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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Dad: "Buck, Wild"

Illustration for article titled American Dad: "Buck, Wild"
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Most of the time on American Dad Steve Smith’s less-than-manly characterization stems from his lack of sexual experience. But “Buck, Wild” allows Steve the chance to prove his manliness based on his own moral terms, in a way that makes Stan and his macho-obsessed CIA coworkers look like pampered socialites incapable of taking care of themselves in any meaningful way. Steve has embarked on many silly quests with his friends to hook up with girls or prove he’s ready for adulthood, but this episode provides a funny plot and a thoughtful arc for Steve, whose flights of fancy so often lead to childish belittlement instead of mature triumph.

Steve’s desire to no longer be confined to the kids table at the CIA Family Picnic leads him to overhear the adults planning the annual hunting trip. Wanting to prove his maturity, he sneaks along, only to find the camping trip a “Glamping” trip, complete with buffets, saunas, an oxygen bar, and a “good but not amazing” Thai place. But the most deflating discovery is that the CIA guys have done away with actual hunting, instead using lasers initiated by a command center, as though implying that remote warfare is so emasculating compared to men triggering actual guns. That’s a troubling way to frame the hunting debate, but American Dad not only chastises the CIA’s removed war tactics, but also hunting animals for sport as well. The whole idea of Glunting from a command center is a beefed up version of aristocratic hunting trips—or even the one depicted in Homeland a few weeks ago. It’s a necessary survival practice for the people who use it as such, but it can often be a glamour and status exercise, and that’s the satirical bent American Dad takes when making fun of hunting in general.


When an actual deer shows up to meddle with the command center, all the men flee in terror, but Steve sees his opportunity to prove his manhood. With the gun “for decoration only” in his hands, all he sees through the sights is a Bambi cartoon, rendering him incapable of taking the animal’s life. But his inclination toward mercy actually causes more death—a tragicomic chain reaction that leads to the strangest hunting lodge wall mount I’ve ever seen. Forced to recount the painful memory as a boast to other men who will swirl alcohol and laugh, Steve ultimately refuses, choosing instead to seek out the two fawns orphaned by the accident and raise them to adulthood.

By committing to raising wild animals—a word Stan later creates as a portmanteau without realizing it—Steve becomes a skilled survivalist, even without teaching the deer how to speak English. This is all patently ridiculous, but it contains sight gags like Steve professing to keep all animals safe right after kicking a mountain lion to its death. When Stan’s hunting trip returns a year later, Steve can stand up with his animal sons Dignan and Applejack (names that show he’s not quite all grown up) and the rest of the forest creatures to destroy the espresso bar with free wi-fi, defeat the humans, and prove to his father that nonviolence against animals makes him a true man. It earns his respect, along with another joke about never returning to the forest where he became a proven adult, thus ensuring his fixed age in the narrative of the show.

The B-plot is a delightful trifle: Roger misses his car’s odometer at all zeroes because he gets distracted by a girl on a bicycle, so he vows to drive another 100,000 miles in order to achieve yet another meaningless goal. Klaus goes along with him—not Hayley, who’s been flying under the radar, according to Francine. It’s nicely dovetailed with the main plot because it takes Roger and Klaus a year to road trip the necessary miles, and in that time of only stopping for drive-thru meals makes them significantly obese. That has an immediate effect on the obvious subsequent failure to see the odometer. First the car craps out, then Roger collapses from exhaustion while trying to push the car far enough—and then the ambulance accident completes the rule of three.

And for the first time in what feels like a few seasons, there’s actually an end tag to the episode. Far in the future, as a deer gets into his fancy space car, Rodger rolls by, accompanied by Klaus’ skeleton, and misses the odometer again, doomed to drive the earth in search of a row of zeroes. This final season of American Dad on Fox is off to a rollicking start, with finely interlocking plots, stellar jokes, and great character moments so far.


Stray observations:

  • This episode reminded me of one of my favorite songs of all time: Rilo Kiley’s “Accidental Death,” which has an amazing verse about hunting deer.
  • Francine’s tattoo must have a story behind it.
  • “You are wasting your Charizard!”

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