Let’s review the saga of Seth MacFarlane: At age 25, he nabs a prime-time animated series. Although critics love The Family Guy‘s warped family sitcom, Fox cans it. But after the show carves out a successful afterlife on Cartoon Network and DVD, Fox uncancels it and also invites MacFarlane back to create a new series, American Dad, that bears a staggering resemblance to, uh, Family Guy.
The result is paternal overkill. Fox’s Sunday-night lineup is wall-to-wall with buffoonish dads, from Homer Simpson to Family Guy‘s blue-collar bumbler Peter Griffin to American Dad‘s Stan Smith, a CIA agent as good at protecting his country as Homer is at guarding a nuclear power plant. Stan is the least sympathetic pop of the bunch, not a powerless suburban patsy but a patriotic bigmouth who reveres and abuses power. Stan offers to help his son win the class presidency (“I work for the CIA. Rigging elections is my bread and butter”) and tries to sabotage his wife’s real estate career by kidnapping Alan Greenspan, thus triggering a property crash. American Dad clearly intends to slay us with its political humor, but the satirical edge is too blunt to register most of the time. The occasional funny moments emerge mostly from meta-jokes. For instance, what does the Smith family do when it thinks it has just 24 hours to live after exposure to a deadly biological substance? The ultimate meta-gesture: They sit down together to watch a full season of 24. Now that’s a TV family.