This American Dad review contains spoilers.
American Dad Season 16 Episode 9
Do you think I like this? Do you think that I enjoy doing whatever I want with total impunity? Basically running the school and being less a student and more a God!? Pray to me!”
Episodes of American Dad where Steve’s morality is in crisis often have greater impact than those that feature the rest of the Smiths in the same position. Steve genuinely cares, wants to be good, and isn’t lost behind the layers of vanity and ego that the rest of his family suffer from. American Dad also excels when it can take a relatively simple idea and have it spiral out of control, which is exactly what happens when Steve starts to investigate the circumstances around his miserable lunches at school. What begins as an innocent annoyance grows into a full-blown conspiracy that turns “The Hall Monitor and the Lunch Lady” into a very fun episode of the series.
Times are tough for Steve and friends when it comes to their afternoons in the cafeteria. The group’s social standing is so low that they’re stuck palling around with weird mutant Billy, and there’s a whole lot of Klaus in Steve’s face after he becomes the school’s new lunch lady.
Steve yearns for the greener pastures and Klaus-removed VIP treatment that’s reserved for the school’s select hall monitors. However, after Klaus gets fired from his new gig for what he claims is unjust cause, he and Steve team up to investigate a larger mystery at the school that involves Principal Lewis, his VIP hall monitors, and the slew of lunch ladies who continue to come under the chopping block. This Donnie Brasco-esquesetup already has some juice to it, but then Steve and Klaus catch the legendary detective Turlington, asking the same questions. The trio decides to combine their efforts to better get to the bottom of this.
Part of the crux of this premise is that all of Principal Lewis’ hall monitors are troubled youths that he turns into his mission to rehabilitate through hall monitor goodness. This means that Steve has to go undercover and fake his way through Chimdale Juvenile Detention Center in order to get on Lewis’ radar in the first place. What’s great about Steve’s stay in juvie is how it very quickly subverts expectations. Steve doesn’t struggle at all through his time at the detention center and continues to fail upwards out of harm’s way.
Steve’s stint “behind bars” doesn’t change or harden him, but it’s once he’s in with the hall monitors back at school that he begins to lose his way. When Principal Lewis expresses doubts over whether Steve is actually hall monitor material or not, he puts him through an initiation. Steve’s minor stunt snowballs out of control and he once again seems much more badass than he actually is and perfect hall monitor material.
Through all of this, Klaus worries that Steve’s perhaps gone too far undercover and tries to butt in as the angel on his shoulder as much as possible. Turlington eventually joins Klaus in these concerns and they put Steve’s commitment to the test when they ask him to wear a wire. This wire situation comically unravels much in the same convenient fashion as Steve’s time in the detention center. It also reveals Lewis’ scheme, which is actually rather terrible (he’s poisoning his school to make up for his excess of sawdust), and if he gets his way will extend into supervillain levels of murder.
The other half of the episode also goes to a very unexpected, extreme place, but the entire point of it is that it’s so shocking in nature that Stan and Roger go catatonic from it. American Dad truly excels in uniquely gruesome visuals, whether it’s Francine’s acid face, Roger smashing a head open, or Hayley’s facelift, so this accident has to be pretty bonkers to actually immobilize Stan and Roger. It does not disappoint and it operates with a brutal one-two punch so Roger and Stan both see different but equally horrific sights.
There’s really not much to this B-story, which has been a trend with most of the supporting plots for episodes this season. For that reason, it’s important that the traumatic visual works as well as it does. Additionally, the individual that takes Roger and Stan home from the mall is fantastic in general, both in design and voice, and the circumstances around him so Francine and Hayley are clueless to Stan and Roger’s catatonia is wonderful. There’s a brevity to this material, but it’s all wildly entertaining.
Finally CIA therapist Dr. Ray Petit (who points out that he’s still alive and well after a grenade blew off his head in last year’s “Klaustastrophe.tv”), is brought in to fix this mess, but both he and a trippy music video for Crazy Town’s “Butterfly” prove to be useless. Soon Francine and Hayley witness the same escalator-based fatality, join them in their catatonia, and then that’s it. Guess it will wear off? I’ve still got the visual of two men being eaten up by an escalator in my head, so I’m not complaining. The conclusion for Steve’s espionage mission is also clever enough to make up for both of the episode’s storylines. It incorporates all of the disparate elements of Steve’s sprawling series of events and puts them together in a free-for-all that also allows him to put the cause above himself and demonstrate that his moral compass has regained its North.
As a whole the episode’s trajectory goes to some very funny places, but some of the more inconsequential dialogue is also a real highlight. Barry’s confusion that Steve and Klaus are a couple is a great laugh as is Klaus’ morbid realization that he may have cyanided a bunch of people at the post office. Even though this is largely Steve’s mission, there’s a lot of Klaus in this one. This shouldn’t be a new thing for anyone that’s been watching the past few seasons of the show, but this episode properly utilizes him as a wildcard sidekick in lieu of Roger.
“The Hall Monitor and the Lunch Lady” is a busy episode that delivers with the laughs, but it’s an installment that has serious stakes to it. Catatonia strikes the Smith family and Principal Lewis nearly poisons all of Langley Falls. That’s big for American Dad. This episode finds a balance for the extremes, weaves an engaging mystery, and also successfully incorporates all of the cast. “The Hall Monitor and the Lunch Lady” is a testament to American Dad’sversatility and it’s another winner that isn’t afraid to go to shocking places.
And is this the tragic end of Turlington!? I guess murdered by Principal Lewis is as good a fate as any. May he and his father be solving crimes together in heaven now.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.