The Cleveland Show: Season 4, Lookback

Looking back at the latest season of this Family Guy spin-off. Looking ahead? Not so much...

The Cleveland Show is yet another of the latest Den of Geek casualties, no longer being reviewed every week going forward, but it does warrant a look back over Season 4 for old time’s sake.

It’s no secret that I’ve never been a big fan of this series.  I like Family Guy.  I like American Dad.  The Cleveland Show almost identically parallels Family Guy (family of five, guy buddies all hang out at the local bar, one fat kid, one talking baby), but it’s not as scathingly funny.  Maybe that’s why it lacks appeal:  It tries too hard to turn the Browns into another version of the Griffins.  Cleveland was a mellow, good spirited guy before he moved back to Stoolbend, Virginia.  Now, he and wife Donna do little else besides complain about and lie to each other in the most ridiculous ways possible. Take for example Episode 4 (A Vas Deferens Between Men and Women).  This one wins for best title, but has Donna faking a pregnancy just to try to get Cleveland to admit that he had a vasectomy years before, during a drunken game of Truth or Dare.  Things sink even lower in the holiday episode (Tis the Cleveland to Be Sorry), when a volunteer stint at a homeless shelter inspires Cleveland to pretend he’s a resident just so he can get his hands on the gourmet sandwiches served around Christmas time.  I understand that nothing is sacred in most of the prime time cartoons, but making fun of mentally ill homeless people just isn’t funny.  It comes across as stereotypical and judgmental, and gets worse when Cleveland publicly apologizes for his fraud, only to tack on a whole string of slurs toward every minority group in existence…a bad attempt at humor that goes on at least thirty seconds longer than it should.  Major fail for a holiday episode.By far the most sympathetic character in the show is Cleveland Junior, the hapless, obese, lonely child from his father’s first marriage.  Younger step-brother Rallo is his only friend, and they do have some amusing adventures together.  One of the best has them stealing a cherry picker from a construction site when they learn that it’s going to be scrapped (Crazy Train, the first half of the season finale).  They drive it all over town, even hiding it back at home and using it as a treehouse, until they are chased down by the construction workers.  The cherry picker is saved by being left at a playground where the little kids call it their magical giraffe…and then get injured falling off of it.  Not the best idea for a piece of playground equipment.Other adventures include getting a job to pay for Donna’s broken recorder (Episode 6, Hustle ‘N Bros) by returning lost pets for cash rewards (with a special appearance by Brian Griffin) and getting grounded when Rallo steals a candy bar, but Junior can’t prove his own innocence, so they end up bunking together like inmates.  In one of the more touching episodes, Rallo’s head is shaved after a lice outbreak at his school.  Stuck at home most of the time, he and Junior play together more than ever, dreaming up fantasy characters during the day.  At night, Junior sneaks in and shaves Rallo’s head, just so they can spend more time together. The only time Junior’s obesity is tackled head on is in Episode 8 (Here Comes the Bribe), when he thinks that his mini-fridge has died.  He even has a funeral for it.  When Rallo fixes the fridge and stocks it like a minibar, full of candy bars and sugary soft drinks, Junior can’t resist, running up a huge tab and pushing himself closer to coronary heart disease.  He’s so fat that he can’t march in the band with his tuba (Menace II Secret Society), so he teams up with other rejected musicians to form a polka band…probably as close to having real friends as he can get.  He doesn’t just get picked on for his weight, either; his sexual orientation comes into question a lot, much to Cleveland’s dismay.  In fact, Cleveland doesn’t really seem to take much pride in his kid at all.Speaking of parental involvement, I didn’t understand the second half of the season finale (Wheel.  Of.  Family!), where Donna and Cleveland are suddenly so overwhelmed with taking care of the kids that they pretty much force their extended families to help take care of them, spinning a game show wheel to determine who gets stuck with certain duties.  Junior and Rallo steal a cherry picker and are gone for hours without anyone knowing about it, but now they’re so busy they have to call in reinforcements?  Didn’t teen daughter Roberta walk out of the house at one point in a bikini, wheeling a keg along with her, and say she was going to the library? Anyway, believe it or not, there were a few high points this season, including my favorite episode, The Wide World of Cleveland Show.  This was the most inventive story line I’ve seen in the show so far, with a group of mini-stories set in different locations around the world.  It includes Italy (the Jersey Shore of Europe), Germany (the birthplace of evil), and Japan, although Cleveland mistakes the Japanese flag for India’s because of the big red dot.  Sofia Vergara provides a guest voice, and we get a surprise appearance from  Family Guy’s Hispanic maid Consuela, who has her own commercial for a spray on product called No.  Not really sure what it is…perfume, maybe?  Whatever.  It’s funny.  Everything moves smoothly from the Godfather-like Italian piece to the film noir feel of the German segment (complete with subtitles), ending with Junior’s competitive eating contest in Japan (again, much to Cleveland’s chagrin, since he was hoping that Junior would take up sumo wrestling). As much as Junior may be a disappointment to his family, at least he doesn’t compromise who he is.  Cleveland, on the other hand, constantly, desperately seeks out his own father’s approval.  With a name like Freight Train, you can’t really expect the guy to show a whole lot of emotion toward his son, or even his wife, Cookie.  He repeatedly cheats on her, leading her to run off with George Clinton during a concert (When a Man, or Freight Train, Loves His Cookie), adopts Donna’s ex-husband Robert during a trip to Vegas, and only invites Cleveland to go to a low rider show because he’s screwed up his medication and is going crazy.  His only interests seem to be an obsession with Tab soda and sports.  At least he does try to get Junior to work out, even though his grandson ends up taking pole dancing lessons instead.  How does a kid that big end up doing so well at pole dancing?In addition to his highly dysfunctional family, Cleveland has an odd assortment of friends that he hangs out with at the Broken Stool bar.  One of them is a talking bear named Tim, something I’ve never really understood.  Lester is a stereotypical redneck who is married to scooter-bound Kendra, but he has one shining moment in Episode 11 (Pins, Spins and Fins!) when he gets to show off his carny skills by running one of the rides in a closed down amusement park.  Small guy Holt enjoys spinning in the Rotor because his mom used to put him in the dryer, but after spinning around for a bit too long, there’s a giant puke fest not unlike the one seen in the movie Stand By Me.  Tim’s wife Arianna is a little on the snooty side, exchanging snide remarks with Donna and competing against her in a Thanksgiving parade float contest (Episode 3, Turkey Pot Die).  One thing I did like about this particular episode was the massive turkey rescue undertaken by Cleveland and Junior.  One of the turkeys gives Junior a kiss, and he exclaims, “He put his pecker in my mouth!”
Still, the show doesn’t go out of its way to be vulgar, a definite plus considering some cringe worthy lines from similar cartoons.  The characters aren’t very nice to each other (one good example is Cleveland’s miserable wedding vow renewal in Here Comes the Bribe), and even their marriage counselor ends up being a corrupt quack who takes bribes just to turn each counseling session to Cleveland’s favor.  Let me put it this way…if my husband I treated each other the way any of the married couples in this show do, I would be calling him my ex-husband by now.  I don’t know how every episode winds up with even a semi-happy ending with all the bickering, lying, insults, backstabbing, cheating, and severe lack of parenting skills. Final review:  Is The Cleveland Show one of the worst animated series in television history?  Probably not, but before I started reviewing it, it was the one cartoon I would skip during the Sunday night lineup.  Very rarely has it made me laugh.  I don’t know why Cleveland was chosen for a Family Guy spinoff when Quagmire and Joe are more interesting characters, but who knows if either of them would be successful?  I haven’t heard yet if a fifth season is in the works, but I’m kind of hoping it isn’t.
Den of Geek Rating:  2 out of 5 stars


2 out of 5