It's only been on the air for a little over a month, but already ABC's Cavemen has clubbed America's patience over the head and dragged it by the hair into a forest somewhere. The ratings for the show are declining each week, which makes sense considering that the best thing that can be said about the show is that it's not that bad. Cro-mag jokes only go so far.
But according to this article in USA Today, Cavemen doesn't just lack viewers and entertainment value, it also lacks another crucial element for any sitcom: Neanderthal realism.
The guys in ABC's Cavemen look the part from the neck up, but that's where their similarity to Neanderthals ends, and that's too bad, says a professor who has spent almost 20 years teaching students about the real thing.
"The commercials were clever, but the sitcom is just a tremendously missed opportunity," says John Barthelme, a professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. "They're just young guys with hair that talk about chicks."
Seriously, Prof. If there's one thing I expect from my sitcoms, it's scientific accuracy. When will Hollywood create a Neanderthal character that is true-to-life?
Just think: every time one of Cavemen's three dozen viewers laughs at a "Magger" joke, they are helping to perpetuate terrible cavemen stereotypes, which is ironic because the show is about cavemen stereotypes (also being hairy, and talking about chicks).
If only there was a course that college students could take to teach them about the real cavemen.
Barthelme's course, "The Neanderthals: Fact, Fiction and Fantasy," explores the popular misconceptions about these pre-humans that have been perpetuated through literature, movies and now television.
To debunk some of the myths, students read a number of novels, including William Golding's The Inheritors and Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear, and watch such movies as Iceman, Caveman and Encino Man. Then they learn how popular culture got it all wrong.
So it's an entire course about debunking a bad sitcom and a movie where Pauly Shore and his friend defrost a caveman, give him stylish white-man dreads, and make him into the most popular guy in school? Thank God someone finally had the courage (and the academic resume) necessary to expose Encino Man's myriad innaccuracies.
Surprisingly though, in the article Professor Barthelme doesn't give any suggestions about how to make Cavemen or Pauly Shore movies more scientifically accurate. But he does seem like one of those professors who is very keen on making learning fun:
This month, a dead deer will hang from the ceiling of a carwash on the campus, and Barthelme's students, handmade stone tools ready to go, will cut the carcass for meat. This has been the culminating assignment of his course since he started teaching it almost 20 years ago. (In other years he also has used sheep, chickens and rabbits.)
After the students finish their work, they enjoy grilled venison in one of the dining halls on campus – but they have to bring their stone tools to cut their dinner. Barthelme says he doesn't require any of the students to eat the meat or even to dress the carcass if they don't want to, but everyone has to make the tools.
"Meet me at the college carwash with your cavemen tools to skin a deer–just like the Neanderthals did! See? Learning can be fun!"
I knew that Neanderthals had dining halls, but I didn't know that they had carwashes. This course really is useful! But the big venison harvesting party isn't where the learning stops:
The final assignment for the course? To write a creative, entertaining, scientifically accurate movie script about Neanderthals. Barthelme says he has received a lot of good work over the years – much better than Cavemen.
Really? That is high praise. But it sounds like a Cavemen scab writers factory to me.