American Dad: Volume 5 (US - DVD R1)
Gabe tries to convince you that unlike new Family Guy, this is a good show...
In the beginning American Dad was very much ‘that other Seth MacFarlane show’, but as the quality of Family Guy dipped, leading many fans to realize there wasn’t much behind the show to begin with, American Dad surprisingly emerged as the more original, incendiary, and funny show. All shows go throw growing pains, but few shows see a sharp quality increase in their third and fourth seasons. However, I think the reason for American Dad’s emergence as the superior MacFarlane show is actually pretty obvious when you look at the release dates of the first good episodes. The show, which was conceived as an excuse for staunch Liberal MacFarlane and his writing buddies to poke more pointed fun at post-9/11 Conservative America, started to click right around the time George W. Bush left office. With their easy target replaced with the relatively unfunny Obama administration (love him or hate him, Obama simply isn’t the accidental comedic genius Bush was), the show was forced to adapt or die.
What makes the show better than Family Guy? Well, the lack of cut-away gags certainly doesn’t hurt (it’s not really a sit-com if it doesn’t have any situation comedy, now is it?), but I think it’s actually the characters that make the difference. American Dad’s characters are no less arch than Family Guy’s, but they’ve been given more room to grow on the whole. Family Guy is basically the Brain and Stewie show these days, and neither character works as a consistent lead. Roger the Alien is an obvious Stewie analogue, but he’s kept a B-character more consistently. Roger’s major character traits are also more bizarre and original. This volume of American Dad does threaten to over-expose Roger, but most of the Roger-centric episodes feel anomalous among the rest, and the exception rather than the rule. The writers have since widened their canvas to include their entire cast, though Francine is rarely given A-story material to work with minus Stan or Roger. The bigger and on-going problem, even now that the series has official been moved to the ‘good’ category, is that too many plotlines depend on Stan being generally a horrible person. This approach worked for The Simpsons, Family Guy and longer running Adult Swim favourites like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but grew old, and is a symptomatic problem for modern sit-coms in general.
This volume five collection features fourteen episodes from the fourth season. There are some genuinely good episodes throughout the other seasons, and some of the developed character traits are lost in context, but overall I’d say this is a pretty solid place for viewers to start their American Dad experience. The overall collection is pretty consistent, but features a handful of standouts. ‘Phantom of the Telethon’ sets things off right with a healthy dose of darkly tinted political satire (Stan is holding a telethon because the CIA’s ‘torture budget’ has been cut), and a good spot for all the major characters, especially Roger, who sees the whole event as an excuse to play Phantom of the Opera. ‘Bar Mitzvah’ is a fan, and (according to this collection’s extras) writer favourite, and a generally great episode in terms of story structure, which apes Soderberg’s Ocean’s 11 remake, and all the films that inspired it. It’s also the only episode in the collection to brush Stan almost entirely aside, including even a joke to point out the character’s incidental presence in the story. ‘Delorean Story-an’ features a rare genuinely sweet father son story with relatively little subversion, and character elements that are specific to the series, rather than well-made replays of older episodes of The Simpsons. ‘Weiner of Our Discontent’ is, to date, the ultimate Roger-centric episode, and features one of the more satisfying A to B story wraparounds. ‘Daddy Queerest’ is the strongest episode overall, featuring poignant remarks on the politics of homosexuality, and a hilariously wrong-headed tirade against teen drinking from Roger. ‘Jack’s Back’ isn’t my favourite episode overall, but does feature the best dialogue exchange in the collection, when Haley beats Roger at his own game of dress-up and make believe.
American Dad has begun to air episodes in high definition with a widened 16x9 framing this year, but all previous seasons, including the episodes on this collection, were presented in 480i and 1.33:1 framing. It’s quite likely the next volume release will be made available on Blu-ray, but until then fans have this perfectly adequate standard definition release to fill out their collections. Up-scaled by my Blu-ray player every episode features vibrant colours, blacks are solid, and elements are well separated. The show features a very simple visual style, with few shading elements, and basic, flat background elements, so detail really isn’t an issue, though sharpness sometimes is. The whole print features minor, thin, white edge-enhancement, especially on the hard black lines. There is minor compression noise and blocking throughout, specifically on brighter background elements, and I caught quite a few interlacing effects. Objects and characters in quick, cross-screen motion are a bit ‘fluttery’, and there are combing artefacts on speedier mouth changeovers.
Each episode in this collection features a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix. The sound isn’t much more expressive than a Dolby Surround mix in terms of stereo and surround elements, but the centred dialogue and LFE increase makes a real difference (though the throb of simple footstep effects is a bit overwhelming at times). Directional effects are mostly of the left and/or right to centre variety, but there are occasional rear element effects, like crowd noise, or big echo effects (the end of ‘Daddy Queerest’ features very effective stadium sound). The opening credit song and interlude music are pretty wide in scope, and just as theatrical as major motion picture scores. I should probably note that the dialogue is uncensored, which means there are plenty of naughty words that were cut from the original television airings.
Every episode in the collection features crew commentary. Participants vary from episode to episode and include creator/producers Matt Weitzman and Mike Barker, directors Brent Woods, Pam Cooke, Joe Daniello, Chris Bennet, Albert Colleros, Rodney Clouden, and Josue Cervantes, writers Brian Boyle, Nahnatchka Khan, Erik Sommers, Matt Fusfeld, and Laura McCreary, actress Wendy Schaal, and composer Walter Murphy, among others. Despite the constant cast change-up these tracks remain pretty consistent in tone. Everyone is dry, self-deprecating, and share a fun rapport with one another. Weitzman, being the one unifying element of all the tracks, acts as moderator as best he can. I can’t say sitting through all of them didn’t turn into a bit of a chore, but considering the sheer quantity of talking I can’t say it’s the worst I’ve dealt with. Disc two also features a ‘Fact-Up’ mode on ‘Bar Mitzvah Hustle’, which is a basic approximation of similar trivia tracks that appear on Blu-ray releases. The trivia is actually pretty informative, and covers more than the specific episode.
Disc four finishes the extras off with a collection of deleted/extended/alternate scenes, and the ‘Power Hour Drinking Game’. There are twelve episodes that featured deleted scenes, and each episode is divided into its own section of brief chapters These are mostly brief dialogue gags, and mostly presented in the form of completed animation, with actual cast performances. The editors cut a lot of Klaus, apparently. The ‘Power Hour Drinking Game’ is a disappointment. Instead of an actual ‘drinking game’, one that requires the audience to pay attention to the on-screen information, this is a series of clips from the previous season. Each clip last approximately a minute, and is followed by an image of Roger drinking, with a prompt to take a drink. It’s a nice clip collection, running approximately an hour, but a dumb ‘game’.
American Dad keeps improving with time, and until it begins the same descent in quality that has brutalized Family Guy (which I fear is inevitable) I’m going to continue championing the show, and demand fans of animated comedy give it a proper shot. This volume five collection is a good place to start, and features some of the best episodes to date. Previous volume releases are not quite as satisfying, but are interesting if viewers are looking to watch an awkward series find its footing. I’m very excited for the next volume, which won’t only feature my favourite episodes (‘In Country…Club’, ‘Home Adrone’, ‘Rapture’s Delight’, ‘May the Best Stan Win’ and ‘A Bully for Steve’), but should be released on Blu-ray disc. Until that time, this standard definition collection does fine, despite some interlacing artefacts. The commentary tracks are a big plus in the collection’s favour, even if they don’t match those of the Futurama or Venture Bros releases.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 15th June 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras: Cast and Crew Commentaries, Bar Mitzvah Hustle Fact-Up Trivia, Deleted Scenes, The Power Hour Drinking Game
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Wendy Schaal, Scott Grimes, Rachael MacFarlane, Dee Bradley Baker
Genre: Animation and Comedy
Length: 306 minutes
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