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"The Cleveland Show: Season 1" African-American Dad or Black Family Guy?

The Cleveland Show is a spin-off from Family Guy. But is it nothing more than, as they joke in a commentary, “Black Family Guy”?

Comparison to Family Guy are unavoidable, and it is full of familiar tropes. Cleveland is Peter, if only much more loving to his family and less idiotic. Donna is the traditional “smart wife having to hold the family together/attractive woman married to unattractive man” that is seen in half of all sitcoms ever filmed or animated, but she does have the rarity of being a divorcee. Roberta’s the flighty, teenage girl that’s not interested in school and can use her looks. Rallo is, at worse “straight Stewie” or “pre-kindergarten Quagmire”, and is best played balancing his attempts at being an adult combined with moments of truly being a kid; one notable moment is him in his best Hugh Hefner attire, being swung around like a plane. Cleveland Jr., vastly changed from his Family Guy interpretation, is now at a very Chris Griffin-like “fat and slow” character, but shows moments of incredible skill: Cleveland sums him up as possibly the “most stupid or smartest person he knows”, and his rap with Kanye West will stick in your head. Cleveland’s friends fill the “talking animal, local stereotype, and over-masculine” tropes, being more caricatures than actual characters, but they all have their moment or episodes to shine.

The show also maintains the standard MacFarlane character designs (despite throwing out Cleveland Jr. completely). In fact, a good chunk of the first episode is given a full Family Guy look, complete with that show’s production title colors and even its aspect ratio. (As soon as we go from Family Guy to The Cleveland Show, though, the show goes from fullscreen to widescreen.) The voice cast has many of the mainstays from the other productions, with the new cast melding near-seamlessly into the others (the voice actress for Roberta changes a few episodes in, and despite being thrown off by the change for an episode or two, becomes an accepted and acceptable part of the voice cast). The music depends less on showtunes and is less annoying than Family Guy, and more entertaining and modern.

While many of the plots and storylines seem like they could fit in Quahog with Peter’s family, the show definitely has a different feeling. While Family Guy has slowly morphed into pop-culture references with social or political commentary (much like South Park), The Cleveland Show seems to actually shed the pop-culture references for more family sitcom plots and stylings; in fact, many of the episodes show a lot more heart than ever seen in Family Guy. While an intentionally sappy episode of Family Guy might end with Peter debasing Meg, a normal episode of The Cleveland Show might end with him understanding his son better. Sure, a bear might have accidentally done cocaine in the episode, but it’s definitely done with a more sincere feeling. This isn’t to say The Cleveland Show is the second coming of The Cosby Show, but it’s definitely more heartfelt than most animated shows aimed at an adult audience today.

This five disc set is packed with extras, and that’s not a euphemism. The DVD case can barely close with the amount of stuff in it. Humorously, the slip case also has a furry mustache on Cleveland’s face; it’s one of those unique bits that will make it stand out on your shelf a little bit more, if only from people wanting to rub his mustache. Nearly half of the episodes have commentaries; a few come with the television edits on top of the uncut DVD edits; and all of them come with deleted scenes. A fifth disc comes with nothing but “clips to go”, which you can load to iTunes. On the final disc, there’s also a few featurettes: one half-hour covers the cast and characters, and even covers the changes from Family Guy and the original pitch. The “Get Your Hump On” music video with Earth, Wind, And Fire is accompanied by a making-of featurette. Additionally, there’s a full table read for the “Brotherly Love” episode, with guest voice actors Kanye West and Taraji P. Henson.

Early into it, it’s completely understandable and expected to write this off as “Black Family Guy.” You need to give it a chance, though, as it comes to have a completely different vibe. You’ll fall in love with his mustached face.

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