FOX’s American Dad! presents “Virtual In-Stanity.” Stan (Seth MacFarlane) realizes he misses most of Steve’s (Scott Grimes) major life events, and wants to make up for it, but Steve won’t give him the time of day. Understanding that, at Steve’s age, his son just wants to talk to girls, Stan inhabits a blond, busty avatar named Phyllis (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ringer). Unfortunately for Stan, Steve’s interest in Phyllis lulls when she refuses Steve any physical affection, and Steve starts to go for a redhead (Alyson Hannigan, How I Met Your Mother) instead.
“Virtual In-Stanity” reunites two of the stars of the hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In that series, Gellar plays a tough, hot blond, while Hannigan is a geeky redhead. Sound familiar? While the two are rivals, rather than friends, in American Dad!, that doesn’t lessen the casting coup’s enjoyment. Because of the dork-appeal of both the goofy vampire drama, that could be quite serious at times, and this animated sitcom, it is likely that more than a few fans are immensely gratified by the show using both women in the same episode.
A lot of American Dad!‘s plots revolve around Stan trying to be a good father. It seems that, as he ages and settles into family life more agreeably, Stan wants to be there for his children more than previously. Unlike other animated series, the characters in American Dad! do age and go through life changes, albeit much more slowly than in reality. For instance, Stan’s daughter gets married, and it sticks in future episodes. So it seems American Dad! will chronicle much of Stan’s growth as a father over a couple of years, giving a slightly deeper meaning to a show that mostly banks on humor.
Given that American Dad! is created by Family Guy‘s Seth MacFarlane, it does often venture into gross and offensive territory. “Virtual In-Stanity” crosses a lot of lines when Stan-as-Phyllis decides to have sex with Steve so that they can bond and keep spending time together. Set aside the severe, permanent emotional damage Steve will undergo when he finds out this ruse, which, if they had gone through with the intercourse, he eventually would have had to, the fact that Stan is willing to do this is highly disturbing. No parent should ever agree to such acts with a child, no matter the circumstances. Yes, it is a female body, but Stan would experience everything that “Phyllis” does.
Luckily, Francine (Wendy Schaal) has the wisdom to realize all of this, and is as repulsed by the idea as viewers surely are. Valiantly, she takes up an armored suit and fights Phyllis, a la Avatar, before “she” can sleep with Steve. Thus, disaster and a yawning chasm between son and father is avoided. As long as Steve never finds out the truth, and he probably won’t at this point, given how things end.
It may be a silly conceit that would not hold up in real life, but Stan playing with CIA technology is always fun. The fact that his boss (Patrick Stewart) can be just as giddy about it is wonderful. Stan is a very relatable character when he takes out the government toys and uses them for his personal goals. Despite the weird stuff in “Virtual In-Stanity,” no one can blame him for this aspect of himself.
The big regret here is that Hannigan’s character likely won’t show up again. She could make a great, recurring love interest for Steve! True, Hannigan already stars in a sitcom on TV, but surely she could make time to voice a handful of episodes a year. It’s unfortunate that this seems a very remote possibility.
Also, Roger (MacFarlane, too) goes on a killing spree to get even with some frat guys who don’t pay for his limo service. Watching a limosuine stalk a jerk into the bathroom is freaking hilarious. The subplot even manages to get creepy at times, despite its absurd nature. A+!
American Dad! airs Sundays on FOX as part of Animation Domination, usually at 9:30 p.m. ET, but check listings, as the shows within the block sometimes shift.