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'The Cleveland Show': A sweet family guy. But was it a good spin-off for you?

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The Cleveland Show has a more easygoing pace and a somewhat sweeter tone than Family Guy. (I know, I know: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian has a sweeter tone than Family Guy.) This week’s premiere set up the premise, prying Cleveland away from Peter Griffin and Quahog, Rhode Island, establishing him in Virginia with a new marriage and two step-children. Along for the life-change is Cleveland, Jr., and if you got past a lot of fat jokes directed at the kid that were at once mean and totally predictable, The Cleveland Show had its charms. At the very least, it’s a lot funnier and more endearing than the other product from the Seth MacFarlane factory, American Dad.

What The Cleveland Show has going for it is Cleveland’s life experience as a middle-aged black man. I’ve always liked the way Mike Henry (obligatory mention here that Henry is white) voices Cleveland with a slight drawl that matches his more leisurely, patient approach to life. This is a characteristic of his that also appeals to his new wife, Donna. And I  like the Soul Train-style opening credits that both fit Cleveland’s idea of nostalgia and are novel for a new cartoon show.

Speaking of cartoons, I’ve read some reviews that knock The Cleveland Show for having a talking bear as a next-door neighbor, saying that this is an unimaginative rip-off of Family Guy‘s talking dog. Um, I think talking animals have been around in cartoons since the sound era of movies. You can fault Seth MacFarlane and company for a lot of things, and, to be sure, I’ve been doing so as far back as 1999. But double-use of a talking furry creature isn’t one of them. Besides, I like this smoking, necktie-wearing, vaguely-European-accented bear, Tim — he’s something unique in the MacFarlane universe; namely, droll.

Next week’s episode of The Cleveland Show has a few stupid Family Guy crudities including calling a certain film performer a “gross indie porno actress.” But in general, The Cleveland Show has something original going on — fast-paced whimsy — that makes it worth watching.

Did you watch it? What did you think?