In 10 Words or Less
That time American Dad passed Family Guy
Likes: "American Dad," "Family Guy," Seth MacFarlane
Hates: Decreasing DVD extras
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 three more annual releases. DVDTalk has reviews of all four sets.
It wad obvious last time, but with this set, the change is complete, as American Dad is now your traditional family sitcom, starring the stupid dad, the sexy mom and their brood of kids (including the wacky outsider.) That's not a bad thing, as the political landscape has changed, and the series is one of the better examples of the genre on TV, taking the top spot in the MacFarlane empire, as Family Guy gets absorbed by gimmicks and The Cleveland Show tries to find its footing. This collection, which brings together the final 14 episodes of the fourth season, shows the series in its prime, with the main characters well-defined and well-utilized, even if Hayley joins her young female comrades on the other MacFarlane shows as proof that the writers have little interest or ability in working with such characters.
Going along with that family sitcom sensibility is the inclusion of several episodes focused on the family dynamic in the Smith household, especially when it comes to father-son relationships. Stan and his nerdy son Steve share several storylines, including their road trip to obtain a door for Stan's long-in-development DeLorean, a clash over trust when Steve has to wear a back brace that makes him a pariah at school, and a classic face-off on the football field when Steve's status as a loser gets to the ever-competitive Stan. Their troubles even result in Stan finding himself in the son role, when his dad returns and his own poor upbringing bubbles up to the surface. The father-son issues aren't even limited to the Smiths, as their neighbor Greg the news anchor has to hide his homosexuality from his pro-football-playing dad. These familial storylines unfortunately don't pay off as well as some of the others (with "Family Affair," about Roger cheating on the Smiths with other families, being the least interesting) but they thankfully don't drag the episodes down.
That's mainly because the B stories, which tend to feature Roger (when he isn't in the lead) are frequently tremendous fun, perhaps because they aren't saddled with the responsibility of carrying the show, so they can lean toward the silly, like the bizarre internship Hayley gets from Roger, the mystery-solving team formed by Roger and Steve, or Francine, Hayley and Roger's misadventures at a spa. There are several episodes where the B story is just simply better, like "Stan's Night Out," where Hayley and Roger's competition to see who's a hotter woman is far more entertaining than the story of Stan and his CIA co-workers recreating Very Bad Things. It's interesting to note that the best of the bunch, "Bar Mitzvah Hustle" has a B story that actually admits it was a weak attempt at one (and wasn't needed to begin with.)
"Bar Mitzvah Hustle" is a great overall episode, and a Steve Smith-focused show to boot, telling an Ocean's 11-style heist tale featuring Steve and his pals, as they try to sabotage the Bar Mitzvah of Etan Cohen (voiced by Seth Green), a more mature kid in their school who stole Steve's girlfriend Debby. The fact that the actual plot of the heist is well-written is impressive, but that they managed to tell that story and keep the funny coming throughout. Sure, some of it comes in the form of very easy Jewish jokes, but part of it is how good Green is as Etan. He's one of several impressive guest stars on the show in this set, joined by Forest Whitaker, Paget Brewster, Will Forte, Judd Hirsch and Sandra Oh, among others.
This three-disc, 14-episode volume continues the packaging change from last season, with a clear, single-width keepcase with a tray for two of the discs. 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 SDH, Spanish, French and Portuguese, along with closed captioning.
The full-frame transfers on this show are once again terrific, with the bright, cartoony color you'd expect and an excellent picture overall, with the CGI scenes looking particularly pretty. The image is free of dirt, damage or compression artifacts, nor is there an issue with pixilation along the black outlines.
The audio is offered as Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, which offer up clear dialogue, strong music (a big element of MacFarlane's shows), and quality sound effects, with impressive touches of dynamic mixing throughout, raising the show above the level of the standard sitcom.
In addition to the original televised versions (Why would anyone want this?), every episode has an audio commentary, featuring a mix of crew members (along with a sole appearance by Wendy Schaal (Francine)), but like last time, no MacFarlane. The commentaries are mainly a blend of info on the animation process, inside jokes and talk about who's left the show, usually because they now work on The Cleveland Show. Honestly, they all kind of blur together, with patches of silence as they watch the show, and repeated details, like how the show changes after it returns from Korea. It's no surprise that the episode with Schaal is one of the better tracks, as having both sides of the creative process on hand adds additional perspective.
As usual, there's a healthy dose of deleted scenes included, with a whopping 101 scenes in all, running just shy of 50 minutes. It's one of the few areas where this set outperforms its predecessors. As is usually the case, these clips, which can be viewed in one extra-long pile, or by episode, are a big reason to check out the set, as they are a lot of fun to watch, even out of context. A lot of them are throw-away gags cut for time, so they are quick to blow through and enjoy.
One of the better episodes here, "Bar Mitzvah Shuffle" makes a return in the extras, as a "Fact-Up Trivia" version is available. Like the Pop-Up Videos of old, this episode puts notes of trivia over the episode in graphic bubbles. It's much more interesting than the commentaries, and impressively doesn't repeat info, but there's only one here.
The final extra is "The Power Hour Drinking Game," which is essentially a pile of 60 one-minute clips from throughout the show's run, presented with cues to drink the beverage of your choice. I'm not a drinker, but the clips are funny, and one could suggest if you drank the right drink while watching, they might be even funnier. It's good stuff, but a lazy "best of"-level extra.
The Bottom Line
In these 14 episodes, the series continues its transition into a traditional family sitcom, with Stan Smith becoming stupider and the plots focusing more on the rest of the Smiths. There are a few gems, including the heist parody "Bar Mitzvah Hustle" and "Wife Insurance," to go along with the usual quality episodes, and the quality of the discs is high, but the extras are disappointing, continuing a downward trend. If you're a fan, getting to see the uncensored episodes and cut footage is reason enough though to check out this set. Owning it is another story.
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 his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*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.