Who’s running the sawdust game at Pearl Bailey High School?
Klaus has secured a new job as a lunch lady at Steve’s school. But, when the children continue to get sick from the food, a conspiracy begins to unfold. Steve goes undercover as a hall monitor to unravel the mystery that involves poisoning the children and sawdust. When he ends up over his head, Steve takes to his new popularity as part of the hall monitors and has a difficult time choosing between doing what’s right or protecting his new friends.
Meanwhile, Stan and Roger take to a new hobby of mall-walking. But, when they see something horrifying involving the escalator, they are both completely frozen by shock. Francine and Hayley try to shake them out of their trance but may be in for more than they bargained for.
What can a show that has been running into its fourteenth season do to keep fresh? There is nothing as good as shaking up the genre and bringing in a new formula. American Dad has often gone with a mystery element to help keep people interested, and it is usually an enjoyable story. Unfortunately, the solution to the mystery is hand fed to us about half-way through this episode and takes a turn for a thriller/action plot.
Watching Steve’s transition from a school nerd to a popular hard-ass hall monitor was probably the most entertaining part of this episode. Though, it also helped me to narrow down a problem that I have had with this series for a long time. Steve is a very generic character that fails to stand out in a world where we have an endless supply of unique and lovable fictional characters. In fact, almost all of the characters of American Dad have little unique to offer. Sure, they have something about them that separates them from one another, but little more about them helps them to stand out. What I mean is, you could take nearly any other central cast member and plop them in Steve’s place in this story, and little more than setting would change. Unlike what would happen in a Family Guy or an episode of The Simpsons where changing a character like that would drastically impact the direction of the plot.
There was nothing added to this episode by the b-story. For extended shots, Stan and Roger are completely lifeless on screen, which translates to dead air instead of the intended humour. As their story progresses, nothing else really happens to them. Where they could have been taken on a crazy adventure through the city frozen like statues, unaware of what is happening to them, in place, they are taken home, returned to the mall, and the problem is never truly solved. The joke here could have been told in about thirty seconds. Attempting to extend this event out to fill a third of a show is straight-up lazy writing.
There were some saving graces for this episode. A fifth detective Turlington is brought into this show, this one under the given name Hank. Hank Turlington investigates the school’s businesses and does so while undercover as a female social studies teacher. Billy, the strange creation of Dr. Kalgary is probably my favourite character on the show, and he has a lot to offer the humour of this story, including giving away the full-plot in a premonition early in the episode. Unfortunately, the side characters were not enough to add enough substantial humour to an otherwise dull episode.
This review might come out as dramatically negative, but there was a lot of elements to this episode that don’t hold up. For a series to be running for nearly a decade-and-a-half, expectations should be higher for character and plot development. There just wasn’t anything in this episode that was unique or interesting enough to make up for the lack of humour. That b-story full of dead space really took the life out of the whole episode.