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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Dad: “Finger Lenting Good”

Illustration for article titled American Dad: “Finger Lenting Good”
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American Dad is so far behind airing episodes already in the can that it’s not that unexpected for Fox to pull the Christmas episode, replace it with a different, evergreen episode, and then air an episode intended for the Lenten season right out of the gate in 2013. In a way, it’s tangentially related to the New Year, since the opening scene in the Smith kitchen begins with everyone’s inability to keep up resolutions, or make any kind of promise in general and keep it.

“Finger Lenting Good” is a strange episode of American Dad insofar as it would make a strangely compelling stage play. For the most part, the key scenes all take place in the Smith residence with members of the family (plus Avery) talking to each other, slowly building to funnier extremes. It might not be showy or visually complex, but it has rhythm, balance, and plenty of laughs. Take the opening scene, which systematically reveals how each member of the family hasn’t followed through on their resolution: Steve still cries, Stan yells, Francine smokes, Hayley eats junk food, and Jeff, that delightful stoner, can’t stop giving hugs. Always the ringleader of hunkering down and bringing the family together for an arbitrary task, Francine wants to hold the family more accountable—so they all agree to keep their promise… right after they get wasted at Roger’s Mardi Gras party. (Seriously, why couldn’t Fox hold onto this episode until the right time? There have to be a bunch of episodes that aren’t time-sensitive for a first run.)

The party is appropriately crazy, and the aftermath full of hangovers and regrets—none bigger than the family’s forgotten decision to enlist Stan’s boss as the enforcer of Lenten sacrifice. Avery is a sadistic bastard—and Patrick Stewart has always been American Dad’s recurring MVP in the vein of Adam West on Family Guy in the role—who believes in committing to Lent as a way of absolving sin outside those bounds. It’s a kooky idea—and one the episode returns to right at the end—but it does instill fear in the Smiths that if they don’t keep their promise, whoever cracks first will lose a finger.

Just as the scene that reveals the broken resolutions builds with surprising pep, so does the scene where everything falls apart. First Stan tries to persuade Steve to sacrifice one of his fingers, then they both realize that getting Jeff to hug someone would be easier. Hayley walks in just in time, and she and Jeff bait Stan with liberal talking points, then start singing “Nothing Compares 2 U” to try to make Steve cry. Francine berates everyone for a lack of self-control, which of course leads everyone to stage an elaborate death scene in order to get her to smoke a cigarette and trigger the finger cutting. It’s a virtuosic bit of writing that just keeps ramping up through to the end of the scene. From an animation standpoint, this isn’t very exciting, but if ever there was a script that would’ve been a fantastic table read, it’s this one.

The scene of the Smiths sitting down to watch a movie also has a great all-around build—and it foreshadows the best non-Roger line of the episode, “Stop flipping channels yesterday!” But then there’s the matter of the emotional mop-up, as the family figuratively falls on the literal butcher knife in Avery’s hand, offering to sacrifice in order to save Francine. Avery is so touched that he calls the whole thing off, and tosses off the observation that Lent is rather silly—the joke is aimed at being much more religiously offensive, but it’s not important enough to be more than mildly humorous. So the Smiths get out of keeping a long-term promise once again, but this time, it’s by being a supportive family.

The B-plot is as masterful as it is unrelated to the Smiths and Lent. Roger remembers a woman from his Mardi Gras party who left at midnight, leaving behind only a pasty as evidence. Of course, this leads Roger to enlist Klaus as his medieval herald, questing to strip clubs and doctors’ offices in search of his Cinderella. It’s off-the-wall gold, and basically every other line is a quotable laugh. Roger adopts the air of a prince, but keeps speaking crudely in the most inappropriate version of this particular fairy tale I’ve ever seen.


The final bit of the arc has just the right twist to fit Roger’s mentality: instead of the buxom, blonde milkmaid with heaving bosoms who would fit the Cinderella description, Roger has been searching for the cow all along. The flashback is great, with the cow wearing pasties on all her udders—the perfect capstone joke to the whole surreal idea. It’s a shame there isn’t more of it, since seeing more of the quest would have been great, but it does serve as a wonderful counterpoint to the Smith family Lent debacle.

Stray observations:

  • Roger doesn’t appreciate you tainting his booby holiday with God stuff.
  • Roger’s mammogram is disgusting, even if it’s the way he likes it.
  • The aged, wise stripper was also kind of terrifying. What I’m trying to say is that every part of the Roger plot was fantastic, and I would’ve watched an entire episode devoted to it.