“Roger: My name is Braff Zacklin. I was an international racecar driver. One day a baby carriage rolled out onto the track so I had to swerve into the retaining wall to avoid it… I was that baby.”– Roger in “Haylias”
There is no show I watch more than American Dad on TBS, with steaming of episodes on HULU. I mean, it has come to the point that when the television is on and American Dad starts and I hear the first sentence uttered I can quickly identify the episode, season, and immediately start laughing. My wife and I watch the show on our living room television, our iPad in bed, and the car, on our iPhones, as we drive to NY to see family. It is a show that at one moment makes us belly laugh to the point of spitting out our drink, and then next can make us feel a sense of comfort in a comedic decompression from everyday life. If we are upset, worried, or stressed from a hard day of work, we know that the cure for our momentary blues is just a streaming click away.
In this blog, I will tackle the best episodes from the first five seasons of American Dad. Asking me to select one episode from each season I classify as “the best” is like asking me to choose my favorite child. But since I do not have any children, well except my dog Mr. Tuttles, this was a much harder decision. Jokes aside, Seth MacFarlane created one hell of an animated comedy. I have enjoyed watching CIA agent Stan Smith, housewife Francine, son Steve, daughter Hayley, fish with human brain Klaus, and Roger the alien as they engage in all their ridiculous shenanigans. I consider this show to be even better than Family Guy. That might be a hot take, but American Dad is my jam!
My goal in this blog is to provide a quick thought and reflection on those five episodes, one from each season, that made the first five seasons of American Dad brilliant, funny, and well-constructed, even if, at times, it toes the line of funny and offensive. These will be the episodes I consider the most rewatchable and the episodes I would watch from each season if asked. In the next week, or two, there will be a Part TWO, which will cover seasons 6 through 10 (a future Part THREE will cover seasons 11-15) and will follow the same pattern. I will feature a couple honorable mention episodes from seasons, especially 4 & 5, because those seasons were insanely good and nearly flawless. Out of the 38 episodes in those two seasons, a small handful I consider average, but the rest are highly rewatchable. In those two seasons, the majority of episodes are a perfect representation of American Dad as a whole.
I know you’re excited about my thoughts, opinions, and overall points about one of the best-animated shows ever created; American Dad. Thank you, Seth MacFarlane, and now let’s get to it!
Season ONE, Episode 15: “Star Trek”
“Roger: [gasps] Don’t… cry in front of the fish.”– Roger in “Star Trek”
The first season of American Dad is not my favorite. I mean, an average season of American Dad is still better than most animated shows I watch, but it’s because the animation seems dated, and the show was finding its footing. I mean, after the success of Family Guy, fans were bound to be skeptical of MacFarlane’s new FOX, now TBS, show. But even so, it is a solid season full of hilarious episodes. The pilot was pretty good and showed American Dad would be well worth your time. It was an episode dealing with Steve and Roger that captured my heart for the best episode of the season. As you will see from most episodes I have chosen, Roger centric episodes usually are my favorite, primarily when they deal with his unique personas.
The episodes summary reads as such, “Roger is overjoyed to discover that Steve’s new book is all about him until he finds out that it paints him in an unflattering light.” “Star Trek” is a weirdly funny episode and one that, after years of watching American Dad, I still find appealing and hilarious. Steve centric episodes are generally not my favorite, but any character when linked with Roger usually elevates the adventures and the comedic delivery. The episode focuses on Steve who writes a children’s book and becomes famous by seeking to display Roger’s failings and make fun of him, while Roger, who will take any ounce of fame, is ignorant to Steve’s insults. That is the A-plot, and it is brilliant as Roger comes to hate Steve and seeks to kill him, and Stan observes his influence and support of Steve wane as Steve’s fame increases. I enjoyed how the episode started, with Steve dead, floating in a pool of Jell-O narrating how his fame had brought him to this end. Then, we go back to see how this all began. Very Christopher Nolan, playing with the end as the beginning and issues of time for the audience.
“Star Trek” is probably not a lot of people’s favorite episode, but it has the perfect mix of Roger, Stan, and Steve caught up with issues of fame, as well as some fantastic and catchy music about how Steve becomes a bad boy to arc his image and sell books. The B-plot, which focuses on Francine, is moving alongside the A-plot, since she is looking for a new hairdresser and is only able to do so when Steve’s fame helps her gain an appointment at Beauregard LaFontaine’s salon. So, it’s an episode with way more attention to the A-plot and Steve, which works and targets multiple POP! Culture tropes, like childhood fame, and the quick slide of said fame, when you learn, in the end, that popularity is lonely, isolating, and when you get what you always wanted, a pool filled with Jell-O, what comes next. Solid episode from the first season and a rewatchable, if even for just the catchy bad boy music and Rogers revenge plot.
Season TWO, Episode 12: “A.T. The Abusive Terrestrial”
“Steve: You sound just like Daphne Zuniga from that Lifetime movie, and you remember what happened to her. / Roger: Oh, my God! She ended up on ABC Family! Well, I’m not going to let that happen to me.”– Steve & Roger in “A.T. The Abusive Terrestrial”
In this episode, the best from the second season, the A-plot is centered around Steve and Roger. Their relationship is thrown into disarray when Steve does not have time to hang out with Roger. So, Roger gets drunk and wanders into a shed and wakes up without a persona. He then finds another “earth” kid named Henry, who he accidentally reveals himself to, and together they form a friendship, but it takes a turn when the boy becomes abusive and “Roger shows stereotypical signs of denial.” The B-plot is centered around Stan and Francine attempting to save Mr. PiBB from being discontinued, so they steal the PiBB-Mobile to go around the country to discuss the need to protect Mr. PiBB, doing so to a fantastic mixtape jam and well-placed montage.
With a shoutout to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and exploring Steve and Roger’s friendship, even as Steve growing pains test it, “A.T. The Abusive Terrestrial” is full of POP! Culture references and builds uncomfortable comedy. Both the A-plot and B-plot are well-written and designed in how they dissect and, by the end, connect in POP! Culture perfection. Exploring the importance of Mr. PiBB to Stan and Francine and their road-trip adventure to save it illustrates the lengths those characters will go to get what they want. Steve growing older and not having time for Roger, and the horrific abuse Roger suffers, reminds the viewer of Steve and Roger powerful friendship and enjoyment of Lifetime movies. It was an episode that toes the line with the plot, between satire and offensive. Still, it allowed both groups of characters to explore their arc on their own and see their stories intersect to save Roger and enable him to escape his abuser. A very rewatchable episode as Roger has some of his best lines, as well as depicting the lengths he goes for human friendship. “Roger: [as he’s riding in the basket of Henry’s bike] This is one sweet ride. What is she, a Huffy? Baby, you treat me so fine!” Roger will always be the reason I watch American Dad, and these episodes, with its Roger centric plot, are essential American Dad viewing.
Season THREE, Episode 9: “Franie 911” (Honorable Mention for Episode 16: “Spring Break-Up”)
“Francine: Roger, please. if you have to be a jerk to live then come on. Give us all you got. / Roger: Are you sure? / Stan: Yes Roger, we’re sure. / Roger: Ok. Send me Steve. Dance for me. / Roger: Ok, Ok, that’s enough, I’ve got what I need. You are terrible. You’ve got no rhythm, no coordination… If your goal was to inspire a sense of despair the likes of which hasn’t been seen felt since Whoopi hosted the Oscars, then bravo. / Francine: Ok, I think that’s enough Roger. / Stan: Honey, no, it’s good for the both of them.”– Stan, Francine & Roger in “Franie 911”
In what is one of my favorite American Dad episodes of all time, we have another Roger centric episode. The plot, “Roger nearly kills himself to be nice.” Simple and perfect. In the A-plot, after Stan shows he does not care about Roger, Francine comes up with a plan to reunite them by staging a kidnapping of Roger. Roger loves the idea and believes that Stan, once told of a ransom to free him, will come to save the day. But, soon, both Francine and Roger realize that Stan, who knew about the plot all along, decides to do nothing and makes them sweat it out. The result? Back and forth comedic perfection between Roger and Francine that involves, tacos, a bass, and an alien in a poor wig. All of this shows that Francine has enabled Roger’s lousy behavior, which now must change, and that for Roger to be accepted by Stan, he needs to be good. As we learn, being good makes Roger sick and, while on his death bed, must be himself, an asshole, to survive. The B-plot was ok, not great, but had amusing moments. As Klaus and Hayley played a year-long dared game that found, by the time of Roger’s deathbed realization, Klaus encased in Jell-O and Hayley dressed as the captain from the Love Boat. In the meantime, Steve began a year-long journey to learn rhythmic backup dancing, which came to crashing end as Roger found, by insulting him, without mercy, he was able to get his groove back and survive after his trial of trying to be helpful.
This episode has everything. The A-plot and B-plot are funny, with the A-plot showcasing the best of Roger, Francine, and Stan. It allows Francine to recognize how she has enabled Roger, but by the end, she does not see that as a bad thing, but also will not defend Roger when he has pissed off Stan to the point of no return. But, like most tremendous and amazing American Dad episodes, it is Roger, and his narcissistic and maniacal way of being that shines brightest. He goes from a complete jerk to trying to be friendly to the point of death, finally being the incredible-asshole we love and want. Tons of quotable moments in this episode and an episode, I would have someone watch if they had not watched the show before and needed one to view before committing to more American Dad episodes.
As someone who grew to age in the 1990s, I watched MTV a lot, but vividly remember when they would do Spring Break. For this reason, the American Dad Episode 16: “Spring Break-Up” deserves an Honorable Mention. The episode follows as “Stan is upset at Francine’s half-hearted response to his playful banter. Francine claims that it is just becoming too dull for her. She goes out to visit her parents for the week, leaving Stan depressed. Shortly after Francine leaves, Roger hastily tries to convince Stan to move into a motel for the week. Soon it becomes clear that Roger, under the name “Scotch Bingeington,” is hosting a Spring Break party at their house and has already invited dozens of partygoers as he wishes to become the next King of Spring Break.” The entire episode revolved around this Spring Break and made surprising callbacks to how MTV used to cover Florida spring breaks in the mid to late 1990s. “Roger: You thought he wasn’t going down. I always put them down.”
Season FOUR, Episode 16: “DeLorean Story” & Episode 10: “Family Affair”
“Steve: “Cello”everyone. / Klaus: Steve, whoever told you that is funny is not looking out for your best interest.”– Steve & Klaus in “DeLorean Story”
You might remember back in my blog post, Cinematic Nostalgia, I wrote that one of the films I feel most nostalgic about is Back to the Future. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that in an American Dad season that had no less than ten rewatchable episodes, a Back to the Future inspired episode would tie for the top spot of season 4. Here is the plot summary, Steve comes home from school feeling that Stan is neglecting him. But, after a car ride, where Steve is urged by Francine, Roger, and Hayley to find a way to bond with his father, they notice Stan at a storage facility. They discover Stan has been keeping a secret. Stan has been building his dream car, a DeLorean, but he is without the passenger gull-wing door, the only remaining car part Stan has yet to find. This immediately excites Steve, whose love for Back to the Future indicates they share a common interest. When Steve discovers an ad for the door online, but it’s “first come first serve,” Stan plans to travel to get it. Francine encourages him to include Steve, which he begrudgingly does, so the two take a road trip in search of the last piece Stan needs. “Delorean Story” is the perfect example of an episode where the A-plot outshines and demolishes the B-plot, which I did not find funny. Interestingly, this is not a Roger centric episode but focuses on Stan and Steve in a buddy adventure instead.
Steve sees the adventure as a bonding opportunity with his father, while also living a “back to the future” moment. Stan, on the contrary, does not want his son to come, has no clue what Back to the Future is, and instead loves the DeLorean because of his admiration for the ambition of the car inventor. Their adventure is brilliant and makes fun callbacks to the road trip comedies of the 80s and 90s. Things go wrong, enemy groups appear to sidetrack the main characters, and they barely achieve their goal. But I appreciated the ending and Stans growth in this episode, recognizing, in the end, that the time spent with Steve looking for the DeLorean door was far more important than actually getting the door. It was a delightful ending for a comedy show that usually sees an alien do crude and offensive things. So, I appreciated the heart in this episode.
“Cool ranch Doritos had just come out. Sigh…. what a summer”– Roger in “Family Affair”
The other episode to tie for the top spot for Season 4 is also one of the best episodes in American Dad, which might even be my number 1 episode of all time. In “Family Affair,” we see another Roger centric episode climb to the top. Still, an episode with only a small, but pretty funny B-plot, was predominantly about the A-plot. Here is the plot, “When the Smiths try to plan a family game night, Roger is full of excuses,” but indicates he is doing a local theater production. When they go to the theater to surprise him, the theater is closed, and no play is held. Then, while at Pizza Overlord, they discover Roger’s lie, and “feel stabbed in the back because they realize Roger has been “cheating” on them with other families.” Stan, Francine, Hayley, and Steve, feeling hurt and disappointed, decide to teach Roger a lesson, but he must promise to refrain from seeing other families. When they discover he is still “cheating” with other families, he leaves the Smiths and appears gone for good.
Soon after, the Smiths are called to a local amusement park where they find Roger in the security office after collapsing following a “family bender.” Rogers pleads for help, and the Smith’s offer him a solution to deal with his family issues and discover why “he isn’t a one-family” alien. It’s a brilliant episode that keeps everything within one A-plot, allowing all of the characters to deal with a single issue, which involves Roger and multiple personas. The comedy was quick, the POP! Culture references on point and the story stays fresh by introducing an entirely new plot point, but commenting on one of the shows best parts, Roger, his feelings, and his inability to give a shit.
When it comes to the B-plot, which was smaller in this episode, it deals with Klaus getting tickets to the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Throughout the episode Klaus throws out funny lines dealing with the band’s songs. It was solid, but what sealed the deal was the ending, where the B-plot connects with the A-plot while all the characters are on the pool Klaus has overslept, missed the concert, and asks why they didn’t wake him. Francine makes a point about never waking a sleeping fish, which confuses Klaus, but he discovers they gave away his ticket to the concert. When Klaus asks who got the ticket, they introduce a new character, which is not used enough on the show; Reginald the CIA agent Koala. With a badass song, excellent voice acting, and unique backstory, this character, whose “as cute as a button,” epically closes the episode.
“Security Guard: You were his emergency contact. We didn’t know what else to do. Stan: What happened to him? / Guard: Well, take a look at this security video. He arrives with this family at 9 am. Churros, elephant ears, the whole nine yards. By 11 am, he was in line for the flume, which he rode sixteen times, all with different families. Two hours later, he’s Puss in Boots with yet another family, eating a caramel apple, watching an animatronic bear play the fiddle. As the day progressed, he was with nine more families in nine more outfits, the rights to which I doubt he owns… until we found him like this, gurgling, slumped over a teacup, and urinating on a pinwheel. / Roger: I went on a family bender. I have a problem!”– Roger in “Family Affair”
Season 4 of American Dad offers a nearly impossible task, selecting a favorite and most rewatchable favorite episode. There are way too many good episodes. Most of them, like Episode 2: “The One that Got Away,” which is centered around one back and forth storyline, is powerfully written, well-executed, and Roger centric. This episode represented what happens when Roger’s personas go rogue, and he must uncover the mystery, one that his persona created. Even so, whether it’s Roger pretending to be the Phantom of the Opera in “Phantom the Telethon,” or becoming head of the HOA in “Roy Rodgers McFreely,” or Steve losing his girlfriend and attempting an Oceans 11 style robbery in “Bar Mitzvah Hustle,” or even Steve joining football to get his dads attention, but Roger becoming his “bad news bears” style coach in “Every Which Way But Lose,” it is a season with something for everyone.
Season FIVE, Episode 13: “Return of the Bling” (Honorable Mention for Episode 14: “Cops and Roger”)
“Reggie: Whoo! She got the drop on old Reggie, caught those full in the face. If those were guns, Reggie’d be dead.”– Reginald in “Return of the Bling”
What happens when you take the Lord of the Rings, the “Miracle on Ice,” and the insane nature of Stan Smith? You get the “Return of the Bling” episode in what I consider the best season of American Dad, season 5. Here the plot is incredibly funny. The plot begins when Steve comes home from school proud of his grade on his assignment that he wrote about his hero, Legolas, from The Lord of the Rings and shows it to Stan, although he does not get the reaction he wanted. “Stan takes him to task for not following a real-life hero. Stan shows him his display case of heroes,” which includes the 1980 US Hockey Team that won Olympic Gold and Ronald Reagan, Stan Smith’s ultimate hero. When Roger passes by Stan’s office, he chimes in that he played for the hockey team under one of his personas Chex LeMeneux, who Stan, at first, refused to accept, but after attending a reunion with Roger for the hockey team, realizes Roger is one of his heroes. But his hero-worship ends, when Stan finds out that Roger used steroids while a player and therefore, he must return Roger’s gold medal to the IOC.
All that is just the A-plot and comprises only the first 10-13 minutes of the episode. They still have to travel to the IOC, but after Roger, now refusing to give up the medal, crashes the plane, the journey to destroy the bling commences. Roger, at this point, takes on a Gollum like persona trying to recapture his precious, the medal, and stop Stan from returning it. Again, for fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien novels, this episode has a ton of fun with the story, and, after suspending animated disbelief, the stupidity is American Dad at its best. Stan and Steve are pretty funny as they travel to the IOC, but Roger continues to steal the show, especially in the end when he bites off Stan’s finger because, as he said, they did it in the movie.
The B-plot is pretty solid as well. It focuses on Reginald, the CIA agent Koala, and his attempts to impress Haley, Stan’s daughter, in penance for shrinking her clothing in the dryer. Hayley remains angry at him and unwilling to give him a chance, but that changes after they attend a Shaggy concert, and Reginald defends her and beats up a drunk guy who called her a name. This interaction, between Hayley and Reginald, began an entertaining episode arc prominently placing Reginald in the next couple B-plots. Great character and brought a lot to the B-plots.
As I said, season five of American Dad is fantastic. The season is filled with the best episodes over the show’s lifetime, which is still airing. There are 18 episodes in season 5, and 16 episodes are hands down rewatchable. Any of them could have been my number 1, especially “Cops and Roger,” which observed Roger become a dirty cop and “The Great Space Roaster,” which had Roger get roasted by the Smith family and him taking it rather poorly and his revenge, way too far. All of them are Roger centric; of course, I think you are aware of who my favorite character is by now.
So, those are my favorite episodes from the first five seasons of American Dad. Please stay tuned for Part TWO, when I tackle seasons 6 through 10. More American Dad, more Roger and his personas, more insane situations, and more quotes!
(some quotes and episode summaries found on americandad.fandom.com)