I’ve never watched more than five minutes of Family Guy. To be honest, I sometimes find Seth McFarlane’s brand of humor a little grating. But the immense popularity of the show and McFarlane’s power in Hollywood (especially at Fox) has to be recognized. So, when the opportunity arose to review The Cleveland Show, the animated spin-off sitcom of Family Guy (hey, if it worked for The Jeffersons, why not?) I thought I’d approach Seth McFarlane’s humor with fresh eyes.
The Cleveland Show is consistently funny and visually interesting. As an animated series, there should be no boundaries to what kind of creative situations and jokes the writers come up with and for this show, the medium is used in full effect. However, The Cleveland Show also has a great deal of heart at its core, at times making it a surprisingly sentimental.
Created by McFarlane, Mike Henry and Richard Appel, the series follows the day to day life of Cleveland Brown, the African American friend of Family Guy’s Peter Griffin, who moves from Quahog, Rhode Island (setting of Family Guy) to Stoolbend, Virginia. Cleveland (voiced by Henry) brings with him his loving son, Cleveland, Jr. a 14 year old, obese boy voiced by the multi-talented Kevin Michael Richardson. Cleveland has relocated to marry his high school sweetheart, Donna (Sanaa Lathan). Donna has two children, Roberta (Nia Long for the first 13 episodes and Reagan Gomez-Preston for the remainder of the season), and six-year-old Rallo (voiced by Henry), yet another one of those highly intelligent chilldren who only appear in TV and film, the type who are smarter than everyone else, especially the adults.
Cleveland works for the local cable company, which puts him in the company of old high school buddy, Lloyd (Jason Sudeikis) and brings him into contact with a wide array of people. There are some animal characters, the Bears (animals are a trademark of McFarlane shows), voiced by McFarlane and Arianna Huffington, plus some eccentric neighbors, inlcuding Holt (Sudeikis), a frat boy wannabe, and Lester (Richardson) a redneck with the Confederate flag hanging on the front of his house.
The show features a bevy of guest stars. One of the best episodes in season one features Kayne West’s as Kenny, a stuck up kid who picks on Cleveland, Jr. The two boys vie for the affections of the same girl. In the end they wind up in a rap duel that shows that Cleveland, Jr. is a skilled rapper. He doesn’t win the girl (she turn’s out to be Kenny’s baby mama) but he wins the respect of everyone. That episode was so popular that West was invited back for another episode in the second season.
One of the most pointed episodes deals with Black History Month. Cleveland and Lester are forced to build a joint float for the town unity parade after they get into a “brawl” at the local drinking hole. Meanwhyle, Rollo gets trapped under the rolls of fat of Lester’s wife when she collapses on him in her kitchen. The small child and the woman end up bonding and learning a little something about each other in the process (as all “very special episodes” will do).
What I like about The Cleveland Show is the heart it wears openly on its sleeve. That’s not to say that this is some ABC Family touchy feely show. Hardly. But the characters within this strange universe all care for each other, and the men are not afraid to express their feelings. In particular, Cleveland and Cleveland, Jr. have a unique relationship on television, one in which the father isn’t afraid to tell his boy that he loves him and the boy is equally as expressive about how he feels for his dad. I may have gone into watching these DVD’s with some skepticism, but I completed the run a fan of the show.
The DVD set has some decent extra features including funny, uncensored commentary with Henry and other cast members and plenty of uncensored scenes. A featurette detailing the origin of the show (located on disc 4) is quite informative and the music video by Earth Wind and Fire is a visual treat.