Cavemen Finally Debuts: What Do We Think?
Last night, the sitcom many critics have called the worst new show of the season finally took its first bow: ABC's Cavemen.
Critics weren't sure what to expect. The original pilot episode, heavily criticized for its ham-handed allegories to race, was pushed back to the 5th or 6th episode and a new pilot was written, filmed after the network replaced one of the actors.
Taking a page from CBS' controversial Kid Nation, ABC didn't deflate the suspense by giving us critics an early look at the new first episode, reasoning correctly that we'd be more likely to write about it if we saw it live with everyone else. Unfortunately, they didn't really fix what was wrong with the show in the first place.
True enough, the conversion of black jokes to cavemen jokes was a little less overt -- though, as I told the producers in July, a storyline about a character taking flack for dating outside his group isn't exactly disconnected from black experience (they actually had a punch line which advised the lead character to "keep you penis in your genus").
But last night's story of a modern-day caveman struggling to figure out if his pretty blonde girlfriend was ashamed of him still didn't really get at the humor of the GEICO commercials which spawned the show in the first place. In the ads, the cavemen had full command of the modern world and couldn't understand why others would assume they didn't. In last night's show, one character is spellbound by the concept of traveler's checks and video games -- though the Cro Magnon researching his dissertation on Wikipedia was a nice touch.
Worst of all, none of it was very funny. I can't even make insulting it all sound very funny. And my heart keeps going out to the poor actors stuck underneath all that latex, having to gamely spout lines like "crave the cave" with conviction. (my wife hated that every homo sapien on the show acted like an idiot -- including crackling Grace Under Fire alum Julie White as a boozy landlord -- except for the lead caveman's girlfriend, who pretty much acts like a slut)
In the end, at least they managed to avoid the deluge of cavemen-as-metaphorical-black-people material which made watching the original pilot so uncomfortable. Now, they just need to find a better way to expand these delightful 30-second commercials into a 30-minute storyline.
UPDATE: My pal Mark Berman from Mediaweek noted the early ratings for Cavemen indicate that all press may not be good press -- bad early word of mouth seems to have kept viewers away.
Here's what he said in an email today: "Second were two series debuts on ABC --sitcoms Cavemen (6.5/10) and Carpoolers (6.3/10), which dropped, on average, by a significant 49 percent compared to Dancing With the Stars (a year ago) (12.5/19 from 8-9 p.m. on Oct. 3, 2006) . While no one expected these “comedies” to match Dancing With the Stars, given the hype, particularly for Cavemen, the initial sampling should have been higher. Let’s be honest…wasn’t Cavemen just awful?"
Here's ABC's spin: "ABC’s Cavemen opened at the #1 position at 8pm in Adults 18-49 (tie), Adults 18-34 and key men (M18-34/M18-49). The show held second in the slot among viewers (9.0m), trailing only CBS’ time period veteran NCIS. Cavemen overshadowed its season premiere competition in the half-hour, NBC’s Singing Bee, by 2.4 million viewers and by 43% in Adults 18-49. Across each of the key men demos (M18-34/M18-49/M25-54), Cavemen generated ABC’s top ratings in the time period since last November."
What did you think? Here's a look at some of the original pilot: