Review: American Dad “Brave N00b World”

 

Overview(Spoilers Below):

Stan and Steve’s struggles to bond and find common ground between each other gets a major break when the two are able to participate in online gaming together. The activity provides Stan and Steve the rare opportunity to have fun together and it allows Steve to be a position of leadership as he helps his father master the basics of his new hobby. This would be a touching experience for Stan and Steve, only the entire thing is just an excuse for Stan to pull off a secret assassination mission. Stan and Steve grow closer together and further apart as this lie grows bigger and Stan is left to figure out what’s truly important to him.

As Stan and Steve get to the bottom of their relationship and chart fresh territory together, the rest of the Smith family all get their heads stuck in the stair banister. Misery loves company, but apparently, stupidity does too.

Our Take:

Last week’s episode of American Dad looked at the (dangerously) unhealthy relationship between Steve and his mother, but this entry swings to the other side of parental extremes as it looks at Steve’s frayed bond with his father. Stan and Steve have a history of struggling to connect with each other, but it’s not impossible. Stan may be disinterested in his son a lot of the time, but at his core he does genuinely want to grow closer with him. Stan’s struggle to find common ground with Steve nicely dovetails with his compulsion to frequently choose his work over his family. Part of the reason that Stan treats his job like more of a son than his actual son is because his job is something that he understands. However, by the end of “Brave N00b World,” Stan does have a greater appreciation for Steve, even if it’s incremental.

Well, it’s come to the point in American Dad’s life where it tackles something as modern as E-Sports. There was some derision when The Simpsons approached this topic, but American Dad actually manages to use the field as a legitimate way to help Stan and Steve bond. This behavior also isn’t unprecedented, as both Steve and Stan have shown an obsession with the “Beetman” video game in the past. Considering that American Dad has turned to territory like American Pickers before for story inspiration, this isn’t too unusual of a topic for the series to explore.

The latest mission that the CIA preps Stan for happens to be an assignment where Stan and his team must go undercover as teenage gamers as they carry out an assassination in China. Stan’s enthusiastic about the mission, but his skills as a gamer need a lot of work. This leads to Steve stepping in as everyone’s coach, but he’s under the impression that this is quality father-son bonding and left in the dark over the true nature of all of this. The episode handles this dynamic well as Stan’s guilt builds as Steve’s devotion increases. It’s also a lot more entertaining than it should be to watch the CIA’s efforts to act young through vaping and other “youthful” habits.

“Brave N00b World” is mostly interested in the emotional toll that Stan’s lies to his son are having on him. The episode carefully tries to find common ground between parenting and E-Sports and does okay in this regard. The lessons that Stan learns about not splitting his focus to help him be a better gamer are also applicable to his negligent treatment of his son. There are some nice parallels between the two as Stan gets progressively wracked with guilt as the mission goes on.

I’ve gone on the record for how many of my favorite American Dad B-stories are when minutiae gets transformed into chaos. “Brave N00b World’ offers a fantastic example of this when the rest of the Smith family get their heads stuck in the stair banister while Steve and Stan are away. The visual payoff of this bizarre plot is satisfying enough here, but he domino effect that plays out as each new person gets stuck in the banister is very entertaining. This story feels like a writing challenge more than anything else, but in spite of the limitations in place here this banister nonsense is a satisfying, relaxed counterpoint to the heights that Stan and Steve hit on their journey.

It’s very entertaining to see just how quickly this banister emergency springs into action. The episode wastes no time with its setup and instead just forces the family to not miss their important obligations, but instead experience them while trapped. Klaus savors this misery and plays a strange agent of chaos as he holds the power over freeing everyone. It turns into an oddly compelling story for the episode. The final tag that it ends on in the year 2042 is also the perfect conclusion.

Stan’s able to juggle his lies and manage Steve for a while, but Steve eventually learns the truth and becomes more disillusioned with his father than ever. The scene where Steve chastises Stan and the rest of the CIA is actually kind of powerful and it’s nice to see Steve take charge here. His words actually inspire Stan and company to not turn their backs on the E-Sports championship and instead they try to simultaneously carry out their real-world assassination with their online frag-fest. It’s an admirable gesture, but the dangers of split focus rear their ugly heads. Stan is able to win the tournament for Steve, but his mission is an abject failure that leads to some extreme consequences.

The final act for “Brave N00b World” features one of the crazier conclusions that American Dad has ever attempted, yet it still works within the absurd universe that the show has built over all of these years. Nuclear war breaks out between America and North Korea and the entire planet gets wiped out in the fallout, all because Stan chooses his son over his job. A billion years after the destruction of Earth happens, an errant scoop of Chinese ice cream that was released into space as a means to preserve the culture winds up saving the entire human race.

The wonders of ice cream are so immense and foreign to a crew of aliens that they go so far as to casually recreate Earth as a means to get more of the stuff (Beerus from Dragon Ball Super would really get along with these guys). This selfish gesture jumpstarts humanity and the Earth’s timeline is allowed to catch up to where “Brave N00b World” begins. However, this time around Stan chooses Steve right from the start, which implies that the world may be slightly improved on this go-around. This inspires and proves Steve’s simulation (ice cream-ulation) theory, which is all very elegantly explained by Bill Nye. Science is bananas, everyone! It’s a highly ambitious conclusion, but it gets all of this done rather quickly. American Dad definitely deserves credit for taking such a risk here, but even before the ridiculous finale happens there’s still a sense of closure to the story. The death and rebirth of the world is just an extravagant way to emphasize these points even more.

“Brave N00b World” is a curious episode of American Dad that does a lot of things right, but still feels off in some ways. There’s a great deal of Overwatch footage in the episode and it can be a little jarring, even if its presence is justified. It’s not the smoothest fit for the show and at times it can overshadow the actual story. In spite of these hiccups, this is still an enjoyable Stan and Steve episode that remains very focused. Even if the Overwatch material falls flat for some, the silliness of the banister storyline and the bravery of how far the episode’s ending goes still make “Brave N00b World” a memorable installment.

 

 

Daniel Kurland

Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, and Bloody Disgusting. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and that Hannibal is the greatest love story ever told. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.

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