james debate
james debate

Thursday 27 August 2009

Written by Mike Henry, Seth MacFarlane
Starring Mike Henry, Sanaa Lanthan, Kevin Michael Richardson
Broadcast date 27th September 2009
Running time 23 minutes

cleveland show pilot review

Oh boy. Well we weren't sure it was ever going to happen or if it was all some elaborate joke, but it has finally arrived. We have seen the pilot for the new Family Guy spin off, The Cleveland Show.

Yeah, that's right. Family Guy's most unfunny, most boring character has been given his own show. It's the sort of awful, so bad it's amusing for about 30 seconds kind of idea that you would have expected to see as one of those random cutaway jokes on Family Guy, like when Peter imagined he had his own 80s sitcom, My Black Son, or on Scrubs the bit imagining if Ted and Janitor had their own show called Legal Custodians.

Unfortunately whereas these so bad it's kinda funny ideas had the good decency to exist only as parody on a much better tv show, the Cleveland Show appears to be entirely oblivious to the joke. The show even opens with its own awful 80s style sitcom theme song that frankly can't possibly be doing anything other than taking the piss out of itself.

Now make no mistake. Even though the writing credits have Seth MacFarlane's name on it, this is firmly Mike Henry's baby. Henry, who voices Cleveland, has basically just ripped off the Family Guy formula here, complete with random cutaway jokes, wacky neighbours (more on them in a minute) and a talking baby who's far more intelligent and worldly than he should be. The problem is, Henry just isn't anywhere near as funny as he thinks he is.

The basic plotline sees Cleveland leaving Quahog with his son Cleveland Jr (who has inexplicably evolved from a small hyperactive kid into a fat, slow talking, hypoactive kid) and head to start up a new life in Cleveland's hometown.

The episode opens with a scene that could be straight out of Family Guy, with Cleveland sitting around at the bar with Peter, Quagmire and Joe explaining his predicament, and early on it's clear why this show just won't work.

After the announcement of this spin off show well over a year ago, it seems the writers on Family Guy attempted to 'spice up' the character of Cleveland, making him 'funnier' (read: more of a stereotypical loud black guy). Remember the episode from last season (or was it the season before?) of Family Guy where Cleveland sleeps with Brian's girlfriend? A mediocre episode featuring a revitalized Cleveland who was suddenly making jokes and using hip slang in stark contrast to the previously dull nature of his character? Well this is basically an entire show based around that premise that was already completely worn out after just that 20 minute episode.

Either that or I'm just missing why Mike Henry shouting "You're a dog!" and "I guess they did!" over and over in his most stereotypical black guy voice is meant to be funny. Really I'm not skipping over anything, those lines are meant to be the jokes, there's nothing more to those lines. At times it's almost embarrassingly unfunny.

Even some of the few mildly amusing segments, such as early on Lois and Bonnie making out, are ruined by Cleveland bursting into laughter and shouting 'DAMN!" in that ethnic stereotypical way, which clearly Mike Henry feels is the perfect punchline to any joke. In fact this is a great example of one of the things I hate most about this show. It thinks it's much funnier than it is and pretty much every joke Cleveland is involved with involves him bursting out laughing at his own joke. Yeah that's right, the characters laugh at their own jokes. Seriously, if I hear that Cleveland laugh one more time I'm going to hit someone.

Cleveland runs into his old flame Donna and spends the rest of the episode trying to get with her. She lets him stay at her place and we meet her kids, the sexually precocious baby Rallo, and her jailbait daughter Roberta. Roberta has one of the only funny moments of the show, describing how she had to fight off "six Al Qaedas" but otherwise seems a boring and thin character. Rallo on the other hand seems the only mildly interesting character on the show, but again seems like a character best suited to a 5 minute cameo on Family Guy rather than his own show.

And then there's the neighbors. There's the racist redneck Lester, the ultra extreme wannabe hipster Holt who lives with his mom, and the anthropomorphic bear Tim who, yep, is a fucking talking bear. Not only that, he's Italian or something with a full on accent, and if your sides aren't already splitting he's a religious christian who keeps going on about Jesus! Also he's dimwitted and sounds like a mix between Barney Gumble and Peter from Family Guy's co-worker Fouad who doesn't get sarcasm. Comedy gold as you can see.

So Cleveland starts to pass his wisdom onto the kids, and ends up the episode marrying Donna and forming a nice happy family. The end. Did I mention that all the random cutaway jokes seem like terrible imitations of Family Guy? Kind of like some random fan decided to write his own fan script complete with his own jokes that he thinks are 'just as funny' as the real thing, but aren't.

The episode ends with an actually quite sweet musical montage of years gone by to the tune of 'How Deep is Your Love', but even that is undermined by really unfunny visuals.

It's not at all funny, that much is clear. One has to wonder then, whether this show is just 'bad' or if it's intentionally so bad it's funny. Frankly even if it's the latter, that just isn't a good concept for a full tv series. If Mike Henry wants to come out now and tell us that it was all a joke and they were never really going to make it into a show then i'll play ball and accept it, I'll even find it a pretty funny gag.

Otherwise save yourself the effort and avoid a frankly terrible 25 minutes of television. That FOX have already ordered two seasons of this makes a damning statement about what they think of the average tv viewer. This is basically Family Guy for thick people. Oh and if Seth MacFarlane reads this, take your name off the show, it's going to kill your reputation.

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