"Golden Girls" was wonderful and we thanked Betty White for being a "friend" in the '80's, years of being a foul-mouthed AARP member culminated in "Betty White's Off Their Rockers", a series that basically had a troupe of seniors pulling tricks on unsuspecting citizens - it's not about being funny as much as it is screaming about how wacky it is that seniors say the darndest things. The series is While White does get a few laughs in a supporting role in this series, bring back the old Betty White.
Airing on TV Land (and I couldn't tell you what channel that's on on my cable, although admittedly the young network has had some mild hits, not to mention the core line-up of classic shows), 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 very Lifetime, is the definition of comfortable. It's as comfortable as an old, familiar sweater or your favorite pair of Converse. That doesn't mean that it's remarkable in any way, it's familiar and not challenging and gets occasional laughs but doesn't really stick very well. I don't dislike the series - and it's hard to hate a series that wants so badly to be likable - but I can't love it, either.
The original idea from Obst is a little vanilla, but it must have been an easy sell: 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 soap opera actress who's past her prime.
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 (isn't it cute and wacky that I'm a senior who still talks about sex and farting?)
"Cleveland" offers material that feels more "Designing Women" than the slicker comedies and reality programming of today, while the simple visual style reinforces that 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" (or a lot of things), the familiarity and feel of '80's (and maybe early '90's) TV inherent in the series gives me that warm and cozy feeling. If only television quality could really reboot itself to about 20-25 years ago.
The series continues to do a remarkable job attracting talent for a mid-level sitcom on a smaller network. Not only has it continued to attract great guest stars - Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, William Shatner and Cloris Leachman - but Heather Locklear offers a fine supporting performance in a recurring role.
The fourth season isn't any great leap from prior seasons, although that's not unexpected as the series continues to go with what works. The season starts off with a great episode, "That Changes Everything". The episode sees the characters getting a surprise delivery when a child is dropped off at the front door, which turns out to belong to Joy's son, Owen. The core performances are solid as the women try their best to help the difficult situation and offer to help if Owen moves to Cleveland.
The episode isn't all serious though, as it also introduces an amusing plot thread that stretches through a good portion of the season - Victoria gets a role in a Woody Allen movie. While she gets more lines than "These pretzels are making me thirsty", she's a little frustrated by getting her lines one at a time in the season opener. Malick is a sharply funny comedic talent who I've always thought was underrated and she really gets some great moments throughout this season.
Another real highlight from the season is "Love is All Around" as Elka (White) decides to get her old bowling team back together, which results in a trio of terrific guest star performances (Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman.) To have White, Harper, Leachman and Moore together is a delight and the bunch has terrific chemistry with one another.
Some other amusing episodes include: "Cleveland Fantasy-Con" (where Joy gets an invite to a convention by a guy who turns out to be the two-fer of a Trekkie and a Brony), "The Anger Games" (tempers flare at the monthly game night) and "It's Alive" (the girls find out Elka's very big secret.)
The series has been renewed for a fifth season.
• Season 4 57 4-01 401 28/Nov/12 That Changes Everything
58 4-02 402 05/Dec/12 A Midwinter Night's Sex Comedy
59 4-03 403 12/Dec/12 Method Man
60 4-04 404 19/Dec/12 GILFS
61 4-05 405 26/Dec/12 A Box Full of Puppies
62 4-06 406 02/Jan/13 Cleveland Fantasy Con
63 4-07 408 09/Jan/13 Magic Diet Candy
64 4-08 407 16/Jan/13 Extras
65 4-09 409 23/Jan/13 The Conversation
66 4-10 410 30/Jan/13 The Anger Games
67 4-11 411 06/Feb/13 Fast and Furious
68 4-12 412 13/Feb/13 What Now, My Love?
69 4-13 413 19/Jun/13 It's Alive
70 4-14 421 26/Jun/13 Canoga Falls
71 4-15 414 10/Jul/13 The Proposal
72 4-16 418 17/Jul/13 Pony Up
73 4-17 417 24/Jul/13 No Glove, No Love
74 4-18 415 31/Jul/13 The Fixer
75 4-19 422 07/Aug/13 Look Who's Hot Now
76 4-20 416 14/Aug/13 Cleveland Indians
77 4-21 21/Aug/13 Corpse Bride
78 4-22 28/Aug/13 All My Exes
79 4-23 04/Sep/13 Love Is All Around
80 4-24 04/Sep/13 The Man That Got Away
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: "Look Who's Hot Now", which is not really an 'extra' as much as it is a clip show that aired during the season.
Final Thoughts: "Cleveland" really isn't anything out of the ordinary, but it's occasionally very funny, reasonably well-written and a bit more consistent this season. It's comfort food on a Winter day and beyond that, the series continues to click for me a little more than it should because it reminds me a little (admittedly not to the same level) of the kind of TV that I grew up with. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality, but minimal extras. A light recommendation.