Rachael MacFarlane & Dee Bradley Baker on the Staying Power of ‘American Dad’

    American Dad fans have three big new reasons to be excited about the future of the Smith family. Last month, TBS recognized its popularity by renewing the show for Seasons 18 and 19… ahead of its coming 17th season. That’s a lot of good morning USAs — and not too shabby for a show that was given the axe by Fox in 2014.

    The season premiere sees wife and mom Francine (voice by Wendy Schaal) and fashionable alien Roger (co-creator Seth MacFarlane) jockey to be the next stars on the hit series Langley Dollar Listing. Then there is the series’ patriarch and CIA agent Stan’s (MacFarlane) entrepreneurial efforts to open a coffee shop in the home garage with his daughter Hayley’s (Rachael MacFarlane) husband Jeff (Jeff Fischer). Let’s sum things up by saying things don’t necessarily go according to plan. Thankfully, the family’s Olympic skier turned goldfish Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker) is there to help clean up the mess.

    Here, Rachael MacFarlane and Baker preview more hijinks to come and delve into American Dad’s longevity.

    Why do you think the show has such staying power?

    Rachael MacFarlane: It started out with such a political undertone to it. Then it got back down to what its core is, which is it’s a family sitcom. It’s got a lot of rich diverse characters, and we’ve been fortunate to have some great writers along the way to keep it fresh and funny. The fact that it’s animated has given it the staying power. We’re aging but our characters aren’t. Luckily, vocally we all pretty much sound the same.

    Dee Bradley Baker: I think it’s a testament to the writing. It’s consistently fun, innovative and stepping over lines. It’s constantly reinventing itself and feels fresh.

    How do you feel the animated show has navigated the waters of today’s often delicate television environment compared to others airing?

    MacFarlane: I’m seeing more current event commenting in Family Guy these days. They did a lot of episodes with Trump content, and a lot of episodes we’re doing now, there are COVID episodes. American Dad doesn’t really do that. It stays very much in the realm of, you could watch any episode and not know what year it was made in. While it feels current, it isn’t specific.

    Baker: There is a kind of shelf life to the specificity of a script. They will sprinkle it in sometimes, but if you go too heavy with that, it will be a few years and a lot of people may not know what it is referring to. After 9/11 they did a George W. Bush episode. It wasn’t a mean episode or go after George W. Bush in a mean way. I think the show is pretty balanced and nondenominational in who they go after.

    MacFarlane: It’s appealing to people around the country. Stan is a parody of an ultra right-winger. Hayley is a parody of a tree-hugging leftist. It hits everybody. I think Roger is the only voice of reason on the show.

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    Dee, there is a surprising depth to Klaus. Even with just a few lines, the things he says hit the mark.

    Baker: When you have a character like Klaus, who transferred his brain from a human to a goldfish, you are at a point where you can do whatever you want. It’s fun to be on that ride as an actor where writers will take your character through outrageous situations. Klaus has a little more flexibility just because of the weirdness of the configuration of his character. Roger is another like that. They can go all the crazy places with all of us, and they do so in such a funny and interesting, and at times insightful way.

    Rachael in the past you’ve talked about your connection with Hayley. How is it to evolve with her, even though she isn’t physically aging?

    MacFarlane: When American Dad started I was in my 20s. Now I’m a mom, have two kids; one of them is almost a teenager. I think my relationship with Hayley has changed through the years. Now there is more of a focus on her relationship with Jeff. There is a really funny episode coming up called “Please Please Jeff” where Hayley gets on Jeff’s case about being a people pleaser. In the end, she realizes that is one of the things she loves about him. Now, over 300 episodes, there is so much information about Hayley that it forms my character choices.

    Is there an episode this season you are particularly excited for viewers to check out?

    MacFarlane: One of my favorite episodes we’ve ever done this season is where the family ends up on this deserted island and doesn’t remember who they are. Memories are wiped clean, so they have to reinvent civilization based on the videotape they find in a VCR. This mixed nut commercial becomes their religion. It’s so weird and out there and hilariously bizarre and strange.

    Baker: I always look forward to the Christmas episodes. They always take a big swing at Christmas. It’s always interesting to see where they go. This year I’m like, “Are you really going to be able to do this episode?” Apparently, they are. I won’t give away what goes on, but they have some bold cojones they are swinging. It’s something else.

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    There has been this online fan push about doing a live-action American Dad movie. How close do you think we are to seeing that?

    MacFarlane: I think we are a ways off still. I think my guess is the same thing with the Family Guy movie. I think these things will happen. The shows are still running and taking so much time and effort. My guess is [it could happen] when the show inevitably reaches the end of its run.

    Baker: How do you do what works better with the limitations you have with an on-camera setup? A lot of times that doesn’t go well. You have to have a special sensibility with the writing and the directing and the camera work to accurately or successfully translate what works in animation. It has and can be done, but it’s not easy. To not do it in a way that angers fans is no small task. I don’t know when or if that will happen.

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    What about an animated film?

    MacFarlane: I think that will happen. I think animated films will happen. I think it will probably be at the end of the series run.

    Is there a scenario the writers have not done with your characters that you would like to see them do?

    MacFarlane: I mean eventually Jeff and Hayley would have to have a kid. Then what would that kid be? Would he be an Alex P. Keaton kid with his liberal parents? I’m hopeful that’s something to explore.

    Baker: I think Klaus should be an elected official. Try to sort out congress and the senate and bring this country back. I don’t think it would go well, but it would be interesting to see.

    American Dad, Season 17 premiere, Monday, January 24, 10/9c, TBS

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