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Monday, January 30, 2012

The Cleveland Show is, surprise, all about Cleveland

     Last night's episode of FOX's The Cleveland Show is called "There Goes El Neighborhood." Junior's (Kevin Michael Richardson) aunt by marriage, Choni (Rosie Perez, Lipstick Jungle, Pineapple Express), builds a McMansion across the street from Cleveland (Mike Henry). This steals Cleveland's thunder, and ruins his Superbowl party. Confronting Choni, she accuses Cleveland of being racist. Cleveland does his best to prove that that isn't the case, and restore his role as the popular man on his street.

     Props to The Cleveland Show for sticking with continuity. When Junior marries Cecilia (Elia Saldana), and especially after the whole thing is revealed to be a green card arrangement, one does not expect the new Latina characters to stick. Yet, like in other Seth MacFarlance projects, sometimes the characters in The Cleveland Show are allowed to grow and have arcs that extend beyond one episode. Thus, it appears that Cecilia and Choni are poised to stick around, at least for a little while. This alone sets it apart from some of the other sitcoms and animated shows on the air, and boosts the overall quality of the series.

     "There Goes El Neighborhood" continues the trend from the previous episode of poking fun at Latino stereotypes. Cleveland is shown to think that they all look alike and eat lots of tacos. Considering that The Cleveland Show is created by white men, and the titular African American character is also voiced by a Caucasian, viewers may not expect the series to go after race quite so aggressively. In fact, black culture is not a primary element to the show, perhaps owing to the fact that most of Cleveland's friends are white. But adding this new ethnic flavor actually works rather well. And while Cleveland can be as insensitive as Peter on Family Guy, at least he cares what others think, and works to change his behavior. That's at the heart of this episode, though the story thankfully avoids being preachy or too sappy.

     Even better is when Cleveland and Choni come to the conclusion that they aren't racist, but rather, they just don't care for each other. Sometimes, in modern society, conflict can be attributed to larger issues, when it's a simple clash of personalities. It's nice to see the story in "There Goes El Neighborhood" dealt with in such a way, which keeps things light and semi-realistic.

     There is one small complaint about this episode. In an early joke, Cleveland builds a sky box in his living room for the Superbowl party. In the scene showing the party, the sky box is gone. It's not disappointing that the construction, as solid and permanent as it looks, doesn't last beyond this episode, as that is to be expected. But since Cleveland says that he builds it for this specific party, couldn't it have been kept at least through that event? Perhaps that's asking too much of a silly cartoon, but it shouldn't be.

     In the B plot of "There Goes El Neighborhood," Junior sets Cecilia up on a Valentine's Day date, then waffles on whether he wants her to go through with it or not, alternately strong arming and threatening the poor guy who's interested in her. It's cool that the potential date is not a jerk, even though he looks like a jock. And yes, he is more appropriate, going by physical appearance at least, for Cecilia than Junior, but that's not really the point of the story. The question is, does Junior really love Cecilia, and will he make a real romantic play for her? Junior has been shown to be too shy to be overly sexual, and Cecilia, as an older girl, wants more physical aspects of a relationship than Junior is ready to give. His jealousy is understandable, but the two just aren't compatible right now, and hopefully Junior can understand that, whether he eventually decides to seriously pursue his wife or not.

     The Cleveland Show airs Sunday nights on FOX. Since the Animation Domination schedule has more shows than time slots right now, keep an eye on listings for the broadcast time, as it has been known to move around.

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