Long gestating as a spinoff of “Family Guy,” Fox’s “The Cleveland Show” arrives Sunday (8:30 p.m. EDT) and proves to be just as rude-crude as its progenitor. But there is a key difference: “The Cleveland Show” has more warmth that flows from its gentle title character, Cleveland Brown (voice of Mike Henry, also the show’s co-creator).
The premiere begins when Cleveland decides to move out of Quahog, R.I., showing his farewells to the “Family Guy” characters.
“What the hell, he’s getting his own show?!?” Stewie exclaims as credits for “The Cleveland Show” roll.
Cleveland and son Cleveland Jr. (Kevin Michael Richardson) plan a move to California, but first Cleveland wants to stop in his hometown, Stoolbend, Va. There he gets reacquainted with his high-school crush, Donna (Sanaa Lathan), and meets her two kids: teen-ager Roberta (Reagan Gomez-Preston) and kindergartener/troublemaker Rallo (Henry again).
Roberta’s dating a loser named Federline Jones -- any resemblance to Kevin Federline is purely intentional -- and Rallo got kicked out of school. Donna realizes the children need a man in their lives. After some complications with her ex-significant other, Donna and Cleveland marry and blend their families.
To give Cleveland a gang of guys to play off, like he had on “Family Guy,” “The Cleveland Show” is populated with three friends for Cleveland: the redneck Lester (Richardson again), short neighbor Holt (Jason Sudeikis) and a pair of talking bears with scrambled accents, Tim (Seth MacFarlane, also the show’s co-creator) and his wife Arianna (Arianna Huffington).
Tim is by far the most amusing creation.
“Ahhhh! A bear!” Cleveland exclaims when he meets Donna’s neighbor.
“Ahhhh! A black man,” Tim replies. “You see, it don’t feel so good, does it? It’s very reductive.”
Like “Family Guy,” “The Cleveland Show” jumps from the main plot to tangential asides often built around pop culture. But the show’s tone is different because Cleveland is such a well-meaning, likable character. He’s not a lout like Peter Griffin on “Family Guy.”
Producers said that’s an intentional difference between the two series.
“There just wasn’t enough screen time on ('Family Guy’) for a lot of the stuff that was getting pitched (for Cleveland),” Henry said at a Fox press conference last month in Pasadena, Calif. “He’s just a full, pretty well-rounded character with heart.”
Producers want “Cleveland” to stand on its own, but there will be crossovers with “Family Guy” and MacFarlane’s third Fox series, “American Dad,” when appropriate.
“The theory is that in this alternate parallel cartoon universe, Quahog and Langley (on 'American Dad’) and Stoolbend all exist in the same universe,” MacFarlane said.
“Family Guy’s” Quagmire visits “Cleveland” in its first season and the Browns return to “Family Guy” in an episode airing next spring.