It may be too soon to be writing a review of The Cleveland Show. But it was one of those things I decided to stay for the premiere of. In my review of Seth MacFarlane I pointed out that if he didn't have gay jokes and race jokes he might not have much of a career. Well, nothing seems to prove that more than The Cleveland Show. There's already big problems with giving Cleveland his own show. The biggest of which is that it's a show about Cleveland. He was one of the characters on Family Guy. One of the most boring characters on the show, actually. While on Family Guy he never did much even when the show was at the height of hilarity. In the more recent episodes, Cleveland has become the token black guy on the show.
Okay, he WAS the token black guy on the show. Now that he has his own show he's not really going to be featured in Family Guy anymore.
In a way it doesn't matter that Cleveland acts nothing like he does on Family Guy in his own show. After all, in Family Guy he never really did much, so it's not like we got to know Cleveland in the first place. We didn't get to know any of the characters outside of the main family really (the only character in Family Guy who seems fit for a spinoff is Brian... and without Stewie it would suck). So regardless of who got a spinoff I'd probably still be asking, "Why?" The only reason that Cleveland is a BIG "why?" is because he's so lame and boring. In terms of Family Guy's moments, Cleveland was never really a big part of the show. Of all of Peter's friends he garnered the fewest laughs... if he ever really garnered any.
The Cleveland Show seems as though it's stacking up to be, well, Family Guy all over again. Cleveland Jr. shows up again (you all forgot Cleveland had a son, didn't you? So did I) and now he's fat as hell. As a younger boy CJ just couldn't shut up and hold still. Now that's ALL he can do.
Family Guy, however, does give their character a nice send off. We get to see that gag where Peter destroys part of Cleveland's home and Cleveland falls out of his house in the bathtub again. This wasn't really much of a funny bit to begin with but it's one of Family Guy's only real running gags. It happens from time to time. Now you'll never see it on Family Guy again. Are you sad?
Afterwards Cleveland decides he's had enough and decides to take CJ and move to California. On the way they stop in his old hometown of Stoolbend, Virginia (is that supposed to be a joke?). There he revisits his old stomping grounds where he went to high school and sees that his old friend Donna is working at the school now. Cleveland has often lost Donna to some stupid pig who just likes Donna for her fat ass. Nevertheless Donna has had children through this guy. First there's Roberta--a disrespectful young lady and then there's Rallo, a perverted five year old.
It has just about all you can imagine from Seth MacFarlane. A lot of weird gags and a lot of non-sensical friends. There's a talking bear named Tim, a redneck named Lester (who is apparently confused as to whether or not he's a racist). And what would a show about a black family be if there wasn't that one white guy who wanted to be "cool?" Here it's a guy named Holt who seems to want to be black. Yeah, The Cleveland Show has that too. And none of these guys are really interesting. The only one that really peaks any interest is the talking bear. And that's just because he's a talking bear, and that effectively makes him the only character outside of Cleveland's family that COULD be considered interesting! But at the moment we can't comment too much. I'm writing this review primarily based off just two episodes. The characters within it haven't been given time to grow... but this is MacFarlane here so I'm going to take a guess that the characters aren't going to grow much... or they might devolve. We only have Family Guy and American Dad as examples. And in one show the characters become more dislikable (Family Guy) while in the other I was pleasantly surprised by how they grew (American Dad). So it's a toss up. These characters do have a certain potential, but it's a matter of whether or not The Cleveland Show blows it.
On the other hand, when I say it's similar to Family Guy... that's hard to ignore. Ever since The Simpsons there has been a constant Family structure at work. There's always five family members. A brother and sister and a toddler of sorts (or in the case of American Dad, an alien). The Cleveland Show gives you a pretty similar structure. The only difference is that Cleveland isn't an idiot like Homer SImpson, Peter Griffin or Stan Smith. But his son is a loser like Chris Griffin and Steve Smith. In short, we have another show from MacFarlane with the father and son relationship. At some point you'll definitely see CJ vying for his father's approval. It's often standard. What I'm more curious about is Roberta. Is she going to become a rejected daughter too? At times it feels like we're be given just a different mutation of Family Guy.
Outside of this, however, there's not a whole lot that are really stands out in The Cleveland Show. The opening credits are kind of sweet and nostalgic, but I can see some people saying, "Seth MacFarlane is trying to be black!" Can it, guys. There's a nice kind of nostalgia at work. The lyrics are kind of stupid, but the beat isn't bad.
On the other hand, if you're not a big fan of Family Guy it's unlikely you'll enjoy the Clevland Show. It has some of the same problems. Some of the jokes go on for a little too long (in the first episode there's an episode where Cleveland smashes the window of Robertta's boyfriend's car and the joke goes on for so incredibly long, only because Cleveland has to explain why he isn't there to wash his windows). It also still keeps throwing one joke after another after another after another. You'll probably get some laughs from the Cleveland Show--certainly more than you'll get out of Family Guy, but it's just not as funny as you might expect.
And, of course, it wouldn't be complete without a huge slew of racial jokes. The Cleveland Show is hardly offensive, but it does seem to be pushing it. We understand Macfarlane's satire. There are black people... and racists. As far as Macfarlane is concerned he's imitating life. But there are some jokes there that seem to be there only for Seth to remind his audience that these are black people. I'm not a big fan of stereotypes (my friends often tell me I'm the whitest black guy they know... gee that's not racist at all), but it's really that Macfarlane doesn't use these stereotypes to let you know that's how the characters are as individuals. Rather he seems to do it to say, "This how black people are and I made this show for them." Of course, you always have to be careful when dealing with race. But the show is most certainly not racist in any way, shape or form. And the person who screams that it is will probably be misunderstanding what Macfarlane is trying to say with it. Some might be quick to point out some of the negative stereotypes but once again they're not big enough or serious enough. As I said before, the problem is that Macfarlane isn't good at making sure we know it's the individual character who acts this way.
If there's any sure compliment that can be given to The Cleveland Show it would be that it's definitely much more linear than Family Guy. As a result it actually says something. At least as it seems (again, we're only talking about two episodes here). It at least helps some settle in. In fact it makes me curious to see just how the show will grow over time. And that's mostly because it actually has focus. It seems to be saying something. The first episode showcased how important it is for a family to grow up with a father, and the dangers of what could happen should the father abandon that family. There's a reason beyond Donna for him to stay. The second episode showed the importance of honesty and even dived into Cleveland's own fears about being a stepfather. What I'm saying is that while the show is weak... there's potential.
As Woopak reminds me from time to time, you have to give something a chance to grow. And he's right. So I will let The Cleveland Show grow, and I will come back and revise this review once the first season is over and done with. It's not strong yet, but it DOES have potential. Let's see if it lives up.
BONUS CONTENT: Yeah, I know, in a review right? For those who want to read on and see how The Cleveland show actually got the green light. It's been double spaced to be made easier on the eyes (and to space out all the "stage" directions. It's a pretty long skit, but there's actually a method to my madness. It's actually long for a reason which I'm confident you'll realize for yourself. Also, as this IS Bonus Content, you don't have to read it. I realize the review was already long enough. This is just here for the sake of amusement. ENJOY!
Fox Exec: Wait, what's this show about?
Seth: It's for Cleveland. You know, the boring guy on Family Guy? He's never done anything exciting. Ever. Like the time he was sitting in his bathtub and Peter destroyed the upper floor of his home? (The Clip Plays)
Seth: Or the time he was sitting in the bathtub and Peter destroyed the upper floor of his home? Or the time--
Fox Exec: Seth, stop with the "Like the time crap..." You're actually NOT working on Family Guy as you talk to me.
Seth: Yes I am... I mean, it's American Dad but I'm still working on it.
Fox Exec: We need something new. We're cancelling King of the Hill and need something in its time slot. Since you're making us the most money and attracting the most viewers... you MUST be the smartest man in Animation. We COULD pull American Dad but there's some reason we can't...
Seth: Because you gave me a contract until 2012
Fox Exec: Oh Yeah... Well, we still need something new. But I'm not sure Cleveland is it.
Seth: But it is! He'll go to his home town of Stoolbend, Virgina. Get it? Stool? Bend? Fox Exec: Yeah! I get it! That's hilarious! Go on!
Seth: Okay, and he reuintes with his old flame, who has two children--a son and a daughter... and Cleveland Junior comes back.
Fox Exec: Cleveland Jr?
Seth: Yeah, Cleveland's son. Remember? The skinny kid?
Fox Exec: I don't think ANYONE remembers him
Seth: I'll make them remember using my psychic powers! Like Stewie did in an episode of Family Guy where all the Griffins realized they had Super Powers!
(random clip plays of the episode where Stewie uses his mind powers from the days when Family Guy was actually funny--Seth is only thinking this is funny because he actually does the voice of Stewie and hopes the Fox Exec unnderstands the Irony)
Fox Exec: So--
Seth: Wait, WAIT! I still haven't told you the best part, Cleveland Jr. is now a fatass little piggy. See, look at this before and after!
Seth: He'll be so fat the audience can't tell the difference between him and boulder that Indiana Jones had to outrun in Raiders of the Lost Ark! He'll make Jabba the Hutt look Skinny! If anyone needs a floatation device they can use Cleveland Jr.! He'll make a great door for when you're taking a crap! Holy shit, that's a good joke, I better write that one down!
(Seth Makes a note of this and is sure to stick it in the SECOND episodeas a PLOT DEVICE, and is surprised he knows what a PLOT DEVICE is)
Fox Exec: Seth, get to freakin' point, I have lunch with Matt Groening this afternoon. You know, the guy who created The Simpsons?
Seth: Screw the Simpsons, Family Guy is what's in!
Fox Exec: We're not talking about Family Guy, we're talking about Cleveland getting a spinoff
Seth: Oh, right right. HEYO!
Fox Exec: ...
Seth: So there you have it. Fat guy, beautiful wife, three children. One daughter, one little brother and a fat kid.
Fox Exec: It sounds exactly like Family Guy, Seth.
Seth: But it's not. Because you see Cleveland is black!
Fox Exec: He's the most boring character in Family Guy, everyone knows that
Seth: But Black people will love it!
Fox Exec: Really? You think so? I thought they just got angrier
Seth: Yeah, that's one of the jokes.
Fox Exec: But it still sounds like Family Guy
Seth: Oh... well... uhh.... give me two minutes.
(ONE MINUTE LATER)
Seth: I've got it! He'll have friends. No black friends, of course, but he'll have friends. He'll have a redneck friend... because he's in the south right?
Fox Exec: Yeah, okay.
Seth: And it gets better! He'll also have a friend who will try to be cool and black! Because ALL white people want to be black!
Fox Exec: That's still not different enough
Seth: ...Give me three more minutes
(THIRTY SECONDS LATER)
Seth: I've got it! A talking bear!
Fox Exec: A talking bear?
Seth: A talking bear! Everyone loves talking animals!
Fox Exec: But Seth... you already have a talking dog in Family Guy and a talking Goldfish in American Dad... Brian makes sense but that damn Goldfish is fucking creepy!
Seth: But he's a freakin' bear! COME ON! A bear! A talking bear! Fox Exec: Well.. (glances at his watch and realizes he doesn't want to miss lunch with Matt Groening) Seth: Go on... take it, you've got no other choice Fox Exec: Well, you're right about that. I just... how is it different Seth? Seth: They're black! With White Friends! And a TALKING BEAR! What more do you need?
Fox Exec: Just a little variety...
Seth: Well, if it helps the bear doesn't actually LIVE with the Browns. Get it? Clevland's last name is Brown and he's a black guy? Yeah, see? Playing the color thing! I'm a genius!
Fox Exec: Neighbors? (glances at watch againrealizing he wants to get the hell out of the office) BRILLIANT! (hands Macfarlane a large sack with a "$" on it)
Seth: Now just wait a couple of years for my next show! It'll be about a bunch of Asians. A Dad, who's too intelligent for his own good, a son who wants to achieve that, a hot sexy wife, a daughter who's a reject and the baby will be a genius because he's Asian! Oh, and they'll be bad drivers! What do you think? Fox Exec: We'll see, Seth. (Hands Seth another sack with a "$" on it so that he'll shut upand then quickly hauls ass out of there before Seth starts talking again)
Seth: Well, I won that one. Just like Al Gore won the 2000 Presidential Election! Yep, just like Al Gore!
Seth: I think that's long enough to let that sink in.