I’m quite surprised to have made it all the way to December 19 without resorting to The Simpsons, American Dad!, Bob’s Burgers, or some other animated sitcom that has an annual, or near annual, Christmas episode. Not that I have been avoiding such shows, and I may turn to one again before this is all over, it’s just worked out that way. American Dad! is the animated sitcom that might have the best claim to possessing the highest quality Christmas specials. They’re not an annual guarantee anymore, but the library the show has accumulated is quite good. Bob’s Burgers might be the runner-up at this point, but The Simpsons have a solid claim due largely to just having such a vast library of Christmas episodes at this point (and it could have been a lot more if not for the fact that the show was reluctant to go back to the holiday following the first, aired, episode).
“Minstrel Krampus” just might be my second favorite of the American Dad! Christmas episodes, but even that’s a tough battle. Last year, we looked at my favorite such episode and rather than go to the next in-line we’re doing Krampus. I suppose it’s slightly redundant given we already looked at a Christmas special this year featuring the beast, but if we can fit Santa into multiple specials then why not Krampus? This Christmas episode, like so many others, does tie-in with previous ones via The Smith family’s relationship with Santa Claus so it makes sense to look at this one this year. There was a Christmas episode released in between “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” and this one (“Season’s Beatings” which is excellent and likely to be looked at later), but it didn’t contain Santa so we’re not really missing anything continuity wise.
This episode foregoes the opening credits and begins on the title screen with the sound of sleigh bells in the background. They should have brought back the candy cane font, but I’ll forgive them. The absence of an intro would seem to indicate we’re in for a slightly longer episode than usual. Normally, that’s a good thing, but when you’re writing a blog entry that has to cover the whole of an episode it’s less thrilling. Once the title is removed we’re presented with an ornate looking storybook that lets us know this is an American Dad! Christmas episode. A narrator, who is clearly Stan’s father Jack (Daran Norris), chimes in to set the mood. It’s Christmas, the time of year when children are the worst! They’ve figured out they’re getting stuff whether they’re bad or good and that just sucks.
We then find ourselves at a toy store. To apparently illustrate this point, we see Stan (Seth MacFarlane) and Francine (Wendy Schaal) pushing a cart filled with toys while their teenaged son Steve (Scott Grimes) rides in the basket. He grabs an RC car from the shelf and tosses it into the cart, which Francine removes and places back on the shelf. He immediately protests and when Francine tells him it’s too expensive he throws a tantrum. Stan reminds him he only gets what he wants if he’s good, and Steve responds by slapping his father in the face. Stan doesn’t understand what’s gotten into their son while Francine just refers to him as a mystery. This is apparently an inspirational quote for Steve who hops out of the cart and breaks into song, the first line of which is “I’m the one they call a mystery.”
I think this is around the time of the show where the writers fell in love with Scott Grimes and his singing ability. And with good reason – he sounds great! Steve sings his song, which I assume is titled “Bad Bad Boy” or something to that effect, with a simple, synthesized, backing track. His vocal inflections remind me of Bad era Michael Jackson, and considering the song’s premise, that’s probably intentional. Steve basically just dances around the store plucking items from the shelf and tossing them, which Francine has to pick up. It cuts into segments of Steve dancing in hip hop attire with background dancers on top of a giant, green, red-ribboned, present with flames in the background. It’s absurd, but quite entertaining. It goes on for a half minute or so before Francine demands an end to this song and dance. Stan then laments that he can’t just beat Steve like his father used to beat him, which actually gives him an idea as he tells Steve he’s going to show him what happens to bad boys when they grow up.
We switch scenes to a penitentiary. Stan’s dad, Jack, is locked-up here and Stan wants Steve to speak with his grandfather and hopefully get scared straight. When the two sit-down with Jack, divided by the usual security features of a prison, Stan demands Jack tell Steve how awful prison is, but Jack just reminisces about Krampus. Neither Steve nor Stan have any idea who Krampus is, but Jack says Steve is lucky he’s not around anymore because when he was a kid Krampus would punish the naughty. He then tells the tale of Krampus which is displayed via still images as if they’re from an old storybook. He covers the usual stuff, like how Krampus rode with Santa and beat on bad kids, but when Steve calls it a bunch of bull-jizzle (eww) Jack explains he’s not around anymore because he trapped him! One Christmas Eve night, little Jack got out of bed to get more of his mother’s strudel, but he found Krampus with his head buried in the copper pot full of the stuff. Jack slammed the lid on him trapping him forever!
Stan and Steve don’t believe the old man’s story which is when Jack tells him to check his basement. It would seem all of Jack’s stuff is stored there, on account of him being in prison and all, and that includes the copper pot containing Krampus. He urges Stan to investigate, but the two get up and leave forcing a guard to enter to drag Jack back to his cell all the while with him screaming for Stan to check his basement (he also mentions some really fast skis he’s keeping down there too).
Back in town, Main Street is all decorated for Christmas and Hayley (Rachel MacFarlane) is out doing some window-shopping with Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), the fish. Klaus is comically riding around in a hamster ball full of water while wearing a festive Santa hat. He asks Hayley if she’s decided what she’s getting the family for Christmas and she indicates she has not. This is her opportunity to break into song. It’s not particularly funny or anything as she just needs money for Christmas (to just buy popcorn?) which leads her to Roger (MacFarlane) who demands she stop singing and just tell him what she wants. It’s a job she wants and she’s hoping she can work in Roger’s attic bar, but he gestures to the open area that he has plenty of help since he hired some collegiate water polo team. A bunch of physically fit men in red speedos are serving drinks and Roger remarks suggestively he has “more hands than jobs.”
Roger tosses Hayley a newspaper and tells her to check the want ads. She finds an ad for airport work and puts a circle around that. One of Roger’s waiters then walks over and he inspects the young man’s…area. He’s not satisfied with the fit of the speedo and complains that it’s too loose and that you could fit two men in it! He demonstrates by squeezing himself into the garment and the poor waiter looks rightly uncomfortable with the situation. Roger complains it’s still too loose and calls over another waiter to get in.
Later at the Smith residence, Steve is ripping open his Christmas presents and finding them not up to his standards. He pulls out what looks like a futuristic looking RC car and questions if his parents bought the floor model before emphatically smashing it on the floor. Francine comes over demanding to know, “By the power of Grayskull,” just what Steve thinks he’s doing. Stan gathers up the remaining unopened gifts and says he’s going to hide these ones until Christmas. This takes him down into the basement while muttering how Steve has him “…talking like Bernie Mac.” He tries to place the gifts on the top shelf of some wall unit, but he ends up knocking down a whole bunch of boxes which reveals his father’s copper pot.
Stan approaches the pot with trepidation, but soon hears a voice calling from inside. It’s Krampus (Danny Glover), and he wants to be let out! He mistakes Stan for Jack, but Stan corrects him by telling the demon that Jack is his father. The beast continues urging Stan to free him, but he’s apprehensive about unleashing a literal demon upon the world. Then he hears Steve screaming at his mother upstairs about his Mickey Mouse towel and it gives him an idea. He offers Krampus a deal: he’ll let him out, but he has to scare Steve straight. Krampus is more than willing to do so as he reminds Stan that’s basically his thing, so Stan removes the lid. Immediately, a black, wraith-like, being comes flying out and past Stan! We cut to Steve sleeping in his bed when his window smashes in and Krampus appears. He picks Steve up by the neck and shoves him in his sack. Stan comes bursting in just in-time to see Krampus fly out of the window riding his sack like a witch rides a broom. Before he leaves, he tells Stan to bring him Jack if he ever wants to see his kid again. On the way out, we get to see Krampus fly past the full moon – a new holiday tradition!
We cut to the prison and Jack is flipping out at the news that Stan freed Krampus. When he incredulously asks upon hearing the news, “You did what?!” Stan replies that he just wanted Krampus to scare Steve straight which causes Jack to scream, “Sexual orientation is not a choice!” For as shitty a person as Jack is, at least he isn’t a homophobe. Stan ignores him and just lays out his proposal: Krampus has Steve and will only return him if Jack takes his place. Stan informs his father that he can use his CIA connections to have him released if he’s willing to switch places with Steve. Jack flips up his eye patch exposing a hole where his eye once was and pulls a cigarette out from it that he must have been stashing. He inserts the filter end of the cigarette into the hole and lights it, takes a drag somehow, and then takes it out and smokes it in a more conventional sense. He then agrees to Stan’s proposal.
We cut to Stan and Jack leaving the prison. As they do, Jack reasons that Krampus must have taken Steve to Bavaria where his castle is. He tells Stan to give him his keys, which Stan does only for Jack to punch him out and steal his car. As he does so, he shouts “See ya, sucker!” in Stan’s direction who is left sitting on the ground. He just chuckles to himself between mutterings of “Yup,” indicating he should have probably seen that coming.
At the castle of Krampus, Steve is being dragged by the leg to a holding cell. As he gets dragged by a large wooden door, it opens and some normally inanimate objects emerge and note their surprise at seeing Krampus. They are a toilet brush, bidet, plunger, and beer stein. It would seem Krampus’ castle is not unlike that of the Beast from Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast. Krampus then chucks Steve into a caged area all the while Steve is insisting he can’t be treated like this because he’s an American child. He even refers to himself as a treasure. He then spits in the face of Krampus and tries to threaten him, but Krampus checks him to remind him who he’s dealing with.
This is Krampus’ turn to break out into song (singing voice provided by Charles Bradley) and illustrate to Steve why he’s a creature to be feared. It’s a funky little R&B number and probably the highlight of the musical component to this episode. Krampus basically dances around torturing Steve with the climax of each verse being “You get the rod!” followed by him wailing on Steve’s ass with his birch sticks. There’s a break in the middle where Krampus explains to Steve that he doesn’t know real pain like he does which leads to a quick story about Krampus being dumped by a girl named Sheila in the middle of downtown Baltimore to go with a guy named Dennis. When he goes back into his song, he sings about Sheila presenting him with a baby she claimed was is, but looked just like Dennis. That damn, Dennis! This guy has some real trauma in his past. The song closes with him holding Steve by the ankles as he spanks his bottom with the birch sticks. He leaves the boy sobbing in a fetal position in the cage telling him that’s where he’ll stay until he gets Jack.
At the Smith home, Stan is nursing a beer at Roger’s bar. Roger, being the ever attentive bartender, asks Stan to tell him what he did, or who he did, was it another boy?! Stan tells him what happened and Roger surprises him by actually knowing who Krampus is. He suggests that Santa would know where to find him, but Stan reminds Roger that Santa hates him and we get a brief flashback to their confrontation from before. Plus, Stan adds, he has no way to get to the North Pole, but Roger informs him he’s wrong about that assumption and calls for his “boys.”
We cut to Stan and Roger on a floating sleigh with the water polo team pulling it through the arctic waters. One of them is clearly dead while the others jump and swim like dolphins. They arrive at a frozen island with a massive, 100 foot wall of ice in front of them. Roger just asks Stan to give him a boost so he does and the scene just cuts to Roger effortlessly climbing over the edge. He then calls out for Stan to grab his hand and the shot is positioned over Roger’s shoulder so that Stan is comically too far away to reach. The scene cuts back to Stan and Roger’s hand is in-frame. I don’t know if this is a reference to anything or just something the writers thought was funny, but it is! Stan is then jumped by a group of elves obviously working for Santa. The ice beneath Roger’s feet breaks away from the side of the wall causing him to fall and crash through the ice. An elf reaches into the newly formed crater with a snare to wrap around Roger’s throat. He pops up and commands the elf, “Harder.” He tightens the snare only for Roger to respond with, “Way harder!”
At Santa’s workshop, Stan is tied to a chair with holly and a coat-less Santa comes strutting in to smash his face with a revolver featuring a candy cane pattern. Santa (Matt McKenna) is not happy to see Stan and seems ready to kill him, but Stan mentions Krampus. Santa is really not happy to hear about the return of Krampus as he hates sharing the spotlight with the demon, plus he used to nibble on his list. He then makes Stan an offer: help him kill Krampus, and he’ll help get Steve returned safely. Stan agrees and says “Come on, Roger,” and as the camera pulls back we see Roger is tied to a chair nearby and the elves are still choking him. He tells Stan he’s “Almost there,” indicating they can leave once he…finishes.
Back at Krampus’ castle, the objects come to cheer up Steve. First he’s approached by a roll of toilet paper who offers to dry his tears, then the others appear. Bidet offers Steve a drink of water from his “spout” which Steve is happy to partake in. Steve uses the opportunity to complain about how mean Krampus is, but the others disagree and tell him he has Krampus all wrong. They let him out to illustrate their point and the group finds Krampus at a piano singing his heart out.
Krampus is in pain, and it hurts him to punish children, but it’s something he must do! Steve is touched and joins Krampus for a duet where he explains that he understands the demon now. The song is very soulful, and Charles Bradley sings his ass off. The song does devolve into Krampus singing about his love life again and brings up his ex, Sheila, once more. It gets dark when Krampus vows to kill her, but then ends by professing his love for her. He’s got some stuff to work out. When the song ends, the two have a heart-to-heart and reach an understanding about the role Krampus plays and Steve seems to have turned over a new leaf. Krampus tells Steve he just wants to see Jack so he can apologize for failing him as he blames himself for Jack turning out so rotten.
At the North Pole, Stan, Roger, and Santa are ready to set out for Krampus. The three of them are in Santa’s sleigh which is only being pulled by six reindeer – but wait! Tagging along behind them are three additional reindeer being ridden by elves. Do we grant credit for the proper number of reindeer to this scene as a result? It’s inconclusive, but maybe. The sleigh takes off and they pass by a full moon once again and Stan even makes a comment about it. Roger adds that once you’re above the clouds the moon always looks full, but when Stans asks if that’s true Roger just blows him off. And if you’re wondering, the answer is “No,” that is not true. Santa then adds that Stan will be on the permanent Good List for helping him kill Krampus, right alongside Jesus. When Roger points out that Jesus is a Jew, Santa reacts with an incredulous, “What?!”
As the sleigh group passes over an airport, we pan down to check-in with Jack again who is trying to board a plane to Jamaica, but his flight has been delayed. He gets in a little tiff with an airline employee named Mary-Ann (Marissa Jaret Winokur) who refers him to customer service. There he finds Hayley (remember her arc?) working a customer service kiosk. She’s being accosted by a group of Jamaican men (all voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) who seem rather upset about their flight. Jack is surprised to find Hayley here and when he asks her what she’s doing she says she needs money to buy presents for her family. When Jack expresses that he doesn’t understand why anyone would want to do something for their family, she breaks into a Calypso/Rastafarian number about how family gets you high and it is just awful. It’s not even funny bad, it just sucks. It’s apparently all the convincing Jack needs though as when the song ends he’s convinced he needs to help his family so he changes his flight to Bavaria to go after Krampus.
It’s morning at Castle Krampus and Steve comes walking into the kitchen in an oversized dress shirt to find Krampus cooking breakfast. Are we supposed to read this like the classic setup of a woman wearing a man’s shirt the next morning after a night of sex? Normally, I’d say no, but with this show I’m betting they want us to think of it in that way. Krampus serves him his breakfast and Steve is basically still apologizing for being a bad kid, but Krampus wants to thank him for reminding him how good it feels to convert bad kids to good ones. He’s made blueberry crepes, and Plunger asks Steve if he wants homemade chocolate sauce. After he asks, he drags his body across a plate of the dish leaving a brown trail behind. Yes, this is definitely a poop joke.
Outside, Santa’s sleigh has been parked and we find the assault team roaming the halls of the castle. Santa signals for all to stop when he hears the sound of a toilet flushing. We see plunger using the bathroom and finishing up before the door flies open. Stan angrily storms in and grabs Plunger and drowns him in the toilet. In the kitchen, Steve is helping Krampus with the dishes. Krampus scrapes the contents of a plate into a trash bag which is a living bag that begins hopping towards the door to take itself out. Stan, Santa, and the elves burst in and one of the elves grabs the trash bag and cuts it open. Blood appears as the contents of the trash bag spill on the floor indicating it has died while Steve cries out “Trashy!”
They begin laying waste to the various objects in the kitchen. Santa chucks the toilet paper onto an open flame while Stan wrestles with the bidet. He ends up tossing it out the window where it smashes into a pile of porcelain and blood on the ground. A living table stands up on its end for Krampus and Steve to duck behind while the boy cries out for them to stop their assault. He also cries out as his friends are slaughtered and this is clearly going to scar the boy for a long time. During this sequence, we see Jack has arrived and is skiing towards the castle as the sound of gunfire filters out. The table gets shot and dies leaving Krampus exposed. Santa fires off a round and nails him in the chest. As Krampus lays on the ground bleeding out, Steve comforts him, but Santa just comes over and puts one foot on his chest. Declaring himself “Big man on Krampus,” he blasts the demon in the forehead ending his existence.
With Krampus dead, Santa turns his attention to Stan. Drawing his gun on him, Stan tries to reason with him, but Santa lays it out in plain terms that he’s the bad guy! Steve chimes in to tell his dad that’s what he was trying to tell him, that Krampus was good and Santa evil. Santa laughs and confirms as much saying he’s in bed with “Big Toy” to make sure all kids get what they want on Christmas so that he can profit. When Roger tries to point out that this doesn’t make any sense since Santa gives toys away, he tells him to shut up and not to think about it too hard.
Santa then fires off a round at Stan, but through the window comes Jack! He’s able to soar in front of his son in slow motion to take a bullet for him while simultaneously sending one of his skis to plunge into Santa’s chest. The act causes Santa to lose his revolver and Stan is able to grab it. Santa still tries to throw a knife that was on the floor at Stan, but he misses and hits the wall which we find out was alive. Santa then runs for it shouting “Every man for himself,” with his trio of elves trailing behind. With Stan kneeling over his dad, Jack takes the opportunity to tell Stan he’s a good guy and to apologize for being a bad father, but Stan corrects him and says his abuse made him what he is today. That’s the message of the episode folks, kids need to be beaten into goodness. Jack expresses regret for sealing Krampus away for all these years feeling that, if he hadn’t, the world wouldn’t suck so bad.
On the floor, the blood pooling from Krampus mingles with the blood of Jack. The body of Krampus turns to a blue apparition and gets absorbed into Jack. His lifeless body begins to float and blasts of light shoot out of him and a new Krampus is born! This new Jack-Krampus basically looks as you would expect and is quite thrilled at the idea of being alive again. Steve points out the obvious, while Stan asks him if he’s going to be Krampus all the time or just on Christmas. Jack rightly doesn’t know, but he declares it’s Christmas Eve and he has some bottoms to blister! He turns into the wraith form and flies out the window. Outside, he flies right up to the screen to break the fourth wall to tell us “You better be good, boys and girls, or I’ll beat you until blood’s comin’ from your ears and your eyes and your mouth. Merry Christmas! …and from your ass!” The scene turns into another image from the storybook that started it all. It zooms out and closes signaling that’s the end.
“Minstrel Krampus” is a thoroughly wacky tale that only American Dad! could tell. In order for it to take place, Steve needs to act like a petulant child and do things he normally never would, like slap his father. And for his part, Stan needs to act in a way he normally would not for if Steve ever struck him in another episode he probably would beat the child or inflict some kind of psychological torture on the boy. It’s also dependent upon Santa being a bad guy in this universe and that part is played up. It’s not exactly a perversion of Christmas to view Krampus in a somewhat favorable light if his punishment is deemed corrective discipline. And the observation that basically all kids get toys on Christmas, be they good or bad, isn’t exactly wrong.
Where the episode takes it further is by introducing the message that capital punishment is the best form of punishment for children. That’s obviously made in jest and I don’t think the show intends for us to take it literally, it’s just there for the sake of humor. Steve encountering a group of magic, talking, objects is a direct parody of Beauty and the Beast and the episode makes certain to select the most unsanitary of objects for its characters. Most of these wouldn’t have existed in the Beast’s castle, but imagine if Belle encountered a magic, talking, chamber pot? I’m actually a little surprised they went with the comparatively less disgusting bidet, but they got their poop joke in via the plunger so it’s not as if the episode didn’t “go there.”
The only weakness I find with this one is in the B plot, if you can even call it that. We get a very brief scene at the beginning of Hayley looking for a job which only happens so that Jack can encounter her at the airport and have a terrible song come from her that changes his perception of family. For this to work, we basically have to ignore Hayley’s usual character as she’s not likely to feel this kind of pressure to get her family anything for Christmas. In that, it’s similar to Steve acting as horrible as he does which is just as out of character for him. It’s just not a rewarding plot and the whole scene at the airport is easily the weakest moment. They could have cut the whole thing and just had Jack witness something at the airport that changed his heart. Maybe a parody of Home Alone with Kevin’s mom declaring she’s getting home to her son for Christmas could have provided a comedic way to turn things around. Basically anything would have been better than the scene we got.
Aside from that one song, the others are quite entertaining. This episode is almost a musical. I don’t think there’s enough music to really call it that, but it doesn’t matter as it’s just semantics anyway. The songs are pretty great though and I really loved the opening number with Steve at the store and both songs involving Krampus. Scott Grimes and Charles Bradley give terrific performances and the delivery of their songs are very earnest, with the lyrics sometimes being ridiculous. This is the type of episode I recommend watching with subtitles on at least once so you can get all of the jokes. That last song with Krampus sure takes things to some dark places by the time it’s over.
Ultimately, this is just a funny Christmas episode. It’s not as bloodthirsty as the previous one we looked at, so some that found the battle between the Smiths and Santa’s minions distasteful might actually prefer this one. It certainly has that American Dad! spirit as the show was well into its life at this point to know how to do a proper Christmas episode to the point where it feels automatic. And if you’re wondering, yes both Santa and Jack-Krampus return in future Christmas episodes so you might not want to stop here. And if you do want to watch it, and any other American Dad! Christmas episode, Hulu has you covered. Cartoon Network is also sure to show it and the rest all month long, though by now the number of viewings are likely dwindling so act fast!
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
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