The Cleveland Show Complete Second Season
by Joe Sanders
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Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane churns out his weakest effort yet with The Cleveland Show. The premise of the Family Guy spinoff is that Cleveland Brown has left his home and friends in Quahog to move back to his home town, Stoolbend (get it?), where he marries his high school crush, Donna, and becomes stepfather to her two children. Cleveland’s own son, Cleveland Jr., has also returned, and for some reason is the only person in this world who is allowed to age, as he comes back as a morbidly obese, dimwitted teenager.
There was a joke email circulating a while back where Seth MacFarlane is presumably talking to his own ego about an idea he has for a new show. He proposes building a show around a loveable idiot with a hot wife, a loser son, a daughter who hates him, a comically sized sadist, and a non-human best friend. Let the comedy ensue! The idea being that all of MacFarlane’s shows are exactly the same. This obviously is an exaggeration. Family Guy has established itself as a great vehicle for commenting on, and satirizing popular culture. American Dad gives us an exceptionally ironic look at right-wing extremism in America. However, The Cleveland Show has no grander comedic purpose. It is at best a parody of a 70s black sitcom, which can only appeal to a rather limited audience, who would probably (hopefully) be too mature to appreciate the humor here. Of course, in this show’s case, the show is run by Rich Appel and Cleveland Brown voice actor Mike Henry. MacFarlane serves as an executive producer, but it’s clear that he is much less involved with this project than his other shows.
The big problem with this series is that Cleveland Brown was never a strong enough character to carry his own show. His charm on Family Guy was always that he was rather understated. He was the straight man. After moving home to Stoolbend (nope… still not laughing), MacFarlane tries to change Cleveland into basically a black Peter Griffin. He’s louder, crasser, more homophobic, dumber, and more willing to adhere to black stereotypes. It feels more like a Tyler Perry show than a Seth MacFarlane show.
Now, this second season of The Cleveland Show isn’t all bad. While most of the 22 episodes collected here are mediocre at best, there are a few bright spots. One episode early on shows the “cast” of The Cleveland Show trying to broadcast a live episode of the show. Much like Noises Off!, chaos ensues and the characters must all face the harsh realities of live television. Another episode sees the Brown family going to the San Diego Comic Con so Cleveland can try to sell his original graphic novel “Waderman.” In between, there are some jokes that manage to be really original and clever, but overall way more misses than hits here.
Probably the best character on the show is Rallo, who is Cleveland’s infant stepson. He’s basically the Stewie Griffin character of the series, but instead of being diabolical, he sticks to just being really mature for his age. This juxtaposition between childhood and adulthood has always worked really well in MacFarlane’s shows and it’s nice, with all the ideas carbon copied here from Family Guy, that Rallo is able to emerge as the most unique character in the show.
The Cleveland Show plays with a lot of meta-theatricality and post-modern storytelling devices. This means that all the characters seem overly-aware that they’re inside a television show. This is a cute writing style that tends to appeal to a large audience, but it’s been so overdone in film, drama, and TV. The problem with this sort of writing is that any tension or stakes that are established within the show are immediately stripped away when the audience is reminded that they’re just watching a show, and nothing matters.
The show also benefits from MacFarlane’s ability to round up interesting guest stars. Season 2 features Justin Timberlake as a singing booger, while Kanye West and Robert Rodriguez play satirized versions of themselves. Mad Men’s John Slattery lends his voice to the Mayor of Stoolbend, but probably the most interesting guest spot is the cast of Glee acting out a scene on the Brown’s TV making fun of their own show. It’s very funny but still difficult to give the actors any respect, because at the end of the day, they’re still on Glee.
Special features include a moderately funny segment where Cleveland Jr. reads from his worry journal. Also, the DVD has a couple of behind the scenes featurettes, one with the producers talking about their various guest stars and another showing the Cleveland Show panel at the real Comic Con. You’ll also find deleted scenes, commentaries, and a couple of other minor features. The show is also presented completely uncensored, which does improve the viewing experience, especially in the scenes featuring the Mayor.
The Cleveland Show inexplicably returns for its third season on September 25 at 8:30/7:30 central on Fox.
Joe Sanders is a playwright and college instructor in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has a Master’s degree in playwriting and a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches Thought and Writing.
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