Sunday, March 05, 2006

TV Review: American Dad giving the nation and fatherhood a bad name

The Simpons was the modern template. Every animated, primetime show that's come after has more or less ripped it off. Which might seen like an easy trick . . . until you watch Fox's American Dad.

It's from the mind of Seth MacFarlane who also brings you Family Guy. Family Guy is a rip-off of The Simpsons with a talking dog added on. In American Dad, you get a talking alien (Roger, voiced by MacFarlane) and a talking fish. It's as though the desperation factor has really kicked in and you're watching The Patridge Family, 2200 AD (which, for the record, was set in outerspace). Roger, the alien, is a gimmick, nothing more and it's hard to think of anything less.

So here's the set up, Stan Smith (voiced by MacFarlane) is "American Dad." Stan's a CIA agent and sees evil wherever he looks (we assume he's channeling Jerry Bruckheimer). His wife is supposed to be a hottie, but we'd rank Betty and Wilma higher than Francine Smith who's chief achievement appears to be that she's blonde. (Not naturally blonde.) They have two children, Hayley, the teenage daughter, and her younger brother Steve.

What are the problems with the show? There are so many.

Let's start with Francine. Early on, stealing from a Simpsons' episode, she gets a job as a real estate agent. The job, as when Marge held it down, lasts for one episode. What's up with the animated world? Peggy Hill practically looks like a bra burner by comparison. Think about the world of characters that inhabit The Simpsons and find us one married woman who works. Can't? We couldn't either.

When Donna Stone got a job in the final years of The Donna Reed Show, the show was merely reflecting reality. What does American Dad reflect?

Hayley's Lisa Simpson in the teenage years. That about says it all because, unless she's stripping to earn cash, she's really not the focus of an episode. Steve is the focus of too many episodes.

Like The Family Guy, American Dad does love it's gay jokes. We don't think being gay is a bad thing. We do wonder about a man (MacFarlane) who constantly resorts to the gay joke whenever things are growing extremely stale.

In last Sunday's episode, that happened before Roger and Steve water bombed (and then more) a pizza delivery guy and his car. Steve spoke of a kid at school who bullies him and how he's like to get back at the bully.

Steve: Oh I wish I could get that guy back. I'd like to dress up like a girl and make him have sex with me. Then say, "Ha! I'm not a girl! You just had sex with a boy who hates you!" Ha-ha!

Roger: Yeah. Let's keep that plan between you, me and the string of therapists who won't be able to help you.

Also last Sunday, Stan and Francine went to her high school reunion and met an old friend of Francine's who was now out of the closet. Francine asks Stan to fetch some drinks.
Before he does, Stan responds, "Okay but when I go, he has to promise not to stare at my ass or become a school teacher." When the friend replies, Stan points to his own face and says, "Conversation's up here, sailor." Later, when the friend tells Stan how disgusting he is, Stan will respond, "You and me, not going to happen, okay?" before explaining to another character, "I'm like candy to these people."

Stan's a bigot. In an earlier episode he decided Iranians moving into the neighborhood must be terrorists and created a Guantanamo in their own backyard. He's against women working, he's against gays, he's racist, go down the list.

It's supposed to cute. It's supposed to be funny.

We wonder why?

He's the lead character and we wonder if this "oh, isn't he a loveable bigot" nonsense makes bigotry palatable -- if not fashionable? Who watches animated cartoons in primetime? We're guessing a lot of adolescent boys. What message will they take away? Maybe that Stan is what men are like? That they should be making "funny" lines about Iranians, gays, et al because being a man, a real man, means doing that?

We wonder if that's the message MacFarlane took away from his own TV watching. We're seeing a lot of other television shows (and movies, Carrie and Say Anything in last Sunday's episode) in his work, we just aren't seeing any evidence of someone who's lived, or is living, a full life.

That's a problem with many live action shows; however, an animated show can push boundaries and explore territories that a show people with actors never could. There's a distance to it, due to the animation, that allows them to get away with more. King of the Hill is the only post-Simpon's animated series to come fully alive. That may be due to the fact that they don't resort to movie gags every time something falls flat. Or it may be the result of Mike Judge actually writing (in a humorous manner) about the life he saw around him?

No one watching King of the Hill would mistake Hank Hill for "progressive." But no character on the show would either. Francine appears blinded by love and, watching, you have to wonder why? Peggy Hill's not the little doormat Francine Smith is. She's got a job, she's got a loud marriage with a lot of give and take. Sound like a household you can relate to? The Smiths of American Dad exist nowhere but in TV Land. Francine isn't a character. She's an appendage on the show because, if Stan didn't have a wife, people might wonder about his sexuality. And if they wondered about that, they might not take so much delight in his gay jokes. Steve's an awkward nerd that's about as real as Peter Brady. Bobby Hill is so real he's spooky. It's the difference between writing about what you saw in life and writing about what you saw on TV.

There are no great episodes in this show's future because the creators of American Dad aren't capable of anything other than sight gags and concepts. The show's pushed as a spoof of modern day America but there's nothing that reflects modern day America in the characters. (Did we mention the jokes at the expense of Asians who don't speak English?) At the end of every episode, we find out that Stan is just a loveable guy (usually Francine will make that point verbally) and we're supposed to pleased.

That appears to be the message. This he-man of a guy is loveable . . . as long as you're not gay or foreign. He shreds the Constitution in ways that John Ashcroft could only dream of, but he's "loveable." Is this an animated cartoon or a training video to prepare you for Bully Boy's new world order?

Switching topics, back in October we reviewed How I Met Your Mother? and last week we were contacted by someone who's starting a fan site for the show. Not this morning, when we're all rushing to get this edition done as quickly possibly, but by next week, we'll add the link to the review as well. But for now, if you watched How I Met Your Mother? or read the review and are interested in more on the show, please click here.
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