It seems that many of the cartoons that air on various networks today are just as much for adults as they are for children. The “adult cartoon” trend likely started with The Simpsons, which debuted in December 1989 and was renewed a couple weeks ago for a 27th season this fall and a 28th season in the fall of 2016. Nowadays there’s all of the Adult Swim offerings on Cartoon Network, South Park, Family Guy, and, of course, American Dad!.
If you’re familiar with American Dad!—and if you’re not, shame on you!—you’re aware that, for all intents and purposes, calling it The Roger Smith Show would be almost more fitting than its actual title. Roger is an E.T.-looking alien that has lived in the Smith family’s attic since the beginning of the series when Stan, the Smith family patriarch and a CIA agent, brought the alien home from Area 51. Unlike E.T., Roger is an androgynous over-sexxed bisexual who enjoys alcohol and drugs. In the earlier episodes of American Dad!, Roger was essentially a foil to conservative Stan; since he’s an alien living in the home of a mostly-benevolent CIA agent, Roger had to remain hidden from the world in the attic most of the time, occasionally appearing to deliver a one-liner with a martini in his hand or in partial disguise on rare occasion. That was about the extent of his role in the show for the majority of the first two seasons, so it wasn’t long before the show began to stagnate a bit.
By a few seasons in, the writers—god bless them—had a brilliant idea that killed two birds with one stone: Having Roger dress up in costumes for different characters (called his “personas”) in each episode would not only allow Roger to leave the house and interact with people outside of the Smith family, but it gave the writers the opportunity to essentially take the show in unlimited new directions.
One of the things that distinguishes American Dad! from its contemporaries is in its approach; while shows like Family Guy have very deliberate joke-telling methods and pop culture references, often delivered using cutaway scenes, the humor of American Dad! comes from its clever combination of the absurd with the mundane, or with everyday family life. This particular flavor of human is a trademark of the show and is important because many of Roger’s personas are an exaggerated caricature of a person you’re likely to see in daily life, or might remind you of people you already know. As such, Roger’s personas are like his observations of humanity, using common human stereotypes, clichés, and tropes as a disguise that he feeds back to us, allowing him to camouflage among us.
Over the course of the show, Roger has had more personas than you could shake a stick at. Using a costume, a wig, and sometimes the miraculous appearance of large female breasts or a double chin, Roger Smith has been good guys, bad guys, celebrities, a variety of ethnicities, and the list goes on and on… Perhaps the most interesting thing is that most of the time when Roger takes off a costume, his persona continues to exist as if they’re separate from him. Sometimes when Roger reappears as a persona he’s used before, he’ll explain why the character hasn’t been seen for so long and fill the Smith family in on what the character has been doing since his last appearance. For example, Roger’s persona Max Jets “comes to town” and showers the family with gifts and money; even though everyone is aware that Max is just Roger in costume, they celebrate his arrival and treat him as if separate from Roger, who might tell the family that he, as the character, has been in prison, or traveling abroad, or doing one of any number of other ludicrous things. When he’s not in character as one of his personas, Roger stores each of his costumes in a rather elaborate revolving closet in his attic bedroom.
To express my fondness for this charmingly alcoholic, sexually ambiguous extraterrestrial, I decided to create a list of some of Roger the alien’s best personas, which was no easy task. If you have seen the show, then you’ll know that Roger has one or more personas in most episodes, of which there are currently more than 200, which makes narrowing them down to a small ‘best of’ list rather daunting. And since American Dad! is an ongoing show, I reserve the right amend this list with additional personas or create sequel lists in the event that I remember or encounter other beloved personas.
Without further ado (and in no particular order), here are five of the greatest hits of Roger Smith’s personas.
Professor Jordan Edelstein
In “Camp Refoogee” (3.01), Stan insists on taking Steve to summer camp, which ends up being an African refugee camp, but they make the most of it. Back in Langley Falls, Roger and Francine decide to go to an art show. Since Roger can only go out in public in costume, he creates a persona for the event: Professor Jordan Edelstein, the Hebrew professor and head of the political science department at Harvard, who once had a “sexually experimental weekend with Allen Ginsberg.” Francine decides she wants to try creating a persona too, so she becomes Amanda Lane, the professor’s wife of 17 years who kept her maiden name. After hearing the elaborate backstory that Francine makes up for her own character, Roger decides that she is “slightly better” at the whole persona thing than he expected.
This is a notable persona in the show because this is the first time Roger creates an unnecessarily elaborate backstory for one of his characters, which would actually become one of his trademarks. As this episode progresses, Jordan (Roger) and Amanda Lane (Francine) bring two guests back to the Smith home for cocktails. The rest of the evening is pretty much the play/movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Jordan and Amanda Lane taking repeated and increasingly harsh jabs at each other, making their guests more and more uncomfortable. At one point, Francine (as Amanda Lane) tells their guests that Jordan is an economics professor, which had been a point of contention earlier when they were creating their characters’ back story because Roger had specifically wanted his persona be a political science professor.
The evening culminates in Jordan revealing that Amanda Lane let their baby drown—a baby that never existed, but the two are so invested in their personas that they fight (physically) before Francine ends up lying in Roger’s lap on the floor as Roger comforts her for her (fake) negligence.
I tend to get the most enjoyment from some of Roger’s female personas, mostly because Rogers seems to be able to sprout these enormous boobs whenever a persona calls for them. Although Roger has also had some great male personas like Professor Jordan Edelstein and some others I’ll get to momentarily, I don’t think they give me quite as much enjoyment as I get seeing Roger’s rack when he’s dressed like a brothel madame.
In “Stanny Slickers 2: The Legend of Ollie’s Gold” (4.15), Stan digs an extensive tunnel beneath his house looking for buried treasure, getting stuck when the cave collapses and having a vision that his family is all the legacy he needs. Meanwhile, Roger learns that a women who was sexually harassed at a “Big Buy” sues the company and gets a million dollar settlement. Wanting his own settlement, Roger decides to create a character that’s sure to get sexually harassed, coming up with an ‘office slut’ persona named Laura Vanderbooben. Laura wears an incredibly short skirt, a pink shirt with boobs hanging out, white heels, blue eyeshadow, and long blond hair. Over the course of the episode, she entices the men of the office and welcomes their sexual harassment to no avail, much to Roger’s dismay. Unable to goad his male coworkers into sexual harassment by the end of the episode, Roger creates a male persona—Luke Fondleburg—that admits to sexually harassing Laura Vanderbooben, getting Roger a $90,000 settlement out of the deal.
Not all of Roger’s personas are good enough to get a whole episode, let alone one named after them, but it does happen on occasion and they’re frequently memorable episodes. Additionally, Ricky Spanish is one of the personas that almost seem to exist independently of Roger as people seem to hate certain personas and hold grudges against them to which Roger is immune despite the fact that it’s always Roger’s actions while he’s pretending like he’s someone else.
Early in the episode “Ricky Spanish” (8.17), Roger finds a discarded trash bag in the back of his closet. He opens it up and finds a “lovely” costume consisting of a t-shirt, leather pants, non-matching leather vest, and a wig. He doesn’t recall the persona the costume belongs to and decides he simply must wear this beautiful discovery into town to get frozen yogurt. However, as he walks around town, he begins to see that the Langley Falls townsfolk recognize him in this persona and are none too pleased to see him. When he hears the name “Ricky Spanish,” he has a flashback in the form of a cutscene, which you see at several points throughout the episode consisting of some of Ricky Spanish’s most heinous deeds. According to Roger, Ricky Spanish is a sociopathic liar who lies, cheats, and steals from everyone.
Throughout the episode, Steve tries to help Ricky Spanish redeem himself, emerging as a butterfly from his cocoon, and while Ricky makes amends with many of the people he had wronged at first, the plan ultimately doesn’t end well for Steve. Ricky double-crosses Steve with Daniel, his crime partner in a prior sweater-heist-gone-bad with whom Ricky shares a rather bizarre sexual attraction, resulting in Steve getting pummeled by police.
In the episode “Shallow Vows” (6.06), Stan and Francine are planning to renew their vows when, to prove a point, Francine gives up on her fitness and beauty regimen, becoming overweight and rather grotesque in Stan’s eyes. Meanwhile, Roger’s persona for the occasion is Jeannie Gold, “wedding planner extraordinaire” complete with the wedding planner’s purse that carries such essential things as a crossbow, fake hymens, and a rubber glove in case she needs to give a client’s husband a “handy J” to keep him out of trouble.
While the episode isn’t centered around this persona, Jeannie Gold has some really funny moments. At one point, one of Jeannie’s “breasts”—actually an orange—falls onto the ground, so Roger, who doesn’t miss a beat, immediately pins a pink ribbon to Jeannie’s lapel and quickly claims to be a “survivor.”
Toward the end of the episode, two boys walk up behind Jeannie carrying a boom mic and camera equipment to film Stan and Francine’s ceremony, and Jeannie introduces them as her college-age sons, Alex and Ron. Jeannie is one of Roger’s personas that not only has an elaborate backstory, but also seems to have lived an entire life separate from that of Roger seen on the show, even having kids in this case. The lives that Roger’s personas, such as Jeannie Gold, seem to be living while Roger is living his own life with the Smiths can be quite elaborate and makes for some great humor.
Roy Rogers McFreely
Here is another persona that got its own episode (5.12) that revolves around life in Stan’s neighborhood and Roger’s revenge for Stan failing to bring home grenadine so that Roger could mix himself a Roy Rogers. After putting on a cowboy outfit, Roger becomes Roy Rogers McFreely, the new chair of Stan’s beloved homeowners’ association. Roy Rogers McFreely first has a hydrant installed just outside the Smith home, resulting in Stan’s car getting towed. Then he installs motion sensor lights outside the Smith home, which end up shining directly into their windows and keeping them awake at night.
The remainder of the episode has Roy Rogers exercising his control of the neighborhood to make Stan’s life hell while Stan join’s Hayley’s “constructive vandalism” movement and files motions to dethrone Roger. After a bizarre car chase that destroys much of the neighborhood, Roger concedes from the homeowners’ association and ends with a lamp-lit Latin-esque dance to Cilantro’s “El Perro” on the sidewalk outside the Smith home.
Stay tuned for additional entries as I expand this preliminary list, including other beloved personas like Genevieve Vavance, Dr. Penguin, and let’s not forget Jenny Fromdabloc.