American Dad!: Volume One review by Mike Long

The advent of DVD has created some changes in Hollywood. For one thing, it has opened a new revenue stream for the studios, as DVD sales have helped to prop up the sagging box-office returns. Another benefit for studios is that they can use DVDs to promote product. On the Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story DVD Fox took the opportunity to offer a promo reel for their new TV show from the creators of Family Guy, American Dad!. While American Dad! resembles Family Guy, the tone is completely different and the promo reel did nothing for me. So, it was with little fanfare that I began watching the American Dad!: Volume One. But, I quickly found that the show transcend the raw material shown in the promo.

American Dad! focuses on the Smith family. Dad Stan (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) is a very right-wing conservative CIA agent, who lives by a chauvinistic male code straight from the 1950s. His wife, Francine (voiced by Wendy Schaal), is a housewife who lives to please her man, although she occasionally shows a strong streak. Daughter Hayley (voiced by Rachael MacFarlane) is a liberal feminist who attends community college and constantly argues with her father. Son Steve (voiced by Scott Grimes) is somewhat geeky, but fancies himself to be a ladies man. There are also two other residents of the Smith household -- Roger (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) is an alien who saved Stan's life at Area 51 and now lives with the family; Klaus (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) is a goldfish who has the brain of a German man (who is incidentally in love with Francine.) Most of the show's stories revolve around Stan's stubborn nature and the fact that he believes that his bull-headedness will solve any problem.

At first glance, American Dad! looks incredibly similar to Family Guy, and not only in the sense that the animation style is almost identical. Both families contain an idiot father, an attractive (?!) wife, a son and daughter who are far from normal, an animal who's in love with the mom, and an alcoholic, smoking non-human. And I'll be honest, at first, I was very resistant to get past those similarities. But, a closer look at American Dad! reveals that the show is much deeper than Family Guy.

The first difference is that the characters on American Dad! have far more depth than their companions on Family Guy. The characters on Family Guy can typically be described only with one or two words. By contrast, the family on American Dad! is more detailed and each character has a backstory and several character traits. (On the commentary for American Dad!, series head honcho Seth MacFarlane admits that they have been able to create a group of friends for Steve on American Dad! that they've never been able to do for the character of Chris on Family Guy.) The fact that the characters have more depth means that the storylines can be more diverse and creative. Instead of simply reacting to a new crazy situation on each episode, the writers are able to devote stories to specific characters and follow a logical storyline (Hayley's new boyfriend, Steve's sci-fi know-how, and my favorite, Roger's fake bar.) A second difference is the fact that Stan's government job and his wacky political ideas enable the writers to incorporate more current events and political ideas into the show. This makes for interesting satire as the writers take shots at both the left and the right.

But, that's not to say that American Dad! is a realistic show. No, the comedy here, much like Family Guy or The Simpsons takes advantage of the freedom of animation and explores many fanciful and unrealistic ideas. While the show doesn't incorporate the use of segues in the same way that Family Guy does (and if you've seen South Park lambast Family Guy, then you know what I'm talking about), American Dad! does have "cameos" by "celebrities" at times (Sometimes voiced by the real people.) And yes, any show with a talking fish and an alien clearly falls under the guidelines of "unrealistic", but that's OK, as Roger often steals the show and isn't featured as prominently as I would like.

I must admit that American Dad! really took me by surprise. The show is both improbable and yet easy to relate to. As with many comedies, the show can be unnecessarily crass at times, and it often tries way too hard. But, I actually find it funnier than Family Guy and I'm looking forward to the further exploits of the Smith family.

American Dad!: Volume One comes to DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. This 3-disc boxed set contains 13 episodes from the fist half of the show's first season (don't as me). The episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The shows look very good, as the images are sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, as the show really drives home its title with a lot of reds, whites, and blues. The only drawback here is that the digital transfer has created a lot of jagged lines in the animation. The black outlines which surround the characters turn into zig-zags when they move. That aside, the image rivals digital broadcast quality. The DVDs have a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which supplies clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good, but to be honest, I didn't hear a great deal in the way of surround sound and bass response, save for some musical cues and explosions.

The American Dad!: Volume One set offers some nice extras. 12 of the 13 episodes contain audio commentaries from series co-creators Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman who are joined by a slew of various guests, including producer Seth MacFarlane. The commentaries are often quite funny not only talk about the show, but each other as well. Between the laughs, they do offer some information on how the show is made. "All in the Family: Creating American Dad!" (20 minutes) is a featurette which explores the development of the show, plus the characters and voice actors. "How's Your Aspen? American Dad! Performance at HBO's 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival" (26 minutes) is a live reading of the episode " A Smith in the Hand". We get another look at the voice actors in "Secrets of the Glass Booth" (5 minutes). There are a lot of animatics (basically animated storyboards) in the two features "American Animatics" (14 minutes) which compares animatics to final animation and "'Threat Levels' Table Read/Animatic Comparison" (39 minutes). The DVD contains 42, yes 42 "Deleted Scenes" which fun for 17 minutes and there is a PLAY ALL feature. Most of these are simply moments removed from existing scenes, but there are some funny things here. "The New CIA" (3 minutes) is a brief promo for the show, as is the 90-second "Super Bowl Pre-Game Promo".

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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