We get it, Betty White, old people can be funny and foul-mouthed. "Golden Girls" was wonderful and we thanked you for being a "friend" in the '80's, but retirement called and it isn't a fan of "Betty White's Off Our Rockers" (where seniors play pranks on young people, who look utterly confused - "was I just punked by AARP?" - after the seniors run off; they may as well have titled it "Stupid Old People Tricks"), either. While White does get a few laughs in a supporting role in this series, bring back the old Betty White.
Airing on TV Land (just try and find it), the series was produced by Suzanne Marin ("Frasier") and Sean Hayes, taken from an original idea by famed producer Lynda Obst. The series - which feels like it would have been a better fit on Lifetime, WeTV or Oxygen - is, shall we say, comfortable.
It's light and occasionally gets a good laugh, but it's familiar. The original idea from Obst is not exactly a stretch: it follows three friends who are (by Hollywood standards) "over-the-hill" and decide after their plane makes an emergency stop in Cleveland that they'd like to continue to living there. The three are Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli), a writer; Joy (Jane Leeves), a cosmetics specialist who has gotten to the point where she feels like she could use a touch-up and finally, Victoria (Wendy Malick), a washed-up soap actress.
When they arrive in Cleveland, they rent a place from Elka (Betty White), a caretaker who, well, acts like she's a quarter of her age. While the above would suggest otherwise, I don't have anything against Betty White. She's certainly played classic characters throughout her career, but there's something different about the Betty White of now versus the "Golden Girls"-era White. In that series, White's Rose character would occasionally let slip an unexpected one-liner, but there was a real, fairly three-dimensional character. The White of today is heavy-handed and one-joke (I'm a senior, but I still talk about sex and farting.)
"Cleveland" offers material that feels more "Designing Women" than the slicker comedies and reality programming of today and the simple visual style reinforces the feel. As I noted above, there's something comfortable about the familiarity, and while "Cleveland" by no means is on the level of "Designing Women" or "Golden Girls", there's something nice about recalling an era where TV was...better? Not dominated by reality TV?
Maybe I'm not alone in that feeling, given that the series has attracted a surprising amount of guest stars for a smaller cable program, including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Joan Rivers, David Spade (very funny as a hairstylist), Jon Lovitz (who really should have his own show) and Susan Lucci. Again, "Cleveland" isn't going to find a spot in the TV Hall of Fame, but hopefully it will show that there's still a demand for the kind of comfort food that TV used to offer viewers way back when (well, way back about 25 years ago.)
Some of the highlights this season include: "Life With Lucci" (Victoria's legendary enemy pays the group a visit), "Lost Loves" (the women decide to revisit their past using Facebook), "I'm With the Band" (Victoria tries to make a rock star jealous by dating his bandmate) and "Storage Wars", where the girls make a surprising find.
33 3-01 301 30/Nov/11 Elka's Choice
34 3-02 303 07/Dec/11 Beards
35 3-03 304 14/Dec/11 Funeral Crashers
36 3-04 305 21/Dec/11 Happy Fat
37 3-05 306 28/Dec/11 One Thing or a Mother
38 3-06 302 04/Jan/12 How Did You Guys Meet, Anyway?
39 3-07 307 11/Jan/12 Two Girls and a Rhino
40 3-08 308 18/Jan/12 God and Football
41 3-09 309 25/Jan/12 Love Is Blind
42 3-10 310 01/Feb/12 Life With Lucci
43 3-11 311 08/Feb/12 I'm With the Band
44 3-12 312 15/Feb/12 Lost Loves
45 3-13 313 07/Mar/12 Tangled Web
46 3-14 315 14/Mar/12 Hot & Heavy
47 3-15 314 21/Mar/12 Rubber Ball
48 3-16 316 28/Mar/12 Everything Goes Better With Vampires
49 3-17 317 11/Apr/12 Claus, Tails & High Pitched Males:
50 3-18 318 18/Apr/12 Cruel Shoes
51 3-19 319 25/Apr/12 Bye George, I Think He's Got It!
52 3-20 320 02/May/12 The Gateway Friend
53 3-21 322 09/May/12 Some Like It Hot
54 3-22 321 16/May/12 Storage Wars
55 3-23 324 30/May/12 What's Behind the Door?
56 3-24 323 06/Jun/12 Blow Outs
VIDEO: "Hot In Cleveland" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The show looks a tad soft, but generally remained pleasant enough with no considerable flaws. Colors looked warm and inviting, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: Crisp, clean stereo audio.
EXTRAS: "Some Like It Hot" is an episode-length "behind-the-scenes" piece that was aired on the cable network. It offers a reasonably entertaining look at the production, with informative interviews and a few funny moments.
Final Thoughts: "Cleveland" really isn't anything out of the ordinary, but it's occasionally very funny and reasonably well-written. It's comfort food, like TV used to make way back when...in the '80's. Why the show connects above its own material is that it really reminds me of how much I miss the television I grew up with. A light recommendation.