Overview (Spoilers Below):

American Dad depicts the everyday lives of patriotic Stan Smith and his ordinary family. Despite the everyman nature of this simple American family, they’re beacons for unusual situations that reflect just how off-kilter they are in their normal ways. The chaos that they regularly invite and encounter is evidence that there’s really no such thing as “normal.” CIA experiments. Alien sex schemes. Sibling rivalries and marital woes. It’s all par for the course on American Dad. After 15 seasons together, the Smiths are still as functionally dysfunctional as ever, and audiences would have it no other way.

Our Take:

It’s understandable for episodes to blend together in any series that’s been on for 15 seasons, yet American Dad’s most recent batch of installments succeeds in not only exploring new territory for the show’s characters, but also feeling important and reinvigorated in many ways. American Dad is a series that always tries to be pushing for boundaries and it’s impressive to see how often the show strives for genuinely challenging storylines and doesn’t just phone it in and put these characters on autopilot. This exciting, unpredictable energy has been present for all of the seasons since American Dad transitioned over from FOX to TBS and it’s encouraging to confidently see that not only has nothing been lost in this process, but that the series feels even more liberated and ambitious during these past seasons. However, American Dad’s 15th season feels extra special in many respects. Granted, this is a season that culminates in the show’s 300th episode, which is absolutely reason for celebration, but even looking past that milestone there’s still frequent opportunities where American Dad shows off a new side of itself.

American Dad covers the same variety of stories that the audience has come to expect, but this season has a more manic and experimental feeling to it that only increases as the season goes on. This is not a show that ever plays it safe or tries to avoid weirdness—an alien and a talking fish are a part of its main cast—but there is a newfound absurdity in Season 15 that feels a little different. There are a surprising amount of monsters and supernatural entities that show up in these episodes, whether it’s a foreign exchange student that turns out to be a troll or Bullock’s elaborate labyrinth (elabyrinth?) that’s teeming with musical creatures like Grunklebean. Even Stan’s dad returns, not only in the form of a ghost, but one that actively possesses Steve. Oh, and Prince shows up, too. Yes, that Prince. Even an episode on something as benign as e-sports can end in the total destruction of the world until aliens thankfully restart the universe. These eccentricities might be too much for some fans, but American Dad maintains a careful balance where these injections of nonsense never feel too obtrusive or out of character.

While not strictly as weird as a vengeful spirit or a subterranean monster, another genuine surprise in this season comes in the form of an appearance by The Weeknd, who even co-writes his episode. It’s the type of experiment that would feel like pandering in a series like The Simpsons, but there’s something so distinctly iconoclastic about this celebrity appearance. American Dad clearly doesn’t have anyone to impress 15 seasons in and it’s not like this is some struggling show in its infancy that needs to reach for such mainstream appeal. Instead, this feels like a move purely out of passion and that The Weeknd is a true fan of the show who just wanted to demonstrate his love in the most thorough way possible. It’s an experiment that could have been a disaster, but instead it speaks to the unusual and unifying appeal of American Dad.

American Dad’s main characters are very well defined at this point, but it’s still a lot of fun to see the season experiment with less common character pairings and try to tap into new ground. This leads to many worthwhile storylines as characters like Roger and Jeff or Hayley and Klaus get to spend time together. In the case of he latter, Hayley even briefly occupies a fish’s body and gains a deeper empathy for Klaus than she thought possible. Hayley in particular gets to shine as she has a lot of different plots that put her together with Steve or Francine and challenge her notions on who she is and the future. Her job at Sub Hub, which used to be a throwaway character detail, rises in prominence this year and fuels a lot of her storylines. Season 15 of American Dad also illustrates how uncomfortably close certain characters are who perhaps need less time together, which is most evident in a disturbing storyline about Steve’s dependence on Francine’s breast milk.

One of the most exciting revelations to come out of this season is that Rogu gets to evolve from a strange one-note joke to an actual member of the Smith family that contributes to storylines. It’s a success every time that Rogu shows up and it’s surprising how a new character that’s ostensibly just a lesser copy of an existing character can feel so fresh and open up new storytelling avenues depending on who he’s around. Season 15 of American Dad effectively spreads its focus and while certain episodes return to reliable pairings, this is still a very balanced season where it doesn’t feel like any character dominates the stories or that anyone is neglected. There’s not much room for American Dad to improve in this area, but hopefully it just won’t regress in this capacity. It’s exciting to see characters like Klaus, Jeff, and Rogu get serious attention thrown their way and it appears that the next season will only continue this trend.

American Dad also gradually shifts the focus on its larger supporting cast. In the past this has led to characters like Principal Lewis and Tuttle sharing the spotlight in a big way. Season 15 embraces Langley’s favorite science experiment, Billy, in this capacity. His sporadic and strange appearances are fun and never too distracting, but he’s a character that has never fully clicked with me. Perhaps Season 16 can show a little more love to characters like Danuta or Turlington and see how they click. What’s Reginald the Koala been up to?

On top of all of these entertaining stories and examinations into character dynamics, this season of American Dad also gets to pull off a massive love letter to both its past and its devoted fans in the form of the episode, “300.” It may not be the best episode of the season, but it’s incredibly satisfying to see a thread from the show’s sixth episode come full circle 15 years later. It’s actually remarkable.

Many may be quick to dismiss American Dad or assume that it’s past its prime, but Season 15 is perfect proof of the contrary. There’s a lot more for American Dad to tackle and every episode still contains legitimate laughs that speak to the quality of the show’s writing and a firm grasp on the brilliance of its characters. American Dad’s future has already been secured for at least the time being. Fans can rest easy with the knowledge that more episodes are confirmed to be on the way. That being said, if this had been the end of American Dad, it would have gone out on an extremely satisfying note. That’s a true rarity for a show that’s turned out 300 episodes. American Dad proves that it’s not a flailing series that’s been left on life support. If anything, it’s overdosed itself on B-12 shots and is a towering, unstoppable force of nature. Submit to the power of American Dad or be left in its wake.

 

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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