Monday, September 28, 2009
Kicking Televisions: The Cleveland Show Review
Seth MacFarlane is everywhere. He even has a role on ABC's Flash-Forward (an casting choice that sort of jarred me out of the story more than they probably hoped). In fact, Sunday night is essentially his on Fox: Family Guy, American Dad, and now The Cleveland Show.
To be honest I'll watch Family Guy, I laugh at family guy, but I agree with the guys at South Park: I just can't respect it from a creative standpoint. It's low brow humor that celebrates stupidity and second-tier pop-culture references which have nothing to do with the plot. American Dad is just unwatchable, in my opinion. The Cleveland Show is just like Family Guy (or American Dad). There's a family, a sassy tike, a frustrated teen girl, a fat/nerdy son, an anthropomorphic animal, and strange one-dimensional neighbors. It seems that those Manatees not only write the scripts, but the show's structures too.
That said, The Cleveland show is actually a nice departure. It has less "this is worse than that one time I [fill in the blank]" gags than Family guy. But the biggest difference is that Cleveland, unlike anyone on Family Guy, or American Dad, is a likable character you can sort of care about. Part of the attractiveness of Peter Griffin is that he can get away with anything; a sort of a therapeutic imp, but eventually he's irredeemable. Cleveland, who was the strangest choice for a spin-off, is more vulnerable, has some depth, and there is opportunity for him to do some interesting things. That said the MacFarlane structural tropes, the talking bear, don't work, and the show really isn't funny, though it is amusing.
I just find it depressing that Mike Judge's (King of the Hill, which featured some of the best story writing for an animated show, being retired to make way for this?) humor: far more patient and intellectual and based on character has not fared well (The Goode Family had loads of promise) while people seem to really be connecting to Family Guy type humor. All this was compounded by the history making nomination of Family Guy for Best Comedy at the Emmys. Sure, its the Emmy's but what a sleight that was to shows far more deserving. At least I saw it as a sleight; to The Simpsons, the most successful TV show in American History (as lamented by Bart, they saved Fox, and by extension if they hadn't, there'd have been no Fox News), as well as the probably the smartest (taught in college classes, the subject of loads of academic writing, and even used in theological discourse); to South Park, probably the best animated show on TV right now, a groundbreaking series at its peak that's more relevant than 97% of anything else on TV; or to King of the Hill, a long-running and surprisingly touching show that was too subtly brilliant for its own good.