another personality. And did there really need to be multiple episodes about inappropriate intrafamilial relationships? Wouldn't either watching Stan sing about washing his mother's genitals or Hayley inviting her father to explore her body have covered it, rather than getting both?
Saying that, one of the better episodes in this set, "Spring Break-Up," involves both a Roger scheme and marital drama with the Smiths, as Stan meets a girl during a Spring Break bash thrown by the house alien. Also among the stand-outs in this set, other than "Tearjerker," is the last episode, "The Most Adequate Christmas Ever," which is a change of pace, as Stan ends up in limbo and has to plead for a second chance, with the help of an angel voiced by Paget Brewster. Unsurprisingly, a Steve Smith episode, "Escape from Pearl Bailey," is among the best on this set, since shows about him tend to be quite enjoyable, and this one, which blends several movie homages into a fun story of revenge, is no exception.
While there aren't any bad (or even mediocre) episodes here, there are at least four that will annoy fans of the series, and those are the ones that aremissing , as the number of episodes included dropped to 14, after volume two had 19 and volume three had 18. The use of volume releases instead of seasons on MacFarlane's series has always felt like a way to get loyal fans to spend more on DVDs, but now, with even less episodes, viewers get less for their money and have to buy more volumes.
After so many McFarlane DVD sets in ThinPak packaging, this three-disc, 14-episode volume arrives in a clear, single-width keepcase with a tray for two of the discs. I'm a fan of consistency in packaging, but I also like saving shelf space, so I'm torn on this change. The discs feature animated, full-frame menus with play-all and episode selections (with special features where applicable), while set-up choices are on individual episode menus. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese, along with closed captioning. (NOTE: The description on the back of the box mentions "The Phantom of the Telethon," but it's not included in this set.)
The full-frame transfers on this show are as good as last time, but the new title sequence, seen on several episodes, looks fantastic, boasting bright, vivid color and solid overall quality. The video is free of dirt, damage or compression artifacts and doesn't even suffer from the pixilation issue that plagues most traditional animation on DVD.
The audio is offered as Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, which follow the trend set in the last volume, offering the action scenes with strong tracks, enhanced in the surrounds, while keeping the dialogue crisp and clear.
In addition to the original televised version, every episode in Volume Four also has an audio commentary, but sadly MacFarlane, who tends to be fun to listen to, is nowhere to be heard. The rest of the crew is in attendance in various combinations of five or six participants, but the cast presence is very slim, with just Rachel MacFarlane in attendance on one episode. The tracks tend to stick to the details of the production and inside jokes, but one episode, which features the show's re-do team, gives a different perspective by focusing on a specific facet of the production.
As is usually the case with MacFarlane DVDs, there's an incredible amount of deleted scenes, 98 in all, for an added 38 minutes of fun. Usually, these scenes could easily be in the show, but were cut for being just too filthy or ridiculous or too long. This time, there are several moments that just don't work, in amongst the moments of debased humor.
There are two featurettes this time, starting with the 15-minute "Tearjerker: And Then They Will Cry" which features interviews about the making of this complicated episode. It's a good piece that's fitting considering the work that went into the episode. It's followed by "Roger: Master of Disguise," an 11-minute look at the joys and challenges of animating the extraterrestrial Paul Lynde. They brought together a bunch of the crew to talk about Roger, so you get to hear about the little details that go into the show's stand-out alien.
The final extra is a near full-cast (including MacFarlane) table reading at the 2008 San Diego ComicCon, of the episode "Pulling Double Booty." The structure is unique, as it starts with just the reading for the first act, adding animatics for the second act and full animation in the third. These tend to be more impressive live, and this is no exception, though seeing the voices come out of these poeple is an odd sensation. A short Q&A follows, which has a few fun moments.
The Bottom Line
This collection has some very fine episodes, including the classic Bond-parody "Tearjerker," but the lack of Seth MacFarlane in the set is obvious, as he's missing almost entirely from the extras, and there's less content altogether, with four less episodes than the last volume. Is this payback for Fox finishing the shows without MacFarlane during the strike, or is he just stretched too thin with three network shows and his web site? Hopefully things get better for fans of the cartoon mogul.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.