Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, went back at it. Shortly after Family Guy was cancelled and George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, MacFarlane had to create another show to sort of "vent" his frustrations with the re-election. That was when he created American Dad! A show that was more or less for nothing more than making fun of the hardcore Republican and satirizing just how overboard some people go with their patriotism. In terms of being a fairly political show... it works, to say the least. Although somewhere along the line, Seth MacFarlane seemed to forget that he made American Dad for that purpose because Family Guy is the show filled with all the ridiculous political rhetoric. As a result Family Guy isn't exactly that funny anymore. On the other hand, it's not like American Dad! garners many laughs either. Coming out in a time when just about everyone was making fun of Bush... well, American Dad just feels like "Me Too!" show. American Dad slowly stepped away from all that nonsense, at least, but the show never exactly got to be all the funny. And then, of course, there's the simple fact that American Dad is pretty much Family Guy... and with the Cleveland Show coming later on in the fall of 2009 I'm hardpressed to say that Seth MacFarlane created the same show three times (and the Cleveland show is sure to have more race jokes! Get it? They're a black family!). But we'll go into that later.
Let's talk about American Dad for a second. The show that began as a political satire and slowly morphed into being completely not a political satire. The show opens up with a fairly catchy tune and even a newspaper gag reminiscent of The Simpsons chalkboard bit. As the show has progressed the gag seems to be what costume Roger pops up with in Stan's truck (he drives an SUV of course, because all of those evil Republicans are for killing dear sweet mother earth! You can just imagine Seth MacFarlane driving a hybrid and saying, "You bastards! I hope you pay for what you've done!").
Speaking of which, Stan Smith is pretty much your stereotypical Republican. At least as far as Seth MacFarlane is concerned. He works for the CIA, but that's not the stereotype. He's overpatriotic, overbearing, arrogant, sexist, racist, dumb prick. Wow, that's a LOT of "stereotypes" to slap onto the Republican Party. Of course, as I said before, it's basically Family Guy all over again. You've got the oaf of a father who is married to the smart intelligent (and I guess she's supposed to be hot, but I keep wondering about that because supposedly Lois is supposed to be hot too) wife. Then, of course, you have the child who desperately seeks the approval of his father in some ways, and the father who doesn't want to spend time. Although Steve Smith is certainly smarter than Chris Griffin and the show doesn't exactly forget that he exists either. That's saying a lot considering what Family Guy has become. Instead of a dog, however, we're given a closet homosexual alien. And instead of an evil baby (well, okay, Stewie isn't exactly "evil" in these current episodes either) we're given an evil fish in a bowl who was the product of some really messed up experiment. Oh, and the fish is German.
The biggest similarity that Family Guy and American Dad share is that the daughter is a reject. While as we never really learn why Meg is the reject in Family Guy (other than MacFarlane discovering she was the least popular character on the show) Haley is a pretty obvious one. She's a liberal. The difference between Meg and Haley is, of course, that Haley is a smart woman. She's not exactly a social outcast with her group, just with her family. In particular her father who is a rude, crude, overbearing conservative.
There is something which does separate Family Guy from American Dad. That being that American Dad is far more linear. There are tons of pop culture references, but there aren't a billion flashbacks in the show. Beyond that, the show actually seems to be TRYING to say something. In this instance, American Dad is a little stronger than Family Guy. Where as Family Guy seems to be filled with throwaway characters (Meg, Chris... even Peter is useless in Family Guy now, as he's only there to make sure we get another Flashback), most of the family seems to actually get some attention in American Dad! While it started off as this politically satire of a show, it has changed into being something which focuses more on the Family itself rather than the politics. As a result, American Dad actually got better through the years rather than worse. The show may not be that funny, but it's still funnier than it was when it began. In a word, American Dad has focus. And it has also surprisingly improved.
It still has a ways to go, though. For example, a lot of its standard jokes have gotten old. Haley being the reject daughter... after a while it gets old. At the very least, the characters can be interesting enough (perhaps because MacFarlane has actually given them personality). Klaus's love obsession with Francine also gets old.
Most shows like American Dad usually have episodes that are better based on who the episode centers on. For American Dad that's Steve and Roger. Because of American Dad's more linear structure each episode actually has to retain a bit of focus. It gives this sort of sense that even when it isn't funny there's an incentive to keep watching. That's not to say American Dad is never funny. You'll get some laughs. Roger and Steve are among the funniest characters in the show.
That doesn't mean the ideas for any particular episode are always good. There was one episode I recall where Francine is trying to deal with the fact that she's left handed. It involves a flashback to her childhood where a nun slaps her hand with... a fish. The episode goes with this angle for a plot.
And what exactly would Seth MacFarlane be without race jokes? That's like the bread and butter of his repetoire of jokes. Can you imagine if there was no such thing as racial stereotypes? Seth MacFarlane would have to get another job. American Dad doesn't seem to bask in race jokes as much as it does gay jokes and pop culture jokes at least. On the other hand without these stereotypes to rely on, MacFarlane wouldn't really have much of a career.
Is American Dad better than Family Guy? That depends on when we're talking. By that I mean, the old episodes of Family Guy are better than anything American Dad could ever do. But if we're talking present day American Dad and present day Family Guy.... well, then American Dad does win out. Because where as Family Guy got worse, American Dad did get better. And part of it was because American Dad stopped focusing in politics and went in a different direction. As a political satirist Seth MacFarlane isn't much. He still hasn't learned this as those political jokes that seem to have been meant for American Dad are now put into Family Guy. Yet while American Dad isn't quite that funny, it does at least have a sense of focus that Family Guy doesn't have. You get the feeling that MacFarlane is throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks with Family Guy. With American Dad, however, you seem to get the sense that with each episode MacFarlane is trying to say something.
Yet they do share similarities. When asked about American Dad and Family Guy MacFarlane said they were essentially the same show. There are differences, but I think what MacFarlane is getting at is that the shows share the same formula in terms of the family structure and each character (except Steve and Chris who are polar opposites of one another). You might not like all the characters in American Dad, but at least you get the sense that the characters aren't just there to provide cheap laughs. No character is forgotten and left behind, and no character is thrown under the bus.
American Dad can be funny... when it isn't dabbling in politics. This is perhaps why the show has gotten better. With so little focus on the politics all the time, it makes a more watchable show. Now that the election of 2008 is over, America Dad seemed like it was forced to find new material. As a result it also seems like Seth MacFarlane is tapping into that humor that used to make him funny. It isn't all there, but it's slowly coming back... very slowly.
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About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes (Sean_Rhodes)
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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