Anorexia in animation

It is often that television programmes hit upon a touchy subject, but you don’t often expect it from a popular TV animation, least of all from one like “American Dad.” But that’s exactly what happened.
“American Dad” is a fantastic cartoon, made by Seth McFarlane, the man who brought us “Family Guy.” It is often well animated and well written and it proves to be very entertaining. So I was pleasantly surprised when in one episode they hit upon a tough subject: anorexia.

In the episode “The American Dad After School Special” Stan’s son Steve starts dating a larger girl, and then invites her over. When Stan finds out she is fat he is horrified and reacts in a hostile manner. This causes his wife and daughter Hayley to berate him claiming he is overweight and certainly not as fit as he thinks. Stan refuses to believe this and yet the more he looks in the mirror the bigger he looks. This is followed up the fitness test at the CIA which Stan fails after falling over almost straight away. He is put on leave and told to lose weight.
Stan begins a regime of fitness, however no matter how much exercise he does he still appears to get bigger. Then he meets a young man who calls himself Zack and claims to be Stan’s personal trainer. Stan does more and more exercise under the guidance Zack. He also becomes quite paranoid that his family do not want him to lose weight because they keep insisting that he is not in fact fat at all. Behind his back, Francine and Hayley put fattening items onto Stan’s food.
Eventually under the instruction of Zack, Stan confronts his family at which point his family make him realise the truth. He isn’t fat, he is in fact thin, and he is anorexic. He also realises that his personal trainer Zack is actually a hallucination, which was probably created by Stan’s subconscious insecurities.
Once Stan realises he is anorexic “Zack” fades away for good.

Stan then goes to a support group for anorexics where he meets a girl who teaches him how to appear to be eating to his family whilst not actually swallowing and digesting the food, a method that involves regurgitation. Stan does this and hides the food in the swimming pool.


I was pleasantly surprised by this episode because I found it topical and not in the controversial way. They covered a tough subject in a way that wasn’t insulting, patronising, or obtuse. They showed the effects that anorexia has on an individual and those around them. I would like to think that amongst all the satire and comedy in “American Dad” and as well the brilliant story lines, there will be more stories like this because it is a good way to get through to a wider audience. After all, shows like American Dad are watched widely by younger people as well as adults.
This episode is easily in the top three of American Dad episodes in my opinion.

To Seth McFarlane and the others who make “American Dad”, I tip my hat to you!

Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_American_Dad_After_School_Special

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