Spinoffs are risky business. It’s easy to look at a popular supporting character and say, “Man, I wish that guy had his own show,” but that doesn’t take into account the amount of time that a totally new show has to fill, and whether a character that works in small doses could actually support those sizeable demands. For every Frasier, there are a hundred Joeys. So it’s not really that surprising that The Cleveland Show got canceled (though there are, I’m sure, a few other reasons for that).
“He’s Bla-ack!” marks Cleveland’s return to Family Guy as a regular presence (though he’s appeared on a few episodes this past season), and for that reason alone it’s easy enough to like this episode. I was never a huge fan of The Cleveland Show—it gave in to all of the worst impulses of the MacFarlane empire fare more than Family Guy does—but Cleveland himself was a good supporting character on Family Guy. His passivity was a nice element of the guys’ group dynamic (if this episode is any indication he’s being slotted nicely into a role as a pushover), and in his absence, Joe has been the brunt of a lot of sad, sad jokes that have sort of been run into the ground in a similar fashion to the “Meg is gross” material. Hopefully having a reason to use a new character will also give the show the opportunity to make a few new jokes, too.
But I have to come to, if not praise The Cleveland Show, at least not go all in on mocking it, because this episode really does not hold back in making fun of the deceased spinoff. In a rare (for this show) cold open, Peter, Joe, and Quagmire just let loose on Cleveland and The Cleveland Show. These are pretty good jokes, though it’s a little convenient for Family Guy to talk about how little point there was to The Cleveland Show when someone must have thought it was a good idea. (The best of these asked who, exactly, was the target audience of The Cleveland Show: “Some black guy who’s never met another black guy?”)
After getting the roast of Cleveland out of the way (he’ll never say anything in response, am I right guys?) we get to the real plot of the episode: Donna calls attention to the fact that the Griffins are, in fact, terrible parents, but spanks Chris as punishment for breaking one of her vases. Putting aside actual questions of parenting ability (the Griffins are absolutely horrible parents, but it’s probably not cool to spank other people’s kids, even if you simultaneously make racist jokes about Japanese people), this is a decent enough motivator for Donna and Lois conspiring to keep Peter and Cleveland separate for another few minutes. But the stakes here—Peter and Cleveland not being allowed to hang out—don’t really mean anything. Obviously there are never going to be real stakes on this show, but it’s even less interesting when we know that the whole point of the episode is to reintroduce Cleveland to Quahog.
The bulk of the episode is, to put it lightly, hit-or-miss—there are a ton of bad race jokes (Peter and Joe beating Cleveland was particularly horrible) and a joke about Peter having a collection of child pornography, which is just terrible. But at least there’s another solid jab at Brian’s “color blind” attitude (he fist bumps people in Lids), and a lengthy silent sequence of Peter, Cleveland, and Quagmire communicating with Morse code that was somehow simultaneously lazy and impressive.
The deficits of ”He’s Bla-ack!” are not small, but they’re slightly easier to overlook getting caught up in the very sitcom-like pleasantness of just hanging out with Cleveland again in a non-Cleveland Show setting. The cheesy flashback montage of bro moments between Cleveland and Peter (which I am pretty sure was of actual clips from earlier episodes) was just as cynical as everything else Family Guy does these days, but it was also effective at what it was trying to do. Cleveland and Peter may never be this close again in any given episode, but it’s nice to have him back anyway.
- Unofficial cutaway counter: six.
- I appreciated Stewie calling Rollo a Boondocks ripoff, shouting out one of my other regular beats her.
- Okay, let’s beat up on The Cleveland Show now.