Seth MacFarlane is at his peak and riding the wave. In the 2009-2010 television season, he introduced his Family Guy spin-off, the Cleveland Show, and in so doing claimed, unprecedentedly, the third of four slots in FOX’s Sunday night animation line-up. Worriers might warn against over-saturation, but for the time being all three series are still going strong.
Although The Simpsons still holds a sort of elder statesman-like status, it also became clear during this television season that MacFarlane’s two elder series have become somewhat of an institution themselves. The writers of American Dad and Family Guy have earned enough to be able to take risks and indulge themselves. A sitcom can hardly take a bigger risk than completely abandoning its formula, and yet that’s what happened in American Dad’s fifth-season comic/action movie homage, “Rapture’s Delight”, and Family Guy’s eighth-season drama/indie-film type episode, “Brian and Stewie.”
American Dad in particular has reached a sweet spot in its tenure wherein its characters have found their voice, but not yet lost their freshness. One day creators and fans may realize, too late, that the show has lasted one season too many, and begun to decline, but that day is not today. Today, in the series’ most recent DVD release, we have a season of bulls-eye after comedic bulls-eye. Like the Simpsons in its own fifth- and sixth-seasons, there is nary a dud to be found.
Highlights for me included “Bully for Steve,” wherein Stan tries to counteract Steve’s passiveness by following him to school and bullying him; “Merlot Down Dirty Shame,” where an illicit kiss complicates things between Roger, Francine, and Stan, and “A Jones for a Smith,” where Stan becomes a crack addict. But really there’s nothing but good here. I refrain from breaking down each and every episode simply for the sake of brevity.
Perhaps the highest praise I can give this series right now is that I find each and every one of the main characters interesting. On Family Guy these days, it seems like Chris and Meg are essentially background scenery much of the time, while more popular character pairings, like Brian and Stewie, take precedence. American Dad‘s character dynamics are varied and interesting enough that an episode rarely fails to feature everyone.
The DVDs are loaded with extras, including deleted scenes for every episode, uncensored and original broadcast versions of most episodes, commentary tracks for six of the 18 season five episodes (two of which have an additional commentary from “The Interdisciplinary Collective for American Dad Studies”), and a making-of featurette on the famous “Rapture’s Delight”.
For American Dad fans, it really doesn’t get much better than this. Let’s hope there are many more seasons of this calibre still to come.