"Can you come wipe me?" Cleveland Jr., a teenage schlub who is sitting on the toilet, asks his pop, who is next to him taking a bath. Cleveland Jr. isn't developmentally delayed, more of a man-child in the making: like father, like son. A similar parallel can be drawn about The Cleveland Show, a new 1/2 hour animated comedy starring the father-son team, which is a spin-off of The Family Guy.
Like it's forefather, The Cleveland Show shares the same aesthetic and skewers the oafish, albeit well-intentioned, middle-America, middle-aged male. When asked at a screening at The New York Television Festival, what is different about The Cleveland Show, its creator, Mike Henry, said, "The show has more heart."
As animated comedies go, it certainly has poignant moments, like a flashback to Cleveland's high school prom years prior, where despite his jerry curl worn non-ironically, he is rejected by his crush, Donna. She falls for the bad boy, Robert Tubbs, who slaps Donna on the ass and commands her to, "Show your fat ass to the boys."
Decades later, Cleveland stumbles upon Donna when he returns to his hometown in Virgina. Recently divorced, he is still starry-eyed over Donna, and the pilot episode (airing tonight at 8:30 pm EST) chronicles him wooing her back. I won't say whether he succeeds, only that at one point, Cleveland slaps Donna on her rear, and says that her, "nice fat ass is mine." As it's a cartoon made in Hollywood, all Donna does is smile.
The Cleveland Show is not meant to offer a meta-analysis of the state of America's gender or race relations. It's a family comedy, with black characters, that doesn't shy away from off-color jokes, which is as progressive as network TV gets. There is not one scene where a black character interacts with a white one without a racial joke played, as if it's some type of nervous tick. Still, creating leading black characters, even in 2009 and in a cartoon, is progressive compared to its non-animated and animated competition. Behind the camera, the talent is also mixed, not in terms of skill, but race.
Seth MacFarlane was not as involved in the production as Mike Henry and Rich Appel, although he does voice the bear with the unidentifiable, maybe European-accent. Arianna Huffington plays the bear's wife. (If this seems odd, she's worn different hats, as this liberal champion once served as a Republican grand dame.) Ms. Huffington doesn't mug and keeps up with some incredibly talented voice-over actors, most notably Kevin-Michael Richardson, who plays Cleveland Jr. and the redneck neighbor Lester. Like The Family Guy, there are celebrity cameos, including Kanye West, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Scottie Pippen.
Stars aren't the only ones finding time for The Cleveland Show. Fox ordered a second season before the first one even aired. Based on the reaction from the packed crowd at The New York Television Festival's screening, Cleveland will be a welcome in many homes.
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