The Cleveland Show
When Family Guy first aired, it instantly became a cheaper, dirtier version of what The Simpsons had already evolved into—an absurdist, irreverent meta-sitcom with much more emphasis on comedy than morals, or even plot. While the numerous Simpsons writers pored over each line to make sure that it was saturated with jokes, it seemed the family guy writers relied on a few hackneyed tricks: jump cuts that rarely made sense, breaking the fourth wall, lingering on jokes for an absurd duration, and bathroom humor. An infamous episode of South Park lambasted Family Guy by saying that the show was written by random-joke-selecting manatees.
Thus, Simpsons fans often look down their noses at Family Guy fans. That Family Guy is a one-to-one version of The Simpsons wasn't that helpful either. It had the stupid dad, the hot wife, the smart daughter, the misbehaving son (although less-so), and the funny baby. Of course, Family Guy could be applauded for adding a voice to the baby and to the dog, but the similarities between Peter and Homer were too apparent to be ignored, and when Family Guy was taken off the air for the first time many Simpsons fans rejoiced.
After Family Guy came back after incredible DVD sales it struck a chord in the public, and struck it hard. Seth MacFarlane had learned to give the show its own voice. He also strayed from Stewie's one-note character, had learned how to be self-deprecating, and even took some shots at the Simpsons. At the same time, MacFarlane created a second cartoon show out of the same cookie cutter mold—this time instead of a dog there was a fish; instead of a baby there was an alien; and instead of a stupid, beer-drinking dad there was an insecure, conservative, all-American, killing-machine dad. American Dad was born, and although it has never reached the popularity of Family Guy, it does fix nearly all of the problems Family guy has. There are no jump cuts, each joke is short and sweet, and the episodes are entirely plot driven, as opposed to joke-driven (which, at first, sounds backwards, but it turns out that jokes hit harder when they are precisely contextualized). American Dad was a calmed-down, streamlined, and frankly, better version of Family Guy.
This year, MacFarlane (who has a $100 million development deal with Fox) created another spinoff of Family guy, following the character Cleveland Brown (Mike Henry, a white man), the token black man from Family Guy and arguably the most boring of the primary characters. But don't worry, because MacFarlane has spiced up the show with… wait for it… a talking baby and a talking animal. How original.
So, what's the story? How did Cleveland get here? Does it really matter? Cleveland finally divorces Loretta (one of the few actual plot points of Family Guy) and gets custody of Cleveland Jr. (Kevin Michael Richardson), who has been revamped (read: fattened up) for his new series debut. The show figures out some stupid reason to get Cleveland down to Virginia to date his old high school crush, Donna (Sanaa Lathan) and for him to become father figure to her two children; sassy teen Roberta (Reagen Gomez-Preston) and angry lothario baby Rallo (Mike Henry, again). Of course, he gets a new set of friends, including a conservative redneck, a jocky-frat boy type, and a religious Russian bear.
So what's the verdict? Does it depart from MacFarlane's previous works as much as American Dad did? Perhaps more? Try not at all. Not even a little bit, it goes backwards. This is simply family guy with a black peter and perhaps even fewer race jokes. Not only that, but the characters are less likeable, the plot is more ill conceived, and the laughs are much further apart. Sure, like Family Guy it can be funny at times, and every once in a blue moon, it can get an enormous laugh. But most of the time, it languishes between jokes, dragging its feet through plots, and making non-sequitor after non-sequitor.
Sure, like American dad it is a bit more plugged-in to today’s culture. But don't expect any profound racial debate; instead, expect inoffensive jokes, watered down concepts, and a whole lot of Manatee-mandated jump cuts. The bottom line is this: if you like Seth MacFarlane, this is more of the same. You will not be disappointed. If you don't like Seth MacFarlane, avoid this show like the plague, as it makes Family Guy look polished. Of course, in the mean time, The Simpsons continues to be funny, innovative, and unwilling to get cheap lewd laughs. So don’t give into MacFarlane’s shiny, new toy; sometimes the oldest is still the best.