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The Cleveland Show: The Complete Season One DVD

By Mark Clapham on 13 October 2010

The formula of Seth MacFarlane’s animated series is straightforward: there’s a family, and the dad also has a set of drinking buddies. There’ll be at least one inexplicably talking animal, loads of pop culture references, and at least one scene per episode where a character says something ‘is like that time when…’ and we cut to a wholly unrelated skit about a celebrity/historical figure doing something incongruous.

‘The Cleveland Show’ does not mess with that formula, as successfully deployed in ‘Family Guy’ (from which it’s a spin-off) and ‘American Dad’. It does do a little to impose it’s own identity on the template though, from the disco-funk soundtrack to the warmer colour palette of its Virginia setting. There’s a  late 70s/early 80s vibe running through the title sequence into the rest of the show’s aesthetic.

Otherwise, it’s largely business as usual. In the first episode Cleveland Brown gets tired of being a sidekick in ‘Family Guy’ and leaves with his teenage son Cleveland Brown Junior, and in a very efficient twenty minute pilot he finds himself back in his home town of Stoolbend, Virginia, and married to his high school sweetheart, who has two kids from a previous relationship.

Throw in Cleveland’s wife’s useless ex-husband and a motley collection of neighbours/drinking buddies, including a bear with an East European accent and a secret smoking habit, and you have all the elements in place for a MacFarlane sitcom, right down to the scene-stealing infant (in this case Cleveland’s step-son, the mightily-afro’d Rallo). The first series gets a lot of mileage out of the new family coming together and Cleveland settling into his new life, but also has time for the usual musical numbers and outright comic non-sequiturs.

Business as usual then, and while the jokes may not be half as daring or ground-breaking as the producers would like to think, ‘The Cleveland Show’ does retain that ‘Family Guy’ quality of being eminently watchable. Even if one gag fails, there are always two or three more close behind, and these shows have a rhythm that makes watching three episodes in a row entirely painless fun. There’s some staggeringly bad taste, offensive material here, but if you’ve seen ‘Family Guy’ then you know the score, and these are entirely measured, toothless shocks.

If you like this sort of thing, then you’ll tear through all twenty-one episodes of the first season in no time. There are an impressive range of extras in the set, including behind-the-scenes docs, commentaries, as well as deleted scenes. The behind-the-scenes and promotional stuff is most interesting, as the cast and crew talk about developing the show and setting it apart from it’s parent programme.

Although something like this can seem incredibly lazy – ‘South Park’ once depicted the ‘Family Guy’ writing team as manatees in a tank, pushing together strings of pop culture references scrawled on the side of floating balls to create jokes – clearly a lot of thought went into differentiating the show.

On a special feature one of the actors describes ‘The Cleveland Show’ as having ’soul’, and while like the disco-funk music that could be seen as a very lazy extrapolation from the show being about an African-American family, it seems more an extension of the lead character’s personality: Cleveland Brown is a nice, thoughtful guy, and ‘The Cleveland Show’ is just plain nicer than its stablemates.

While the characters throw around cruel one-liners, at heart the relationships between the family and friends in the show are generally benign, with the core cast liking each other and no-one being as selfish as Peter Griffin, as malicious as Stewie or twisted as Quagmire.

As such, while critics may question how Seth MacFarlane has managed to get three variations on the same format on the air at once, it’s hard to hold that against ‘The Cleveland Show’ itself which, at least while it’s fresh in this first season, feels like the liveliest of the bunch. If you like these shows, this is a DVD collection worth getting.

You can buy ‘The Cleveland Show: The Complete Season One’ on DVD from Amazon.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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