washingtonpost.com  > Nation > Search the States > Rhode Island
TV Preview

'American Dad': Dysfunctional Comedy

By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 5, 2005; Page C07

After canceling his wickedly hilarious "Family Guy" three years ago, the Fox network is making it up big-time to series creator Seth MacFarlane on Sunday. It may not have been such a wise move.

This May, Fox is bringing back (or is it "uncanceling"?) "Family Guy," the subversive cartoon about the dysfunctional Rhode Island family whose members include a martini-swilling dog and a baby bent on world destruction. Network executives were no doubt motivated by the phenomenal DVD sales of the show's first three seasons.

Seth MacFarlane's new series, "American Dad," lacks the intelligence of his "Family Guy." (Fox)

But those same executives have also given MacFarlane a whole new animated half-hour to play with in the disappointing "American Dad." The new series officially premieres in May but has a sneak preview tomorrow night in the coveted post-Super Bowl time period (it's supposed to come on around 10:30 on Channel 5 following the game, the post-game and a new episode of "The Simpsons," but if the post-game goes long, expect to see it much later than that.)

The look and pace of "American Dad" is the same as "Family Guy," but it doesn't come close to the bar set high by its sometimes offensive but always smart predecessor.

That show always jammed each episode with wry takes on pop culture, politics, religion or anything else it damn well pleased. "American Dad" delivers a clever zinger here or there when taking on current events. (God is on the phone with President Bush but has to take another call -- it's Cheney.) But a lot of the jokes are curiously dated, and far too many fall flat.

"Dad" is Stan Smith (voiced by MacFarlane), a paranoid CIA agent with the chin of Jay Leno who thinks terrorists roam everywhere, including his toaster. He keeps an airport metal detector at his front door and a terrorism alert level dial pasted to his fridge.

When Homeland Security's color-coded alert level goes to orange, he explains to his family that this means "something might go down somewhere in some way at some point in time." John Ashcroft or Tom Ridge couldn't have said it better.

The supporting cartoon characters are mostly a disappointment. Wife Francine (Wendy Schaal) is all pearls and pink dresses on the outside with some deep-seated scars deep inside. Daughter Hayley (Rachael MacFarlane, the creator's sister) is a rebellious leftist who sports a peace necklace and stands on the opposite side of the political spectrum from her Ronald Reagan-worshiping father.

Son Steve (Scott Grimes) is a nerdy type with dreams of grandeur, but is still waiting for puberty to arrive. Even Francine knows that manhood hasn't sprung yet for her son. "Steve's big boy hair isn't going to come in any faster with you taunting him," she says to her daughter.

That line illustrates some of the mindless dialogue throughout the show.

The family goldfish, Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), speaks German and has designs on Mrs. Smith, peeking up her skirt when possible. The fish-lusting-after-human joke gets old before the second commercial.

The standout is the effeminate space alien Roger (Seth MacFarlane, again) whom Stan saved from Area 51 but who must now remain out of the public eye. Not a problem for Roger, who's content staying home watching "I Love the '80s" marathons on VH1 and chowing down on junk food. He also releases a gooey substance every seven hours but lets someone else worry about cleaning it up.

The writing is on the wall for a TV show when a secreting space alien with a fondness for Twinkies and cable TV is the highlight.

American Dad (30 minutes) will be shown Sunday night around 10:30 on Channel 5.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company