The announcement that Cleveland Brown, of Fox's “Family Guy,” was leaving fictional Quahog, R.I., for his own series left many fans scratching their heads in wonderment. Compared with Peter, Stewie and Quagmire, the Cleveland character typically came across as flat, an odd island of normalcy in a sea of insanity. But as creator and producer Seth MacFarlane sees it, Cleveland's Everyman status is what ultimately will differentiate this series from its parent.
To that end, MacFarlane is right. The move to put an arguably average character at the center of an animated series is a bold one, especially when contrasted with the over-the-top buffoonery of animated contemporaries Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin and Stan Smith. In many ways, the character of Cleveland has as much in common with Hank Hill (“King of the Hill”) as the central figures of MacFarlane's other two prime-time properties.
Granted, forming a standalone Cleveland Brown requires some work, which comes through in the first act of the pilot. It has Cleveland leaving Quahog to pursue his dreams of being a baseball scout in California, only to find himself sidelined in his hometown of Stoolbend, Va., a fictional town that's mercilessly cribbed from real-life Richmond. Leaving New England gives “The Cleveland Show” a whole new canvas of stereotypes and local peculiarities to work with, including a family of religious bears, more than a handful of rednecks and a healthy amount of postracial humor.
The animated series' plots tend to evoke traditional sitcom fare, a setup that creates a unique mixture of family-oriented humor that skews toward the crude and absurd. On its own, the setup seems awkward, but when viewed in relation to those who grew up with “Family Guy,” viewers who are now parents themselves, the more mature premise is fitting. As the viewers aged from teens to parents, so did the show's catering to their particular humor.
“The Cleveland Show” provides equal parts family bonding, irreverent celebrity roasting and more than the occasional poop joke. Add subtle extras such as political pundit Arianna Huffington voicing a bear and some distinctly Southern humor, and the show becomes a nice addition to Fox's Sunday night animation block. Taken as “Family Guy” meets “King of the Hill,” the show makes perfect sense.