American Dad! Season 10

American Dad

When American Dad! began in 2005, it was a satire of post-9/11 America under the Bush administration, using the ultra-conservative character of CIA agent Stan Smith (Seth MacFarlane) to poke fun at the right-wing zealots that the show’s creators believed were running the country.

During its first few seasons, the series tackled many controversial issues, such as the threat of domestic terrorism (in Season 1’s Homeland Insecurity), gun control (in Season 1’s Stannie Get Your Gun) and government surveillance (in Season 2’s I Can’t Stan You). Now in its 10th season, American Dad! has long since abandoned political satire in favour of surreal riffs on popular culture. While still amusing, it increasingly resembles the zany Simpsons replica its detractors have always accused it of being.

The Season 10 première, Steve & Snot’s Test-Tubular Adventure, is a parody of various science fiction films that focuses on nerdy teenagers Steve (Scott Grimes) and Snot (Curtis Armstrong) attempting to clone a pair of high school girls in order to lose their virginity. When the clones emerge from their pods, helpless and looking for guidance, Steve and Snot find themselves torn between paternal love and raging adolescent lust.

The plot is as distasteful as it sounds, but writers Jordan Blum and Parker Deay manage to avoid turning the episode into a hateful piece of misogyny. It’s clear that Steve and Snot are meant to be the butt of the joke, as they struggle to cope with the consequences of having the sex they so desperately crave, and the show repeatedly highlights the stupidity of female objectification through the characters of Hayley (Rachael MacFarlane) and Roger (Seth MacFarlane). In most cases, the absurdity of the episode’s storyline makes it too silly to be genuinely offensive, and lines such as “oh my God, I wish I had your eating disorder” succeed on audacity alone. However, the sequence in which Stan inflicts violence on the clones, who exist solely to fulfil the male characters’ sexual desires, is more problematic and undermines the episode’s larger message. It’s almost as if the writers are trying to have their cake and eat it, laughing at violence towards women while disingenuously telling viewers that they don’t really mean it.

Steve & Snot’s Test-Tubular Adventure is a so-so episode of American Dad! that sticks closely to the show’s familiar formula of bad taste gags and fantastical plots. The homages to Weird Science, Blade Runner and many other iconic sci-fi films are well executed and will entertain movie buffs, but the main storyline feels tired (Steve has been concocting elaborate schemes to lose his virginity since the pilot) and simply an excuse to run through a catalogue of pop culture references. Season 1’s A Smith in The Hand dealt with teenage sexuality far more successfully, examining a contentious political issue with satirical humour in order to make an important ideological point. That episode followed Stan as he learned self-acceptance through the joys of masturbation and, in so doing, realised the importance of proper sex education for young people. There is nothing with that level of insight in Steve & Snot’s Test-Tubular Adventure.

A subplot involving Stan and a cloned Dodo in this episode is symptomatic of the show’s biggest flaw – it’s no longer interested in anything except wacky adventures. Far removed from the climate of fear and paranoia that existed in America in the mid-2000s, MacFarlane’s satire of the War on Terror and neoconservative politics feels outdated and irrelevant. Recognising this, MacFarlane and his team should either have brought the show to an end or found new political targets to lampoon, instead of relying on ever more surreal scenarios to keep viewers entertained. As it enters its 10th season, American Dad! is a shadow of its former self – sporadically funny but long past its best.

American Dad! Season 10 Episode 1 is on Fox at 10pm on 01/01/2015.