I’ll be up front about this: I’m behind on Dexter, whose fourth season started last night on Showtime. I’m planning to catch up, but I had too many other obligations, and too little goodwill left from a disappointing third season, to make it a priority. Those of you who caught the debut, feel free to discuss it here.
I did, however, watch three episodes of The Cleveland Show. I’d had hoped that—as long as Fox was being kind enough to give Seth MacFarlane three shows on Sunday night—he would make the new one a real departure from Family Guy, in something other than the skin color of the fat guy at the center.
Cleveland does make a gesture in that direction: there’s a little more of an attempt to give the characters something like actual psychology and relationships. (Some people have complained that Cleveland Brown was a randomly minor character to build an entire sitcom around; that didn’t bother me, precisely because I hoped he could be enough of a tabula rasa that his show didn’t need to be Family Guy II.) And Cleveland and his son have something of a Hank-and-Bobby Hill dynamic.
But so far, only enough of one that the show mainly made me sad that King of the Hill is no longer on the air. In the end, the show is less different from Family Guy than American Dad, which has its own point of view and less-random approach to storytelling, making its satire more coherent. [Update: Credit where it’s due, by the way—last night’s Vietnam-reenactment story on American Dad was brilliant.] Cleveland, on the other hand, is more gentle than Family Guy, but still basically built around non-sequitur gag-telling and meta-references. (Here, largely about white people making TV shows about black people.) As on Family Guy, there are so many jokes that some are bound to connect. Rallo, for instance, is a funny character, but he’s basically a meta-character—a kid who looks and sounds like he was swiped from the kind of ’70s and ’80s African-American sitcoms that The Cleveland Show nostalgically spoofs.
I wonder if the result will be a show that disappoints people like me, who were hoping for something distinct from Family Guy, while also letting down big Family Guy fans, to whom Cleveland will just seem watered down. Of course, I’m not enough of an FG fan to know about the second half of that theory—so Family Guy fans, what did you think of The Cleveland Show?