The vultures started circling the moment ABC announced Cavemen last spring. That it was a sitcom starring intelligent, modern-day cavemen was enough to stir memories of Mr. Smith. That the characters were taken from a series of GEICO commercials didn't lend it much credibility. And when word got out that the whole thing was supposed to be a commentary on contemporary race relations, as seen in a none-too-promising clip that made the rounds on the Internet last spring, it seemed doomed, nevermind a subsequent round of retooling and recasting and the decision not to send out screeners to critics.
First impressions can be wrong, of course. And bad buzz can be nothing more than buzz. But not here. Cavemen actually isn't a terrible show. It's just a pseudo-hip mediocrity about young single men who happen to be cavemen. In fact, that they're cavemen at all is mostly incidental. If anything, it reminds me of an article our beloved sister publication ran many years ago about a sitcom that had been retooled to include a "feral subhuman." The graphic had script pages in which a standard sitcom script had lines randomly crossed out and replaced with grunts and urrgghhs.
But these cavemen don't grunt and urrgghh. They're just like us. And that's in the service of a point about racism, I guess, but it also means that they can't do hilarious caveman things. And if I'm going to watch a show called Cavemen, I want some hairy knuckled caveman antics. Wait, does that make me racist?
Also potentially making me racist: I can't tell them apart. But I think that has more to do with the not-so-impressive make-up than anything else. Everyone here is on a continuum that ranges form the highly sarcastic to the only occasionally sarcastic. Some of the wisecracks could be worse. But they could also be a whole lot better and there's really no reason to tune in beyond the desire to see a train wreck that never quite happens.
ABC has paired Cavemen with Carpoolers, a sitcom about four, well, you can probably figure that out. It's created by Kids In The Hall's Bruce McCulloch but you probably couldn't tell in a blind taste test. It has an air reined-in oddness. It's not quite Fox sitcom manic and not quite CBS sitcom bland. And it's not particularly funny. Tonight's episode mostly concerns fretful mediator Gracen (Fred Goss) and his difficulty in coping with the fact that his wife (Faith Ford) makes more money than he does. Helping him through this difficult time are henpecked Aubrey (Jerry Minor, late of Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and Mr. Show), swarthy divorces dentist Laird (the perpetually castable Jerry O'Connell), and newlywed Dougie (Tim Peper). A newcomer to the gang, Dougie keeps accidentally running afoul of its unspoken codes and it's these moments that bring Carpoolers closest to something like humor. It never quite gets there, though. Maybe it needs a caveman guest star or two. Grades: Both C
-- Caveman's Nörskbild may exist in the same phony store universe as Chuck's Buymore
-- Could Caveman's opening credits do a worse job setting up the show? There are cavemen and what? I honestly don't think anyone involved with the show thought beyond that.
-- When I hit the scene in Carpoolers where Gracen cannot make love to his wife I started having flashbacks.
-- Jerry Minor saying, "Let's carpool!" seems unlikely to become this season's breakout catchphrase.
-- Let's carpool! Nope. Doesn't work.