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'Family' creator is back



Published: Sat, February 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



New adult cartoon's best feature may be its German-accented talking goldfish.

By HAL BOEDEKER

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Fox is launching "American Dad" after Sunday's Super Bowl in almost the same way "Family Guy" started six years ago.

This is not an encouraging sign.

Fans of Seth MacFarlane, who created both animated series, might want to brace for another long and confusing ride.

After canceling "Family Guy," Fox scheduled dozens of flops. But the subversive comedy gained a growing fan base through DVDs, and Fox picked up the show again. Reruns are airing sporadically until new episodes start May 1.

The equally subversive "American Dad" disappears after Sunday's preview and won't return until May 1. That's a screwy way to build support for any show, and the uneven "American Dad" needs careful handling.

The sitcom sharply ridicules ineffective terror alerts and the title character's pathological obsession with security. Stan Smith is a ridiculously macho CIA agent whose unfortunate gun targets include the toaster and family dog.

The cast

The other members of his nuclear unit are less dynamic. Wife Francine has a dizzy outlook and a sordid past. Liberal daughter Hayley, a college student, rails at her father's authoritarian ways. Son Steve, 13, is an oblivious geek, and the opener derails when it makes light of his desperation at high school.

The fast-moving show crams in many topical references, from Hilary Duff to President Bush's election. Yet such comedy loses its punch when the material quickly dates. Viewers could be lost when the dialogue turns to "Incredible Hulk" star Lou Ferrigno, director James Cameron or the 2001 film "Memento."

On the plus side, "American Dad" adds two such offbeat figures to the Smith household that the sitcom could turn into another cult favorite. The family goldfish, Klaus, speaks with a German accent and repeatedly expresses his infatuation with Francine. As performed by Dee Bradley Baker, Klaus is a creepy delight.

Roger

Best of all, there's Roger, an extraterrestrial whose addiction to junk food causes weight problems that wreck the furniture. His hunger drives him to bargain desperately with family members.

Roger sounds like Paul Lynde in delirious, "Hollywood Squares" mode, and he contributes the zaniest moments. The program becomes a triumph for creator MacFarlane, who performs the voices of Roger and agent Stan.

Whether the overall show will add to MacFarlane's fame is another matter. The scattershot humor ranges from perceptive to sophomoric to blah. Make no mistake: The cartoon is adult. It will be amazing if a racy joke about a frog makes it to air.

The comedy would seem to have an extraordinary advantage in being scheduled after the Super Bowl, usually the most-watched program of the year. But, as "Family Guy" proved, that can mean nothing in the long run.




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