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A Requiem for The Cleveland Show

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 12 May 2014 19:00
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My favorite character, though, and the one I'm most hoping finds a regular place in the Family Guy rotation, is Cleveland Junior; who might be the most endearing and real-feeling "nerd" character on modern TV.

He seems like a walking joke at first: a literal circle of a human with glasses and a classic "wear fat kid" voice whose personality alternates between hyper-intelligence and sheltered-immaturity. Most modern TV "nerds" strain to convince us of their own lack of coolness in a 21st Century world that's bent over backwards to accommodate them, but Junior's outsider-status is genuine. He lives in a world of stuffed animals and geeky TV shows not out of adherence to retro-cool but because he's a true-blue late bloomer; and his manchild (teen-child, really) naivete drives some of the series' sweetest and most triumphant moments - starting with his classic rap-battle against "locally famous rapper Kenny West" (Kanye) that in retrospect established the tone for the whole series: On Family Guy, a "nerd proves himself to the cool kids" moment like this would be immediately undermined; but on The Cleveland Show they play out straight-faced.

Even better was "It's The Great Pancake, Cleveland Brown," a Halloween episode where Junior is depressed to learn that, as a 14-year-old boy, he's the only member of his family who (according to Cleveland) can't "appropriately" wear a Halloween costume (Rallo can because he's a baby, the adults can because it's ironic, Roberta can because girls "can use it as an excuse to dress slutty," etc.) He opts to put on his pancake costume and trick-or-treat anyway, but gets bullied and decides to remake himself as a "man" the next day by junking his childish things ("Goodbye giant crayon. I'm gonna miss making believe you were a regular sized crayon and a wizard shrunk me.") Cleveland encourages this, but when he wakes up to the fact that Junior is still a target for bullies and now miserable to boot he takes drastic steps to set things right. It's still a "funny" episode, but Richardson's sincerely wrenching delivery as Junior finally breaks down and admits "I miss me" elicits emotions that Family Guy had to kill a dog to pull from its viewers.

But Junior's (and maybe the show's) crowning achievement was "Hot Cocoa Bang Bang," aka "The Comic-Con" episode; wherein Cleveland drags the family to the San Diego Comic-Con to try and sell his (terrible) indie-comic to publishers. It's the expected deluge of geek-culture references, but executed in such a way as to never once feel obvious or cloying - that's not easy to pull off, considering one of the visual gags involves Harry Knowles and Kevin Smith sumo-wrestling over a corndog (later, a Buffy fan uses a riot as an excuse to stake Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart to death.) It's all about the fun details, like Junior's MST3K Jumpsuit cosplay (complete with Tom Servo, previously a background-joke among his toys) and the fun main story of Donna finding out that an embarrassing "Blaxploitation" movie she acted in in her youth being revived at the 'con as a "lost classic." The big showpiece, Junior leading a violent fandom-revolt against TV studios crowding out fans and booths with trendy showcases for stuff that has nothing to do with the 'con.

But, oh well. So ends The Cleveland Show. I liked it while it lasted, maybe everyone else will like it after the fact.

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