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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “A kinder, gentler Seth MacFarlane surfaces in ‘The Cleveland Show'”

    Besides winning an Emmy last week for her creation “”30 Rock,””Tina Feyshould have been handed a blue ribbon for delivering the most telling zinger of the broadcast. “”Let’s linger in this magical time at the beginning of the evening,”” she said while co-presenting an award, “”when everyone is still a winner andSeth MacFarlaneis only pretty drunk.””

    The butt of the joke, who cracked up on cue, may have looked unfamiliar to most viewers (he resembles a grown-upBobby Brady), but his reputation as Hollywood’s ultimate frat boy is well known to anyone who has whispered crass “”Family Guy”” lines the morning after a new episode.

    That series, along with “”American Dad”” and his latest, “”The Cleveland Show,”” have made MacFarlane one of the richest men in show business and the sworn enemy of anyone who pines for the softer, gentler days of animation. For the rest of us, MacFarlane provides deep, dark pleasure. While its older, more sensible big brother, “”The Simpsons,”” still prides itself in delivering pathos, “”Family Guy”” is concerned only with delivering punches, more specifically, sucker punches to the groin.

    Tonight’s season premiere (at 9), in which the devilish baby Stewie and his wonder dog, Brian, pop in and out of alternative universes, gives our inner juvenile delinquents plenty of reasons to snicker. The pair find thatJohn Hinckley, notMichelangelo, has graced the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, opting for cutout pictures ofJodie Foster. A trip to a Walt Disney-inspired world leaves them giddy, until the seemingly gentle characters reveal themselves as anti-Semites. A Japanese version ofPeter Griffinpasses gas over the head of his dead daughter.

    “”Family Guy”” doesn’t just push the envelope; it burns it to ashes. At times it’s disgusting (Griffin’s callous treatment of his daughter always leaves me cold), but the sick pleasure of the show is witnessing just how far it’s willing to go.

    “”American Dad,”” which also starts a new season tonight (at 9:30), doesn’t have quite the same gumption, although there’s a scene in whichKurt Cobainchooses to kill himself rather than make love to a gassyCourtney Lovethat stoops to MacFarlane’s “”standards.””

    “”The Cleveland Show”” (8:30 tonight), a direct spinoff of “”Family Guy,”” is an attempt to show off MacFarlane’s sweeter, more sentimental side. The only problem: I don’t think he has one.

    In the new series,Cleveland Brown,Peter Griffin’seasygoing pal, moves back to his hometown of Stoolbend, Va., after his wife leaves him. Once there, he rekindles a romance with his high school sweetheart and finds himself adopting a new family with two sassy kids. Meanwhile, two well-meaning bears reside next door.

    Cleveland and the other characters try to be bad, but — to borrow from Toontown’s Jessica Rabbit — they’re just not drawn that way. There’s not one despicable jerk in the bunch.

    One episode even concludes with Cleveland building a bridge with his stepdaughter at a school dance. (In “”Family Guy,”” Peter would have hurled his child over the bleachers and made out with the head cheerleader.)

    “”I think, fundamentally, you’re going to find a tonal difference in the way the stories play out,”” MacFarlane said recently. “”You’re starting with a character that’s more the eye of the hurricane than the hurricane itself, which is kind of unusual for us. I mean, he’s a little nuts in his own right, but he’s the one desperately trying to keep it all together. “”

    That approach may earn MacFarlane a softer mattress in hell, but it’s a bitter disappointment to those of us who watch his work only to cringe and cackle. That may not be an honorable reaction, but it’s a honest one.

    ———

    (c) 2009, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

    Visit the Star Tribune Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.startribune.com

    Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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