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Worst TV Show of the Week

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American Dad on Fox


Violence in comedy has a long and storied history.  Who can forget the classic scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when King Arthur hacks off the limbs of the Black Knight?  “’Tis but a scratch” is one of the most memorable understatements in the annals of comedy.  Then there’s Dan Akroyd’s parody of Julia Child, where he implores the audience to “save the liver” while a simple cut on his finger turns into a bloodbath.  And, of course, there’d be no Three Stooges without some impeccably-timed slapstick violence.  Indeed, the term “slapstick” traces back to commedia dell’arte, a form of theatrical performance that began in Italy in the mid-15th century which featured exaggerated physicality.  When an actor pretended to slap someone, a wooden club-like object was struck to produce a loud smacking noise – hence, “slapstick.”  This is all to say that we here at the PTC recognize the relationship between violence and comedy.  But there is a fine line between hilarious and gratuitous.  The April 11th episode of American Dad (Sundays, 9:30 p.m. ET) crossed that line, earning it the title of Worst TV Show of the Week.


The episode revolves around Roger’s budding career in law enforcement.  After cowardly leaving Fran to fend off a mugger by herself, Roger enrolls in the police academy.  He immediately becomes a dirty cop after only three hours of being on the force.  Roger becomes the right-hand man of venal detective Chaz.  When Stan threatens to expose their corruption, Chaz abducts Stan and forces Roger kill him.  With gun in hand, Roger says, “I guess we all knew it would end up like this.  It didn’t have to be this way, you dumb son-of-a-bitch…whose name is Chaz.”  Roger suddenly points his gun at Chaz and fires, but the gun isn’t loaded.  Chaz chases Roger, threatening to shoot him.  From an elevated position, Roger drives his elbow into the top of Chaz’s skull, causing his head to inexplicably explode.  The explosion is replayed five times, including close-up shots from different angles.  Chaz’s eyeballs and ears separate as his head completely disintegrates.  Brain matter oozes from his ear-hole.  Blood gushes from Chaz’s decapitated torso as he falls on his knees and collapses in a gory headless lump. Rogers lands on the ground and utters, “That was unexpected.”  Really?


One key feature to a successful comedic bit is the element of surprise.  American Dad (and Family Guy) creator Seth MacFarlane’s brand of comedy revels in excessive sex and violence.  So to see a head explode for no good reason during one of his shows doesn’t seem out of the ordinary.  Rather than surprise, this scene highlights what is wrong with MacFarlane’s shows.  More often than not, they merely turn up the volume to distract audiences from the lack of true ingenuity. 


Violence for no apparent reason, cause, justification -- or comedic pay off -- is the very definition of gratuitous. 


For graphic violent content, American Dad has been named Worst TV Show of the Week.      


Worst TV Show of the Week

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