Tag Archives: tbs

Dec. 8 – American Dad! – “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls”

Original air date December 12, 2010.

It was just last year that we finally broke the seal on American Dad!. It surprised me how long I was able to avoid American Dad! year in and year out since it has a wealth of Christmas episodes at its disposal. Last year, the featured Christmas episode was the very first one the show did, “The Best Christmas Story Never Told.” This year, I’m skipping ahead to Season 7 (or 6, it’s confusing) and the fourth Christmas episode the show has done, “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls.” This episode had the distinction of being the only numbered entry in my Top 25 Christmas Specials from last year that had not been covered in some capacity on this blog. This year, I am rectifying that even if it means skipping over a couple of others, but that’s not a big deal because like most sitcoms there is no continuity from one episode to the next.

Except for this one! Actually, this episode is the beginning of a continuity in American Dad! that really only matters at Christmas. And that continuity concerns the Smith’s relationship with the big man in charge of the holiday. No, not Jesus, but Santa. This episode will show why Santa has a hatred for the Smith family and it’s a subject that will be revisited in subsequent Christmas episodes covering the old man’s death and even his resurrection. I think the last Christmas episode the show featured Santa in, “Santa Schmanta,” had him back to his old self at the end. The show doesn’t always do a Christmas special every year since it’s a TBS property that doesn’t always have anything airing around the holiday. Last year, the show was able to return to Christmas with “Yule. Tide. Repeat.,” and that was because they simply delayed airing the season finale three months so it would air in December.

I can’t believe this episode is more than 10 years old.

This Christmas episode happens to be my favorite from the show because it’s just over-the-top and ridiculous in a way that only American Dad! can get away with. Writer Erik Durbin wanted to make it bloody and referenced the movie 300, and he’s pretty much going to realize that dream. We’ve seen plenty of violent Christmas specials from places like Robot Chicken, but the violence is often used for just sheer shock value. Sure, there is definitely an element of that present in this episode as well, but it’s setup and earned over the duration of the show and most of the violence is reserved for the end. Plus, this show dares to imagine Santa as kind of a bad guy. He’s mostly just vengeful here (and with good reason), but the bad guy persona will be explored in greater detail and reinforced in the Christmas specials to come.

It cannot be overstated how much Stan hates Jeff.

The episode opens with the usual intro, only the title of the show is displayed in a candy cane font at the close and dissolved into a snowy sky. Stan (Seth MacFarlane) is in his living room and Jeff (Jeff Fischer) comes running downstairs to express his joy at the imminent arrival of Christmas. He expresses hope that Santa will bring him a polar bear helmet from the movie The Golden Compass and races outside to mail his letter to Santa. Stan is intensely annoyed with Jeff’s presence and thinks he’s an idiot for still believing in Santa Claus. Haley (Rachael MacFarlane) stands up for her husband and says his childlike innocence is one of the things that charms her, but she’s not winning Stan over who insists he will never accept Jeff as part of their family.

Nice clog, Francine.

When they leave they’re replaced by Francine (Wendy Schaal) who comes in carrying clogs. She is in search of a new family tradition and she thought the custom of filling clogs with presents was a good idea since Barbara Walters recommended it and she slept with a married, black, senator (“She doesn’t drive in the slow lane”). Stan doesn’t care as he’s excited about giving Steve his Christmas present this year: a gun. Francine is strongly against the idea of Steve having a gun, despite Stan’s protests that they’ve been unable to bond over anything else, and makes Stan promise not to give Steve a gun for Christmas.

Merry Wednesday!

We hard cut to Stan shouting “Merry Wednesday!” and presenting Steve (Scott Grimes) with a machinegun. Steve is a bit unsure if he’s ready for such an item, but his father’s insistence seems to be working. Jeff then pops into Steve’s room to enthusiastically declare that he’ll go shooting with Stan and Steve, much to Stan’s annoyance. He tells Jeff he can’t come since this is a father-son bonding thing and punctuates it by telling Jeff he’s not a part of their family. He closes his eyes and tells Jeff he wants him gone when he opens them. The camera shifts to Stan’s point-of-view as he opens his eyes and we see Jeff still standing there smiling like a dope.

Roger must go to great lengths to get drunk this Christmas.

The family alien Roger (MacFarlane) is out shopping for booze. He expresses to the clerk at a liquor store (Clancy Brown) that he needs something strong for his eggnog. When the clerk tells him most people use bourbon, Roger snaps at him with desperation in his voice that he can’t get drunk and needs something stronger. The clerk says he merely was checking to make sure and then leads Roger to the side of the counter and the two huddle down. He begins to tell Roger a tale about a legendary four-armed, nine foot tall, blind man who lives at the top of a nearby mountain, but has to stop his story when another patron interrupts them inquiring about seasonal beers. Roger tells him he’s ruining the story, and the guy goes away allowing the clerk to finish the story and present Roger with a special map leading to this man’s location. The customer then interrupts again to ask if the store sells watch batteries causing Roger to leap in the air, in slow motion, and slap the guy telling him to “Get out.”

Time to be a man, Steve.

Stan and Steve head off to try out Steve’s new gun. Stan gives him a lesson in handling a firearm describing it like making love to a woman, “First you inspect it to make sure she’s clean. Then, you grab her by the butt and jam the magazine in. If it doesn’t fit, make it!” Steve sets up to fire his new “toy” at some tin cans. When he fires the gun, he has little control over it and hits a nearby road sign causing a bullet to ricochet and strike Steve’s glasses, just like in A Christmas Story. He pleads with his dad that this isn’t safe, and Stan surprisingly agrees with him as he picks up the shot glasses.

Whoops…

We hard cut to a store parking lot, and Stan has just bought Steve safety goggles. Now they’re safe! He instructs Steve to take aim at a nearby snowman and Steve riddles the snow being with bullets. The snowman then starts to gush blood before falling apart to reveal a Santa had been standing behind it smoking a cigar and drinking a coffee. He’s filled with bullet holes and falls over face first into the bloody snow at his feet. Stan and Steve rush over with Steve freaking out about shooting a mall Santa. He then asks his dad, “Is he…?” and Stan interrupts him by finishing the question, “Is he dead?” by deadpanning that, yes, this guy is very dead. Stan casually loads the corpse into his car, while Steve continues to freak out. He assures him everything will be fine, they’ll just take him home and use Stan’s CIA resources to check his prints.

That won’t be necessary, Roger.

Roger reaches the top of the mountain the clerk instructed him to climb and finds an old, downed, airplane and a stereotypical redneck sitting on a porch outside the plane. Roger introduces himself and explains he’s looking for a nine foot tall, blind, moonshiner with four arms. When the man says he is the one he’s seeking, Roger is confused as he’s definitely not any of those things he expected him to be. The man has Roger take a sip of his shine and then Roger hallucinates the man into the creature he expected. He then introduces himself as Bob Todd (Erik Durbin) and goes into a long explanation of what people refer to him as. Roger politely endures this explanation from Robert Toddford Williams, then humbly requests to purchase some of his shine. When Bob Todd tells him he has no use for his money, Roger gets down on all fours preparing to pay for his booze in another fashion. When Bob Todd explains that he’ll teach Roger how to make it, he cheerfully hops back to his feet remarking “You had me in the palm of your hand there. In another second, it would have been the other way around!”

She’s right to be mad, Stan really should have put down some trash bags first or something.

At the Smith residence, Stan and Steve are preparing to head inside to check the fingerprints of the corpse when Francine arrives home. Stan instructs his son to act casual and compliments his wife on her appearance and Steve awkwardly follows suit. She’s flattered though, and the two head inside to check the CIA database. Stan can’t find anything on the guy, which puzzles him, and then gives an “Uh oh” as they look outside to see Francine has found the bloody mess of a Santa in the back of the family SUV.

Francine acts like someone who has done this before.

The family convenes in the living room and Francine expresses her displeasure with Stan. Steve starts crying about a boy shooting a man and his hysterics get Haley’s attention. She’s shocked to find out what happened and asks if anyone has called the police. It’s then Francine who says this isn’t going to ruin their Christmas and they’re all heading out to the woods to bury the corpse. We then cut to the family doing just that, and Francine is angry with the family for not letting her smash the guy’s teeth and cut off his hands. When they look at her with shock, she asks “Well you want to get away with murder or not?!”

Donkey Todd.

On top of the Chimdale mountains, Roger is ready to make some shine. He’s dressed like a hick in overalls and a crooked, bowl cut, wig and even has some janky teeth to go along with it. Bob Todd gives him a hit of the shine, and he morphs back into the mythical nine foot tall creature. The sequence of preparing moonshine is done-up like a game of Donkey Kong. Bob Todd chucks barrels and amusingly provides all of the sound effects, while Roger has to leap over them and get to the woman at the top of the still. He does, and gives her a big kiss only for the effects of the hallucination to ware off and reveal he’s smooching a raccoon. Bob Todd proclaims his training complete, for he has smooched the raccoon, and hands over some jugs and tells Roger to get to it.

Maybe that wasn’t your garden variety mall Santa.

Back at the Smith home, Stan is wrapping gifts in his study when he finds an elegant looking scroll with a message written on it, “I noel what you did in the woods.” We then see Francine preparing a turkey and she finds a scroll too, this one reads “Your goose is cooked.” Steve finds one by the fireplace that says “Your nuts will roast on an open fire,” while Haley has one stuffed in her bong that says, “THC you in Hell.” The family race to convene in the living room to show off what they found. As they wonder if they have a snitch in their midst, the television interrupts the family to provide some important plot details. A calendar salesman, who makes calendars featuring cats for lesbians, is asked what month it feels like and he says October as the Christmas cheer appears to have been sapped from the population. The reporter, Terry (Mike Barker), even punctuates it by suggesting it feels like someone killed Santa Claus.

They’re cute when they’re armed.

The family, now in a bit of a panic, decide they need to dig up the corpse and confirm if it’s Santa or not. They exhume it, only to find it’s empty except for the bloody remains of Santa’s suit. A note, not unlike the ones the Smiths already received, is left behind letting them know that Santa is pissed. As they stare in shock, an arrow whizzes past Stan’s head to lodge in a nearby tree. As they look up, they see an elf riding a reindeer armed with a bow and arrow. He laughs (Dee Bradley Baker) in a comical voice and tells them Santa can’t be killed. He’s home in the north pole recuperating, but he’ll have his revenge before dawn of Christmas morning. He then beckons to his reindeer, Mimsy, and the two fly off leaving the Smiths to comprehend what they just saw. We then see a quick scene from The North Pole of Mrs. Claus casually knitting while Santa is shown recuperating in a rejuvenation chamber of sorts.

Hick Roger is here to save the day!

Stan tries to dismiss the elf as the antics of a “midge,” but then the family uses the correct term of “little people” which is nice since they used the hurtful term in the prior special. The arrow dissolves into light though confirming once and for all that Steve did indeed fire upon the real Santa. As they wonder what to do, Roger appears still in his hick attire. He carries on the persona for a bit, then drops it as everyone seems confused. He tells them they can hide out in the mountains with him, then cracks a Deliverance joke at Ned Beatty’s (R.I.P.) expense.

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas Eve here?!

Atop the mountain, the family is introduced to Bob Todd who is happy to have guests for Christmas. As the sun goes down, the family heads inside to sing carols. The group looks setup to play carols jug-band style, and even seem excited about it, but the sound of sleigh bells startles them before they can begin. They open the door to see it’s just Jeff, driving up in his van. Stan is pissed at the sight of his hated son-in-law and Haley says she told him where they would be so they could spend Christmas together. Jeff enters the house and Stan angrily tells him to shut off the sleigh bell sounds coming from his van. When Jeff says his van isn’t making that noise, the family looks to the sky and sees Santa and his army descending upon them! As they fly towards the mountain summit, a metal version of “Carol of the Bells” by August Burns Red serves as the herald for Santa’s army.

He’s here!

Stan is now even more pissed at Jeff because it was he who wrote a letter to Santa telling him where they’d be so he knew where to deliver his present. Stan tells him to leave in hurtful terms insisting that Jeff is not, and will never be, a part of this family. The family doesn’t have time to get angry with Stan though as Bob Todd opens up a weapon’s locker and arms everyone. Steve is handed a gun and is unsure if he can ever touch one again, but it’s Francine who slaps him around and orders him to go outside and commit murder. He does as he’s told and takes the weapon, jamming the magazine into it as his father showed him earlier while referring to it as Linda. Stan, Steve, and Bob Todd then go out to defend the homestead while Haley and Francine are left to fire from the windows.

The Smith men finally found a way to bond.

Outside, the battle commences and Bob Todd apparently hates Santa. He calls him a butt licker, which is a strange insult coming from him because Bob Todd looks like the kind of guy plenty willing to go ass-to-mouth (probably with a raccoon), and starts blasting elves from the sky. Stan and Steve fire from behind a bunker and Steve questions his dad if it’s weird that he has a boner? Stan replies “It would be weird if you didn’t,” as the two, pretty cheerfully, lay waste to the reindeer and elves in a perverted bonding experience.

The perfect setting for some mother-daughter time.

Inside the hull of the downed plane that Bob Todd calls a home, Francine and Haley have a similar heart-to-heart about Jeff in between machinegun fire. Francine assures her daughter that her father will come around, eventually, it will just take some time. She references how long it took for him to adapt to Roger and adds “And the other one.” We hard cut to Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), the fish, in his fish bowl at home to basically acknowledge his lack of a part in this episode.

He told you that he’d be back again some day!

Outside, Bob Todd is chucking molotov cocktails and Santa’s minions unleash a behemoth snowman. Bob Todd blows it up with a full barrel of flaming moonshine, only for presents to burst from the corpse each one containing a miniature snowman ready to attack. Inside, the girls are out of ammo and Roger suggests they use these oversized candy canes he has as weapons, they just need to sharpen them with their mouth first. All three suck the end of the candy cane, and Haley is the first to produce a pointy tip. Roger compliments her on her ability to do so while Francine struggles, but insists she can do it!

Nice to see Rudy make an appearance.

Jeff shows up behind Stan and Steve and asks if he can help. Stan tells him he can shield him from the arrows and die. Santa (Matt Mckenna) emerges from his sleigh and lights a cigar on Rudolph’s nose as he surveys the battlefield. He then calls out to Jeff telling him that he’s been a good boy and that he doesn’t need to die with the Smiths. Everything stops as everyone turns their attention to Jeff. Santa tells him he has the present he requested, the polar bear helmet from The Golden Compass, and urges Jeff to come stand by his side. Jeff quietly leaves Stan and Steve and walks towards Santa as Haley calls out to him urging him not to side with Santa. Stan tells her to let him go, using this act as a way to illustrate how Jeff was never a part of their family.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

Jeff receives his gift and happily puts it on his head as an elf smashes Stan in the back of the head with a club knocking him unconscious. Santa then grabs an ornate looking rifle and sets his sights on the unconscious Stan. Jeff, wearing the spiked helmet he just received as a gift, apologizes to Santa for what he’s about to do and then rams his head into Santa’s kidney area. The fat man howls in pain and doubles over as Jeff races over to Stan and drags him into the house. Santa calls to his elves who immediately bandage his wounds with wrapping paper.

Now he’s bonding with his son-in-law, Stan is on a roll!

Inside the plane, Jeff takes Stan into the cockpit to tend to his wound. When Stan comes to with his head bandaged, he expresses his surprise at Jeff’s actions. He’s shocked that Jeff would do something like that for him, but Jeff corrects him that he didn’t do it for him, but Haley. He then tells Stan that he actually thinks he’s an ass, and Stan is impressed with him for the first time ever. He then tells Jeff that they should go out there and die as a family. They open the door to the cockpit and survey the carnage as their family tries to fight off a horde of tiny elves with a wholesome score behind them to celebrate this moment as a magical Christmas one. The two then join the fray as it appears the family will soon be overcome by Santa’s minions.

Now there’s a festive image!

Outside, Santa is puffing on his cigar when he notices the sun rising. He curses, then calls off the troops. They all retreat and fade away into Christmas dust as they apparently only had until dawn of Christmas Day to do the deed (I wonder who filled in for Santa all night with his regular job?). The family emerges, battered and bloody, from the home. Jeff remarks that this means he probably won’t be getting any more Christmas presents, and we hear the voice of Santa chime in, “You’re damn right you jerk!” Francine catches a note from Santa which contains a threat for next year. She’s actually delighted since it looks like her family has found a new Christmas tradition! We then hear from Bob Todd who survived the massacre. He drags over the corpse of a reindeer explaining how it tried to turn into dust, but he was having none of that. When Stan remarks he’ll get some nice venison out of that deer, Bob Todd tells the family he’s going to prepare a Christmas feast for them, but first he’s going to make sweet love to this reindeer corpse. He and the family wish us a “Merry Christmas!” as the camera zooms out to show the bloody aftermath.

The aftermath.

“For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” lives up to its promise of being a bloody, violent, Christmas special to the point that I’m surprised they didn’t opt for a pun with the title and use “slay” instead of “sleigh.” It’s almost an anti-special, since the family kills Santa and all, but it’s conclusion is pretty standard holiday fare as the Smiths learn the meaning of family. Family isn’t just blood, it can also be who you choose, and Stan finally accepts the fact that Jeff is married to his daughter and is indeed part of his family. And it does put an end to some of the venom from Stan that he reserved for Jeff previously, though he’s still allowed to think of him as an idiot. I like the natural setup of the episode with Stan attempting a last ditch effort to bond with his son over guns, and that leading to the tragedy of Steve accidentally murdering Santa (though I described it as an accident, I can’t overlook that he did willingly fire a machinegun in a crowded parking lot and chances are he was going to kill or wound someone in the process). There’s some great misdirection, from the reveal of Santa being shot, to Francine’s insistence on covering up the crime, and Jeff’s turn that are all quite funny. Another joke is rarely far away with this show as it’s often line after line of funny.

A new family tradition is born.

The violence is the star though as the last several minutes of the episode are devoted to a bloody battle of man and elf. There are numerous shots of reindeer getting shot out of the sky intercut with the expected Saving Private Ryan moments of limbless elves wandering among the fallen in a daze. Their search for their limb ended by another relentless volley of machinegun fire. The violence is juxtaposed with casual conversation from the family as they sort out their business adding to the humor, while Bob Todd is mostly allowed to just be a homicidal maniac. The portrayal of Santa as a vengeful blowhard is entertaining, but as I mentioned in the lead-in, we won’t really see a full-on villainous turn for years to come. Here he’s justified in hating Stan, and the whole family played a role in covering up their crime. You just wouldn’t expect the classic interpretation of Santa to be so bloodthirsty.

Merry Christmas from the Smiths!

The violence contained in this one obviously means it’s not a Christmas special for everyone. It’s not something I’d show my young kids at this juncture, but it is one that I get a laugh out of! Even though I’ve seen this one probably more times than any other American Dad! Christmas episode, it’s still the one I look forward to returning to each year the most. These days there are a lot of anti-Christmas specials, but this one might be the best.

If you’re looking forward to spending Christmas with the Smiths this year then you should have a few options at your disposal. The show is shown daily on Cartoon Network during its Adult Swim block and it will certainly air this, and a bunch of other Christmas episodes, this month. The show is also available to stream on Hulu and available to rent or own in various places. My advice is if you have a cable subscription just load-up the DVR with American Dad! Christmas episodes and have yourself a nice, festive, binge. It’s what I’ll be doing all month!


Dec. 1 – American Dad! – “The Best Christmas Story Never Told”

img_1104Oh hell yeah, it’s time for Christmas posts! Welcome back for the year 2020 as The Christmas Spot comes at you with 25 days of Christmas posts! 2020 has been a crazy year with a lot of new normals tossed our way, but at least each year the calendar gets turned over to Christmas and for close to one month things seem consistent with prior years. And like year’s past, we’re turning this place into an advent calendar and looking at 25 festive topics. Most of which will be like this one, a write-up of a beloved or not so beloved Christmas television special. It may be one from the past, or it may be relatively current, but one thing is certain and that’s it will be Christmas. I have nothing against the other seasonal holidays occurring around this time, it’s just that Christmas is my jam and I want to share my enthusiasm with all of you.

For this year, we’re turning things over to an animated sitcom that has become fairly reliable when it comes to Christmas. American Dad! premiered after the Super Bowl in 2005 and immediately found itself in the shadow of Family Guy. That’s because the show is co-created by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and at the time it premiered it was being billed as the Family Guy replacement. This was during the hiatus for Family Guy following its cancellation, though the show would eventually return. As such, it felt like many Family Guy fans were immediately dismissive of American Dad! because it wasn’t the show they wanted. They wanted more Family Guy, not an imitation. You would think things would improve following the revival of Family Guy, but instead fans of that show once again seemed to look down on American Dad! as now that their beloved show had returned, what need of this new one did anyone have?

img_1109

Like Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers, American Dad! has become a reliable source for Christmas specials over the years.

Which was unfortunate, because American Dad! had very little in common with Family Guy. I suppose it resembled Season One of Family Guy to a point as both shows were influenced by the classic sitcom All in the Family. While Family Guy only borrowed from that show a little, American Dad! was practically a reimagining of that program in animated form. The show was co-created by eventual show-runners Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman and once the pilot was basically sold to Fox, MacFarlane backed away as he was soon pulled back into Family Guy duty. The show was conceived as a liberal’s answer to the Bush era political climate of the time. The conservative leading man, Stan Smith (MacFarlane) would be positioned opposite his young adult daughter Hayley (Rachael MacFarlane), a college-educated liberal, and rely on the conflict inherent in that relationship for several plots. Stan was presented as boorish and unfailingly patriotic, and as a member of the CIA he took national security very seriously to the point of suspecting anyone with brown skin as being a terrorist. Hayley was often the voice of reason, though also saddled with the usual college stereotype of being lazy and more interested in getting high than actually working to promote change in the political landscape. She would be paired with a boyfriend turned husband, Jeff Fischer (Jeff Fischer), that Stan hates which is basically the same relationship Archie Bunker had with “Meathead” in All in the Family.

img_1106

In this episode, Stan is going to learn the true meaning of Christmas and we’re going to learn about Roger’s past, seen here laying face-down in a mix of snow and vomit.

Eventually, the show found a niche and relied less on the Stan/Hayley dynamic. The rest of the family would play a more prominent role in furthering stories. Francine (Wendy Schaal) is portrayed as a stay-at-home mom and is the caretaker of the house and kids. She began life in the show as being a stereotypical conservative ideal, but over the years has developed her own quirks and failings, making her feel like a more fleshed-out character. Son Steve (Scott Grimes) has been molded into being Stan’s opposite ideal for a son. He’s a geek who likes comics and Dungeons & Dragons, but also is emotionally Stan’s opposite as he’s sensitive and comfortable with expressing his “non manly” emotions. As is the case with all MacFarlane shows, there’s a talking animal and in this one it’s a goldfish named Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker) who is a former German athlete trapped in the body of a fish. He’s mostly just there to make observations and the family often ignores him. By far, the big breakout character of the show is definitely Roger the alien (MacFarlane), who saved Stan’s life years ago and as reward is being kept safe from the government in the Smith household. He begins the show as an Alf knock-off, but the writers eventually found another role for him and that’s as an alien of many personalities. He often leaves the home in disguise and will even live other lives as he devotes himself to the roles he plays. He’s also literally the show’s worst character as he’s a sociopathic narcissist and will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. In that aspect, he somewhat resembles Cartman of South Park fame.

For what Wikipedia considers the show’s third season (it’s complicated), a Christmas episode was commissioned. It would be the first of several, as the very conservative Stan and his family naturally lend themselves well to the holiday. The episodes have become some of the show’s finest as they’re pretty big in spectacle and only seem to grow more and more outlandish. There would be a continuity established as well as the Smith family becomes the enemy of Santa. Because the show’s broadcast schedule is a bit erratic, not every year brings with it a new Christmas episode, but it’s certainly something I look for each year.

Since I have never covered American Dad! before in one of these countdowns, it would seem the best place to start is with that first Christmas special. “The Best Christmas Story Never Told” premiered on December 17, 2006. Some places consider that Season 3 of the show, though it would appear it’s production Season Two. Writing of the episode is credited to Brian Boyle with staff writers Laura McCreary and Erik Durbin also receiving credits. Boyle is also executive producer on the series, but has received a written by credit on several other episodes, including the 2014 Christmas episode “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas” which interestingly is similar to this one as it presents an alternate reality for Stan at Christmas.

img_1105

The Smith family ready to bask in the glow of the town Christmas tree.

While I do think American Dad! is quite different from Family Guy, it does amuse me that this inaugural Christmas episode begins the same way as Family Guy’s first Christmas episode. The whole family is gathered in the town square for the annual lighting of the town Christmas tree. Stan is quite jubilant about the whole thing, while Roger is face-down in the snow and booze (and vomit) since Christmas makes him feel like a failure. It’s here Roger’s origin is retconned a bit, possibly for the first time, as he reveals he’s been on Earth for over 40 years. In other words, he had a lengthy existence before meeting the Smith family. Stan doesn’t care and implores him to acknowledge the holiday. When it’s announced the lighting has been cancelled at the last minute due to the town being unable to celebrate a secular holiday on town property, Stan gets angry as a crew moves in to demolish the place. Stan rages it’s the liberals and atheists telling them how to celebrate their holiday, and when a passerby tries to reason with Stan, Stan laments he can’t wait for The Rapture. As Stan tells them they’ll be left behind, Francine tries to smooth things over by telling the other family they’re free to use their pool after they’ve been raptured, provided it’s not boiling. Francine then suggests they go to church instead and Stan dismisses that suggestion on account of church being boring. He then declares he needs to go someplace where he can learn the true meaning of Christmas – the mall!

img_1107

Take note of the little person working the camera.

Stan contentedly looks on as his kids sit on Santa’s lap and ask him for toys. He remarks that this is what Christmas is all about and as he does so the show decides to use a regrettable slur for little people and even has Hayley, who should know better, use it casually as well. The kids then implore their father to get something for Roger for Christmas, but Stan doesn’t want to since Roger isn’t Christian. Roger has no say at the moment for he’s passed out in a baby stroller. Stan then takes sight of The 99 Cent Depot and decides he can spare a buck for Roger.

img_1108

I bet you expected Stan to react this way to “Happy Holidays.”

Stan heads to the register and asks for one of the store’s wares. The clerk hands him a cassette of disco’s greatest hits from 1974-1980 and Stan deems this satisfactory. When the clerk tells him it costs $1.07 due to taxes, Stan suggests they change the store’s name, but the clerk points out that’s not his decision. Stan smiles and is satisfied with that response, but when he wishes the clerk a “Merry Christmas,” (you know where this is going) and gets a “Happy Holidays” in return his mood changes. Angry, he demands that the clerk acknowledge his holiday, but the same excuse about the sign is not enough to sway Stan this time. He pulls out a gun to demand action and we cut to Stan being tossed outside by security. When he calls back to remind them he had a gun, a gift-wrapped gun is tossed to him.

img_1110

Did you take note of that little person two pictures ago?!

At the Smith household, Stan is still visibly outraged by the “liberals” who are destroying Christmas. The family tries to reason with him, but he’s more than a little stubborn. Stan then rhetorically asks the family who is to blame for all of this, and they respond with exhaustion in their voices because this is something Stan must remind them of often, Jane Fonda. Apparently Stan blames Ms. Fonda for spreading liberal ideas through her protests against the war in Vietnam and it’s not something he’s about to let go of. A ring of the doorbell gets Stan’s hopes up momentarily as he thinks carolers have arrived. He opens the door to the costumed group, but finds out they’re only here to spread awareness of the Holiday Rapist and hold up a flier. This is the tipping point for Stan as he demands they refer to him as the Christmas Rapist. He slams the door and sets to destroying the festive decorations in the house, including tossing most of them through the living room window. Steve begins to cry that Daddy destroyed the toys Chinese kids made for him while Francine scolds Stan for his behavior. She tells him he’s sleeping on the couch tonight which Stan tries to protest by pointing out the now missing window and the presence of the Christmas Rapist on the loose.

img_1111

The Ghost of Christmas Past has been assigned Stan Smith this year. Unlike other ghosts, she apparently works alone on Christmas.

Stan is shown sleeping on the couch (in his suit, for some reason) looking a bit cold when a woman materializes beside him. She’s quite fairy-like I suppose, and when she wakes Stan he snaps open his eyes and shouts “Holiday Rapist!” and dives behind the couch before quickly correcting himself with “Christmas Rapist.” The woman then explains, in a faux British accent, that she’s the Ghost of Christmas Past (Lisa Kudrow) and she’s here to help Stan lean the true meaning of Christmas. He soon brightens up and the ghost takes him all the way back to 1970.

img_1112

The idyllic Christmas of Stan’s youth.

There the two peek into the Smith home where a young Stan is opening his Christmas presents. Stan is amazed that they’re really back in 1970 and the woman reassures him by mentioning how things are different. One of those mentions is Jane Fonda, who is presently filming to movie Klute nearby causing Stan’s eyes to narrow in a menacing fashion. He then takes off running, much to the bewilderment of the ghost, who just calls for him to come back, dropping the accent. When he doesn’t obey, she just starts grumbling to herself about how this is her first turn as Past and she already screwed it up. Apparently, she used to be a Tooth Fairy. She then reveals to us her name is Michelle, and mentions she should have just stayed with some guy named Chad.

img_1114

Jane Fonda on the set of Klute. Fonda, and the other celebrities of this episode, were offered to voice themselves, but all turned the show down. I bet they would have said “Yes,” to The Simpsons.

Stan is able to track down the filming location for Klute and watches as Jane Fonda (uncredited, but sounds like Wendy Schaal) is filmed feeding a cat, and then herself. She explains her decision to eat the cat food to the director which just irritates Stan even further. Stan is grossed out and remarks “You are so dead,” to himself.

img_1115

In order to find Stan, Michelle is going to need Francine’s help.

Back in the present, Michelle appears in Francine’s room and splashes her with water in order to wake her up. She explains to Francine what happened, and when Francine gets mad Michelle asks rhetorically if she blames mothers who lose their kids at the mall. When Francine gives her an “Are you serious?” look in response, Michelle answers the question emphatically herself with a, “No! No, you don’t!” Realizing what Stan is up to, Francine reluctantly drags herself out of bed and heads for the bathroom. When Michelle expresses her impatience, Francine tells her she isn’t going back to that filthy decade without some Purell.

img_1116

Stan makes an important discovery, and we find out Donald Sutherland is a real creep. Maybe that’s why he declined to voice himself.

Filming wraps for the day and Stan keeps close as Fonda retreats to her dressing room accompanied by Donald Sutherland (Chris Diamontopoulis). It’s while watching these two interact that Stan realizes it was Sutherland who put those liberal ideas into Fonda’s head. He then corrects himself that Fonda isn’t his target and that he must instead kill Donald Sutherland! Sutherland immediately confronts him as he was apparently standing beside Stan, but he’s a bit clueless and asks Stan if he’s here to give Fonda her massage. Stan decides that he is indeed here to do just that remarking that it would be rather nice to do so. Sutherland then leaves him to it and as Stan closes the door to Fonda’s dressing room we hear him announce his arrival and tells her to finish her cat food.

img_1117

Roger, about to make a life-changing discovery.

Stan then follows Sutherland and Fonda out to a restaurant, Elaine’s, but is prevented from entering since he’s not on the list. He then goes around the back to sneak in with the restaurant staff while stashing his gun in his pants. Once he disappears inside, we see some waiters come out for a smoke break. One of them is clearly Roger in disguise. When the other waiter asks if he got the part he tried out for he replies, “No, they were looking for someone more flesh-colored with a nose.” The other waiter tells him to give up on his dreams and leaves him. As Roger sits dejected, he notices something in the snow. It’s the disco tape that fell out of Stan’s jacket before he went inside. When Roger reads the title he announces it’s from the future! And since he’s an alien from outer space, he deems that plausible.

img_1118

The encounter that will doom Christmas.

At the restaurant, Stan is finishing up in a restroom when a hairy-looking dude emerges from a stall. Stan notices the man is smoking marijuana, and Stan admonishes him for doing so. The guy doesn’t seem bothered by it, and goes on to introduce himself as Marty, Marty Scorsese (Grimes). When Stan begins to gush and says he loves his films, Marty is shocked and assumes Stan has seen his film of a guy shaving. Stan is amused, but then assures him he’s going to be great, but that he’ll never win an Oscar if he’s hooked on drugs. Marty agrees, and starts humorously removing all of the drug paraphernalia on his person which includes many bags, joints, and even a bong in his pants. Stan is touched, and the two have a nice, men’s room, hug.

img_1119

The artists don’t usually get to draw dinosaurs so let’s throw ’em a bone!

Meanwhile, Michelle has overshot her magic and taken Francine back to the Jurassic period. They observe some cute little dinosaurs running past before a T-Rex eats them causing the two to scream before Michelle gets them out of there. You can’t play around with time travel and not show a dinosaur at some point.

img_1120

Stan assuming his cool, assassin, pose.

Feeling quite satisfied, Stan returns to the task at hand:  killing Donald Sutherland. He spots Sutherland and Fonda having dinner and when Sutherland suggests Fonda get involved in politics, he offers to talk about them over a drink at “my place.” Stan counters as he pulls out his gun with, “Let’s talk about it over your brains. Maybe all over the place?” Before he can pull the trigger, and before anyone seems to notice him, Michelle and Francine appear and pull him aside. The two express their anger with Stan, and when Francine says they won’t allow him to kill Jane Fonda, Stan corrects them to point out he’s now targeting Sutherland, the lanky, Canadian, Kiefer-spawning bastard! That doesn’t matter much to Michelle and Francine as they’re not about to let Stan murder anyone and they quickly take him back to the present.

img_1121

Something clearly went wrong.

Or do they? When the trio arrive, they find the Smith living room looks different. It’s drab, with cinderblocks for furniture and Communist posters on the wall. When Francine calls out for Steve and Hayley, a Russian man comes down the stairs firing a shotgun at them. They quickly run out into the street and find the country is now under the dominion of the Russians! Michelle gets to turn all glowy and dramatic as she informs Stan that he destroyed America! Francine then pauses to pee beside a car as she’s been holding it in since the 70s.

img_1124

A monument commemorating the birth of this new, Russian, empire.

Michelle then does some sleuthing on some tablet she has to try and figure out what happened. She knows Stan did something, but he insists he did nothing that would change the past. She has him go over what he did while in 1970 and when he gets to the part about meeting Scorsese in the bathroom Michelle gets a hit. It seems by getting Scorsese off drugs, he never went on to make Taxi Driver. And since he didn’t make Taxi Driver, John Hinckley never became obsessed with actress Jodi Foster and thus never attempted to impress her by assassinating President Reagan. Since Reagan didn’t survive an assassination attempt, he lacked the good will to beat back Mondale in the presidential election of 1984 and upon becoming president, Mondale would hand the country over to Russia. Stan then realizes that in order to stop Russia from overtaking America, he needs to travel back to the past and film Taxi Driver. When Francine objects to point out how crazy that conclusion is, Michelle steps in to say Stan is right as she’s apparently just as crazy as he is.

img_1125

Roger and his precious tape.

As those three set out to right Stan’s wrong, we check-in on Roger who’s about to make his first million selling disco songs to Clive Davis. He’s been milking that cassette he found like Biff from Back to the Future Part II and having a good time of it. He celebrates his fortune by heading to a nightclub and shouts at the sky for his mom to see him now! He then tells her to stop looking while he snorts some cocaine, and then tells her she can look again as he resumes dancing.

img_1126

Stan Smith is not a Robert DeNiro fan.

On the set of Taxi Driver, Stan is watching as Robert DeNiro (Diamantopoulis) rehearses. DeNiro is talking to himself in the mirror and Stan objects. He instructs DeNiro to talk at himself in the mirror and not at the mirror, which DeNiro finds absurd and quits. Francine is pissed at Stan for driving DeNiro away, but he assures her it’s fine since they only need Hinkley to fall for Jodi Foster. Michelle, once again, goes along with Stan who is now delighted he can make Taxi Driver with the leading man he thinks would be best:  John Wayne.

img_1127

Ever wonder what Taxi Driver would look like with John Wayne in the lead role?

At a showing of the finished film, Stan, Francine, and Michelle find John Hinckley in the audience and observe him watching the film’s climax. In it, Foster’s character is tied up and about to be set on fire by Native Americans doing an inflammatory dance routine. Wayne shows up in his cab and emerges, old and fat and with a mohawk under his traditional cowboy hat. He shoots all of the Native Americans and rescues Foster as a boom mic comes into the shot and knocks over a background, indicating they shot and edited this thing rather poorly. When it’s over, Francine immediately starts asking Hinckley what he thought and when Francine suggests that Foster was pretty hot he acts disgusted. Realizing their plan failed, Michelle identifies one last resort.

img_1129

Roger did not take Larry’s advice and switch off speaker phone.

In 1981, Regan is staying at the Hilton and he’s about to be shot. Only now, he’s not. Meanwhile, high above Roger is partying away when his phone rings. It’s someone named Larry, who informs Roger his last album only sold 90 copies and that disco is dead. He’s broke. Roger can’t believe it and when he asks how he could be broke when he has a bunch of investments and race horses, he then says “I thought you were feeding them?!” indicating there was some confusion over what to do with the race horses once purchased. Roger then tries to kill himself by jumping through the window of his penthouse, but that glass is pretty damn thick and he just gets knocked out.

img_1130

It’s time for Stan to get nuts!

At ground level, Michelle has spelled it out for Stan that in order to save Christmas (remember, this is a Christmas episode) he needs to shoot his idol, Ronald Reagan. Stan insists he can’t do it, but he’s reminded he needs to do it if he wants Christmas back. Stan reasons they could learn Russian and be happy, though he also laments he’ll probably miss a lot of elevators at first while he learns how to say “Hold the door,” in Russian. He then reminds Francine that they’ll be fine as long as they’re together as a family, indicating that maybe he has learned the true meaning of Christmas. Or at least one of them. Michelle then informs him there’s no guarantee Hayley and Steve exist now, and if he really wants to save Christmas and his family, he’s going to have to shoot Reagan. Stan reluctantly agrees, and when Michelle reminds him that he just has to “wing him” Stan laughs and thanks her for reminding him indicating that he was probably going to shoot to kill.

img_1131

If you’re doing A Christmas Carol, even loosely like this one, you still have to have this scene.

As Reagan is shown leaving the hotel. Stan makes his way through the crowd like a crazy person. He pulls out his gun and then starts shouting “Merry Christmas!” over and over as he opens fire. The screen goes white and then fades to reveal Stan and Francine asleep in their bed. Francine wakes up and immediately wakes Stan who runs to the window and opens it. He sees a paper boy outside who looks almost exactly like the kid on the cover of Paper Boy for the Nintendo Entertainment System. When he asks the kid what day it is, he responds that it’s Christmas and Stan then barks at him to get off his lawn!

img_1132

Stan mostly puts Christmas back together.

Downstairs, Stan has boarded up the broken window and re-setup the mangled tree. The gifts are re-wrapped and Hayley and Steve come down the stairs overjoyed to see that Christmas is back. Roger then comes into the room drunk explaining that Christmas reminds him how he created disco and then lost all of his money. The family laughs at him and then Stan is summoned into the kitchen by Michelle. There she thanks him for bailing her ass out by giving him a gift. He opens it to find a shiny, new, Glock. Michelle says she had just enough time to hit the mall last night for it, and when Stan questions how she got it so fast apparently bypassing the waiting period, she reminds him that he only shot Reagan. He never hit James Brady, and thus there was never passage of The Brady Bill which means guns are as easy to buy as a stick of gum. Stan is delighted and mugs for the camera with a “Best Christmas ever!”

img_1133

Roger no longer needs to be depressed that he hasn’t accomplished anything in his time on Earth, now he can lament that he lost his fortune when disco died. Also, his genitals are located near his armpit.

This is a pretty great early episode of American Dad! Stan is very much the conservative whack-job throughout and it’s obvious that the absurd War on Christmas notion is what drove the writers to craft this plot. It’s also possible they worked backward from the premise of what if Stan had to shoot his hero in order to save Christmas? The show is jam-packed with jokes as almost every sentence Stan utters is a joke of some kind. They’re just understated jokes, which is one of the main differences between American Dad! and Family Guy. Family Guy seems to rarely trust its audience with knowing what is and isn’t a joke and everything is practically screamed at the audience. American Dad! is far more confident, and while it does get absurd and thrust things into the forefront at times, it rarely feels obnoxious.

Since Stan is essentially an easy target, there are some jokes in this episode that could be considered easy, maybe even lazy. Even with those though, the show goes the extra mile to add a spin to make them seem less conventional. A perfect example is Stan’s argument with the clerk over his holiday greeting. The episode makes a point of demonstrating that Stan can be agreeable and even sympathetic to the plight of the working man who has to do as he’s commanded when the clerk makes the comment about not being able to change the name of the store from The 99 Cent Depot to The $1.07 Store to account for tax. Stan accepts that, but he can’t accept the kid saying “Happy Holidays” even though he’s directed to by his boss who can and probably will fire him for saying anything else. And because Stan’s a maniac, it has to escalate to Stan pulling a gun for added comedic effect.

img_1128

Coming up with a plot that involves Stan finding the true meaning of Christmas thus saving the holiday doesn’t take a ton of creativity. Having Stan replace John Hinckley Jr. as Reagan’s would-be assassin? Now that’s genius!

If the episode did begin with the premise of Stan shooting Reagan to save Christmas, then the writers also did a good job of making that happen. While American Dad! mostly behaves like a sitcom, it’s not afraid to get fantastical and do some crazy stuff. Granted, so many shows have done a variation of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life that weren’t particularly crazy, but it’s still quite a leap to have your characters time travel. This show will get way more fantastic in that regard, but this episode is largely able to rise above the notion of being an adaptation of that holiday classic without really feeling like one. Normally I hate to give time to anything that indulges in the trope, but American Dad! makes it work quite well.

img_1113

Lisa Kudrow is pretty wonderful as Michelle, The Ghost of Christmas Past. The show gives her a lot to work with and her personality meshes well with the character.

The only downside with this episode is that it’s actually pretty light on Christmas. It begins festive enough, but once we jump back in time it’s actually easy to forget that this is a Christmas episode of American Dad! It manages to hang onto its premise though and that’s Stan needing to learn the true meaning of Christmas, which the episode defines as basically family time. It’s actually a surprisingly warm conclusion for a show not afraid to do cynical or dark endings. Of course, there’s a touch of the show’s cynicism in the ending since Stan has created a world in which guns are even more accessible. This probably isn’t my favorite Christmas episode from this show, but it’s definitely a good measuring stick for all of them. And since I’ve managed to avoid American Dad! (not intentionally, it just happened that way) while doing this countdown for years now, you can safely assume it will return next year as there’s a lot more I can turn to.

img_1134

“Best Christmas ever!”

American Dad! currently airs on both TBS and Cartoon Network almost daily. As a result, you should have no problem finding an airing of this episode at some point this month, and probably more than once. And if cable isn’t your thing, the show is streaming on Hulu and also available on physical media and for digital purchase all over the place. This should be an easy one to find and it comes recommended.


%d bloggers like this: