On more recent episodes of “The Cleveland Show,” I’ve noticed a fun element of deconstruction to the proceedings that I don’t recall being there before. Granted, I wasn’t taking notes and paying extra close attention before I started reviewing the show this season, so it’s possible it’s always been an element of the show that they indulged in from time to time, but whatever the case, I like it.
I’ve always gotten a kick out of the whole notion of breaking the so-called the “fourth wall,” in which a show or movie lets you know they’re in on the joke, too. I remember seeing a lot of it in movies when I was a kid, in 80’s movies like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” where someone would talk directly to the camera; or in off-the-rails stuff like Mel Brooks’ work, where he would routinely do something unexpected- like the bit in “Blazing Saddles” at the end, where the movie we’ve been watching collides with the “real world” (or at least the “movie world”) and things go completely haywire.
In past episodes recently, we’ve seen Cleveland demand a retake of a particular line or stage a scene on a soundstage that we as viewers thought was “real” and so on and so forth. I dig that sort of thing, and to me, it helps make the show more interesting and clever. On this particular episode, “Squirt’s Honor,” we had a “walk-on” from a fan (Gene Oshman, who might have won a contest for the honor- I couldn’t find any evidence one way or another online), followed by his giving a shout-out to his family before getting a reprimand at Rallo’s behest: “Get your ass out of my shot!”
Later on, Rallo put on his best puppy-dog face and flat-out begged in baby talk before the commercial break: “Stay tuned, Amer-‘wica- we need the ‘watings!” Indeed, they do, as the show is on the chopping block as of recently, due to, yes, bad ratings. Maybe that’s because, despite their pointing out about “standard sitcom policy” within the episode itself, showing that they are indeed aware of what they do, they still do it nonetheless. Simply pointing it out doesn’t make it funnier when you do it anyway, you know?
There was also a bit where Cleveland Junior put on a sash that was too small for his large frame and it popped off, slinging merit badges into the “camera” and shattering it, followed by a “cliffhanger” of sorts in a re-animated Larry the Leopard (who CJ decapitated earlier in the episode) coming back to “life” and threatening to have his revenge on CJ, which was actually sort of attention-getting in a surprisingly creepy way.
I like all of these fun touches- they’re really clever and I wish the rest of the show lived up to this level of creativity. Alas, for the most part, the show leans heavily on tired jokes about CJ’s weight (Rallo, on joining the Boy Scouts like CJ: “It’s for squares…or circles, in his case.”) and snide jokes from one character at another’s expense (Cleveland’s dig at his wife, after the manager gives them an upgraded room: “Can you upgrade her? How am I supposed to sleep with that?”).
Sure there’s occasionally a well-phrased line with a none-too-subtle double meaning, as with CJ’s assessment of Rallo’s seemingly positive behavior: “I’m so proud of you, Rallo. You were so cynical, but I touched you, and if I can touch you, think of how many other boys I can touch.” It’s an easy line, but a pretty funny one. Ditto the “Angry Birds” riff: “How’s a man supposed to fling a bird at a pig after that?”
The show also fares well with visual puns, such as Cleveland’s “relaxed” hair (and it’s subsequent “un-relaxing”- see above) or the bits with the birds, and I love it when they coin wacky terminology, as they did here with “trumpellets” and “hisassed” (the opposite of “harassed”). I also laughed when Cleveland shouted “Aflac!” after being “goosed”- get it? Yeah, I know, it’s corny, but I still giggled.
The bits with the teens Rallo horns in on for a piece of their chocolate scam were amusing, too, especially the nicknames: “Blades, Puffs, Loafer and Plurals,” the latter of which spoke in unnecessary plurals, such as “That dudes is a dicks.” Their off-key rendition of the “American Idol”-standard “A Moment like This” was also pretty funny, complete with Blades’ roller skating and confetti-throwing, showing that his faux-tough nickname was actually derived from a less-than-cool activity, not something like a switchblade.
Unfortunately, this stuff is sandwiched in between a lot of standard, easy humor that doesn’t really deliver the goods more often than not. I suspect that maybe having three animated sitcoms on the air at the same time make it a bit tough to maintain a certain level of quality for Seth MacFarlane and his people, so maybe it’s time we let this one go. After all, it’s basically a threadbare spin on sister show “Family Guy,” anyway.
So is “American Dad” technically, but at least it has political humor that “FG” doesn’t usually, as well as a much more surreal tone, what with Roger the alien and the German goldfish. That leaves “Cleveland” and the prognosis isn’t good for the show’s future, if the ratings are any indication. That’s almost too bad, as the show occasionally has its moments, particularly when it sets its aim on more racially-charged material, plus where else can you see David Lynch as an animated character? Unfortunately, the writing just isn’t up to the level it should be most of the time, and that’s what makes this show the most expendable of the three MacFarlane shows.
Only five shows to go…will this be the last we see of “The Cleveland Show”? Let me know what you think in the comments!