The Cleveland Show is simultaneously inventive and familiar in how it chronicles the adventures of a loving and garden-variety dysfunctional American family. The second episode lets us get to know the interpersonal dynamics and challenges Cleveland faces as he seeks to ingratiate himself and command respect in his newly blended family.
It is easy to root for the character, Cleveland. Like many adults, he does not enjoy putting on the mask adulthood requires, but, as with the rest of us, he does try to rise to the occasion that age inevitably poses. (Granted for men, these days, effort seems to be all that matters.) Cleveland fumbles at first. He would rather buy off his step children, Regina, who he tries to appease with a pair of cubic zirconium earrings, and Rallo, who he tries to win over with a new dog. He seems most uncomfortable parenting his own son, Cleveland Jr., perhaps as he sees in his son his own tendency to avoid conflict and active-passivity. What is most refreshing and wry is how Cleveland tackles his own disappointment in his son's shortcomings.
Cleveland refers to his son's dumb decisions as "curious," a far more clever and gentle response than his more misanthropic comedic counterparts, be it Larry David, Homer Simpson or Cartwright, might offer their kinder. As the prototypical comedic, buffoonish dad character goes, Cleveland falls in the well-intentioned variety. He feels bad about running over his step-children's dog, revolted by his friend eating the dog, and clear-eyed about how the kids will react, even if it was a mistake. His goal is not to subvert growing up at any cost, only do right if it is the only way out. Cleveland is more of an every man, capable of good and bad acts, despite having a heart that beats.
There are moments and characters that are not as earnest. The show's otherwise traditional format is broken up intermittently by catty, biting sketches ridiculing celebrities. The jabs are on point but easy, like how pop star John Mayer, actor/Bono-to-be Brad Pitt, and several other famous males all share one thing in common: dating then dumping Jennifer Aniston. Some of the other potshots made in hindsight over yesteryear's inconsequential news are mocking the deceased Indie musician Kurt Cobain's questionable judgement in sleeping with train-wreck Courtney Love, and Halle Berry's tear-strewn acceptance speech over being the first black female actress to win an Oscar.
Overall, The Cleveland Show is funny and, for lack of a better word, true. When Rallo compliments Cleveland for being supportive during this vulnerable time in Rallo's life, and then blows his nose on Cleveland's shirt, it hilariously and accurately conveys how children, like adults, can be, as the French say, mechante. The writers also deftly demonstrate how humans do dumb things well. Cleveland Jr. makes a concerted effort in becoming a bathroom attendant, oblivious to the nine zillion other options he can pursue in making a niche for himself at a new school. With both boys, Cleveland buoyantly steps in, as he does with Regina, when her own father neglects to do so. He is rewarded, successfully wining over Regina and Rallo, not to mention a growing audience fan base.
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