It has been an exciting week for American Dad fans, as they devoured one of the weirdest episodes of the entire series, “Rabbit Ears”. This is a series that did an entire episode in the form of a stage play. Another was styled like an indi film and featured Zooey Dechanel as an overtly stated “manic pixie dream girl”. This time, American Dad took off for The Outer Limits and ended up in the Twilight Zone.
There is no hint of the episode’s bizarre setting in the standard opening. Stan, always up to something stupid, goes garbage picking on “big items” week, when people throw out large appliances. He brings home a mattress infested with bed bugs and a giant, ancient television. The Smith family are not amused, especially when Roger steals their attention as his latest persona: a non-verbal newborn baby. Then it gets weirder.
Sequestered in the basement with his mattress and television set, Stan sets up the antenna and gets nothing but static. Then suddenly, Stan is woken from his slumber by the sweet sound of jazz, as a show finally comes in: “Nighthawks Hideaway”.
“Nighthawks Hideaway” intro with Alistair Covax
“Weclome Nighthawks, we’ve been expecting you. The hour is late but the party is just getting started. I’m Alistair Covax, your host for a sophistical little soirée with jazz, stimulating conversation, beautiful ladies…and more jazz.”
“What IS this show?” asks Stan. It’s in black and white and clearly from the 1960s.
“Charlie, play some of those notes you know I like,” says Alistair to the jazz pianist.
Nothing on Google. No record of the host Alistair Covax (Star Trek‘s Chris Pine) either. Even TV Guide magazine says the show does never existed…but they know of a support group for people who claim to have seen Nighthawks Hideaway! A show that does not exist…but multiple people have seen it. Shades of Shazam/Kazaam!
Investigating the support group, Stan finds only one other attendee: neighbour Al Tuttle (Richard Kind).
“There used to be more people, but one by one, they stopped coming,” explains Tuttle.
But what about the show? “There’s only one episode! And it re-runs over and over and over on channel 36!”
It’s even stranger than that. “There’s only one episode…but it changes! Little…differences in the show! I keep track of them!”
That night, Stan notices something different on Nighthawks Hideaway. Tuttle is in the show! Not believeing his eyes, he knows further investigation is required. Tuttle’s house is empty, but Stan finds his TV and notebook. Here, Tuttle tracked differences from night to night. The last page has the ominous note “I MUST GO IN.”
Stan studies the book and tracks the changes, night after night, in the basement on the old TV and finally discovers what happened to Al Tuttle. And that’s when things get really Twilight Zone, and to go further would get into spoiler territory.
This episode “Rabbit Ears” was a truly fresh spin on a classic science fiction / horror theme. Perhaps this style of storytelling is coming back into vogue. There is a rebooted Twilight Zone now, hosted by Jordan Peele. Regardless of trends, American Dad are still the masters of a specific type of surreal animated comedy. The show is its own genre now, and “Rabbit Ears” is a clear indicator that its potential remains wide open. Keep ’em coming.