The week's funniest animated show--funnier than either Bob's Burgers' underwhelming season premiere or South Park's mildly amusing takedown of both Investigation Discovery "murder porn" and Time Warner Cable--would have been a surprise to me a few weeks ago, when my hatred of almost everything produced by Seth MacFarlane was at its most intense. That hatred was fueled by the tired racist jokes featured in the pilot of the new live-action sitcom Dads (MacFarlane co-executive produces the show, but he's not one of its creators or writers). The only Fuzzy Door production I have any tolerance for is the CIA agent cartoon American Dad (which MacFarlane also doesn't showrun; his sole regular contribution to American Dad is his voice work as both Stan and Roger).
Sure, American Dad isn't immune to some of the Fuzzy Door factory's racist jokes and strictly-for-shock-value, lowest-common-denominator gags I've grown to not love, but it's also the least lazily written and least hacky MacFarlane production. The Smith family's hijinks often aren't limp excuses to string together random pop-culture reference gags that bring to mind Friedberg & Seltzer movies at their hackiest. Actual effort is put into crafting clever and genuinely bizarre stories, like when writer Chris McKenna (who scripted one of Community's funniest half-hours, "Remedial Chaos Theory," and is now back together with that show's staff, along with once-ousted creator Dan Harmon) screwed around with the heartwarming Christmas episode template, and together with his writer brother Matt, they turned that template upside down in the post-apocalyptic "Rapture's Delight." Plus most of the funniest lines on American Dad each week have nothing to do with pop-culture references.
My hatred of Dads started to taint my past enjoyment of American Dad, and so much so to the point where when I needed to clear some space from my MacBook's hard drive recently by deleting iTunes downloads of TV series episodes (and transferring them to Flash drives), I chose to delete everything MacFarlane-related, including all the American Dad episodes I downloaded last season and haven't really rewatched since they first aired. I even erased an episode I genuinely liked from start to finish, "Lost in Space." But then "Steve and Snot's Test-Tubular Adventure," American Dad's ninth-season premiere (as well as its final season premiere on Fox before TBS begins exclusively airing new American Dad episodes in late 2014), came along, and it has gotten me to remember not all of Fuzzy Door's output is crap, as well as the reasons why American Dad remains the one bright spot of Fuzzy Door, in spite of the show's occasional racist gags or worst MacFarlane-isms (like the season premiere's random Coors Light "Twins!" jingle reference).
"Steve and Snot's Test-Tubular Adventure" centers on Steve (Scott Grimes) and his best friend Snot (Curtis Armstrong) attempting to find dates for prom night, after enduring yet another round of swirlies and taunts about their virginity from bully Vince Chung (returning guest star John Cho, who's currently menacing Sleepy Hollow while rocking a grotesquely broken neck straight out of Beetlejuice). When not even the hideous lunch lady twin sisters in charge of Pearl Bailey High's cafeteria are interested in going out with them (the twins chose to go on a double date with Steve and Snot's friends Barry and Toshi), Steve and Snot resort to creating their own prom dates, with the help of the cloning machine at Stan's CIA office and DNA samples taken from unsuspecting girls at the mall. But instead of a pair of hot teenage clones slinkily emerging from the cloning chamber, Steve and Snot wind up with infant clones who can't walk or talk yet.
I expected "Test-Tubular Adventure" to take a Weird Science-y, sexed-up turn when the clones, who are given the names Glitter and Honey and are aging at an accelerated rate, mature into full-grown women. But the episode goes in a whole different--and slightly affecting--direction. Instead of looking forward to scoring with Glitter (Mae Whitman), the clone he picked to be his date, the week Steve has spent educating Glitter (with tons of help from Roger and both the day care facility and girls' school he runs in his attic) causes him to develop parental feelings for her and call the whole sex thing off. He becomes especially parental and protective of Glitter when Snot, perhaps inspired off-screen by the "let's bang each other's sons" plot of the Naomi Watts/Robin Wright softcore flick Adore, takes Glitter away with him to the prom and intends to lose his virginity to her instead of to Honey.
Add some equally unexpected and cleverly integrated Blade Runner in-jokes in the climax (the funniest of these is the "Dystopian Nights" prom theme, complete with a Blade Runner Jumbotron of a geisha who's advertising an energy drink) and a couple of great payoffs to a running joke involving a cloned dodo bird that keeps cheating death, and you have an enjoyably twisty season premiere that leaves you wondering, "What was Fox thinking when it agreed to dump this surprisingly un-hacky MacFarlane cartoon from its lineup?"
* A genuinely moved Snot to Steve: "Naming your sex clone after your great-grandmother: that's a nice way to honor her."
* "No parent should have to bury their child, which is why your mother and I have arranged for you to be cremated."