VIDEO: A clip from Cavemen
Everyone knew it would be bad. But they went and made it anyway. Worse, in the weeks between March, when the preposterous pilot for Cavemen was announced, and October, when the show finally premiered, one kept reading mealy-mouthed pronouncements that Caveman was not 30 minutes of dumb-as-rocks dead air but a mordant metaphor for race relations in America. It was a buddy show. About a different-looking, discriminated-against minority who call themselves “maggers.”
It’s not even the idea that Cavemen (ABC, Tuesdays at 8 pm) is based on a 15-second car-insurance commercial that’s so galling. It’s more the phoniness and cynicism with which it was rolled out. Upon its initial limited screening, the pilot was met with howls of derision. So it was time to retool. The race thing was all but eliminated. The show’s setting, for whatever reason, was moved from Atlanta to San Diego. It was partly recast.
None of that helped. Cavemen is still terrible. Everything about it is bad. With their mangy beards, greasy wigs, and Joe Girardi brows, the leads — three cavemen sharing an apartment among evolved homo sapiens — look like grown-up versions of Cha-Ka from Land of the Lost. The acting is flat. The cinematography is bland and washed out.
The writing? Formless and gormless, with nary a joke to be seen. Cavemen is just a bad sit-com. With cavemen. But worse.
Actually, there was one marginally humorous moment in episode four. The prickly Nick (Nick Kroll) is substitute-teaching for a day. He introduces himself to the class: “I can tell by your wide-eyed stares and slackened jaws that you’ve never been taught by a caveman before. So let’s go through the basics, shall we? Do I live in a cave? No. I live in a sweet-ass condo. Do I hunt and kill my own food? No. I shop in an organic grocery store and pay too much for heirloom tomatoes. Do I paint animals on walls? On occasion, when I’m drunk enough.”
It’s not as if Neanderthals were inherently unfunny. Phil Hartman’s smarmy “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer” was one of SNL’s best characters. TheFlintstones rocked. B.C. is an oasis on a dumbed-down comics page. Even Captain Caveman had his moments. And lest we forget, the original GEICO commercials were perfect for what they were, communicating more comedy with a few well-crafted lines, an indignant snort, and a withering stare than Cavemen’s entire run thus far. (At least, they were before too many ads ran the one-joke premise into the ground.)
It was funny, for a fleeting second, to watch Nick beating the crap out the high school’s mascot — a lumbering Cro-Mag wielding a club the size of a tree — and learning later, to his horror, that the incident had been taped and uploaded to YouTube. But it was also then that I realized I’d rather be watching goofy home-video clips on-line than a show that cost millions of dollars to produce. A show that no one wanted to see in the first place.
The viewers, at least, are making sure that the producers realize this. Ratings are plummeting, and it will be a shock if the show lasts the season. But this outcome shouldn’t be any surprise. Even a caveman could’ve predicted it.