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American Dad's Next Evolution: Moving to TBS

Bob Chipman | 22 Sep 2014 12:00
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The American (Dad) revolution isn't over... it's just moving from Fox to TBS.

Last night on Fox, an entire era of television quietly came to an end as the Seth MacFarlane-produced animated series American Dad ended its eleventh season (a "microseason" of four previously-unaired episodes having begun the week prior). With it, the show concluded its time on Fox itself: the series is moving to cable's TBS for a twelfth season. It's an unconventional shift for one of the strangest shows ever to not only debut but survive on modern TV.

The series has had a singularly odd evolution: Begun as a project by Family Guy creator MacFarlane and associates Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman, the original idea (hatched in the wake of 2000 presidential election) was for an over-the-top, politically-charged animated series paying deliberate homage to All in The Family. It would center on the relationship between a hardcore conservative Republican CIA agent and his rebellious liberal teenage daughter. The show was eventually picked up by Fox as a replacement for the (at the time) cancelled Family Guy, to which the initial series bore a fairly strong resemblance.

But between Dad's pickup and airdate, Guy's mega-popularity on DVD and in syndication had led Fox to give MacFarlane's original show a second chance -- suddenly stranding The Smith Family (aforementioned CIA agent dad Stan and daughter Hayley, doting wife Francine, nerdy son Steve, talking goldfish Klaus and attic-dwelling alien friend Roger) in the spotlight as more arch, less familiar also-ran siblings of the victoriously-returning Griffins.

Early episodes (the entire first season and most of the second, if we're being honest) suffered from the comparison. Though MacFarlane continued to executive-produce the series and provide voices for Stan and Roger, control of the series was left almost-entirely in Barker and Weitzman's hands -- the better to establish a separate identity for American Dad. Still, those early episodes showed signs of then-likely to go unused Family Guy elements being cannibalized for a new show: In particular Klaus the goldfish's (in actuality an East German Olympic skiing champion whose brain has been transferred into the body of a fish) barely-veiled romantic fixation on Francine being an all-but direct lift of the early Brian/Lois dynamic.

But the series corrected course over time, becoming a distinct entity not only from Family Guy but from almost every other series on TV animated or otherwise. Blending a strong sense of continuity with an absurd "anything can happen" approach to genre and a near-complete lack of cutaways or "imaginary story" rationales for the added weirdness. The result: A family-sitcom where the dumb-dumb dad is also a hyper-competent CIA killing-machine, nearly every character has exhibited some variation on outright sociopathy, and time-travel, alien incursions, brainwashing and leaps in to/out of the Afterlife are part of the functioning mythology. The Smiths will deal with family misunderstandings one week and find themselves in a shooting-war with Santa Claus the next. On the rare occasion that the series does indulge in an "all a dream" episode, the "dream" will likely come in the form of a tangent-timeline or virtual-simulation -- thus remaining part of the "real" story.

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