It’s clear that “Spelling Bee My Baby” was written during the “Tiger Mom” frenzy of the news cycle. And while it’s fun watching Francine go (suddenly) bananas over Steve’s chances at college acceptance, Mrs. Yoshida is pretty much just a caricature for the entire episode, and a bit of an uncomfortable one at that. Does she have to also be a ninja, American Dad? It’s not all that clever, and I didn’t really laugh at it, especially not the climactic sword fight. Also, why weren’t Francine’s Chinese parents brought in earlier? I’m not sure. At the very least, Francine’s off-the-cuff confession (“I put her in a cage”) made me laugh, so this whole thing wasn’t meaningless.
It would have been smart, though, to use that whole conflict as a way to set up a Romeo and Juliet for Steve and Akiko, but that’s only really played with for a few scenes, one of which is a montage of pictures from the internet. Which, did that work for any of you? It didn’t for me. American Dad has made these kind of fourth-wall-breaking gimmicks its calling card, in a way, but this one felt especially lazy.
On the other side of the episode, Hayley is still dealing with the fallout from Jeff being abducted by aliens, in a surprising and nice nod to continuity. It’s clear now that Jeff’s plot is going to span a few episodes, a thing the show likes to do from time to time, and I’m glad for it, if only because it gives Roger something to do besides being every week’s new guest star. His line “I’m sure by now he’s been dissected for science… or for fun. It’s pretty fun.” was one of the best of the night, and him showing up as the fat Hawaiian guy (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) who does the cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” you’ve heard over a thousand sappy slideshows was pretty great too. This half of “Spelling Bee My Baby” is American Dad playing to its strengths, and I wish it had been the main plot of this episode, to be honest.