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October 5, 2007

Cavemen fail to evolve past neanderthal charm

In the world of humor, 30 seconds and 30 minutes are two very different animals. In the context of commercials, the Geico Cavemen demonstrated the brilliance of brevity. The TV spin-off, entitled Cavemen, on ABC hits some solid chords, but the overall show lacks any real substance. The only substance readily apparent is the outrageous amount of facial and body hair given to the classy cavemen.

Sure, at times it’s cute, but I found nothing in the show even close to the humor of the commercial in which one caveman orders roast duck with the mango salsa. Upon watching the series premiere, I find myself empathizing with the second caveman in the commercial. As far as more episodes—well, I don’t really have much of any appetite for them, thank you.

The plot focuses on several erudite and dapper cavemen friends living among Homo sapiens, or Sapes, as they are referred to in the show. Now, I get it—the show is a play on race relations. However, after 30 minutes the subject is already old, tired, and boring. Cavemen does have its moments, but no matter how funny the show may eventually become, it is highly unlikely that it’ll live up to any of Geico’s best commercials. Because of that, the show simply cannot succeed.

Caveman Joel is dating a Homo sapien, causing a rift in the caveman collective. However, this is no new plot arc, so I am puzzled as to what new ground the show can break. The only way the show can remain on the air is if the writers begin to downplay the fact that their characters are cavemen—after all, they go to clubs, play squash, and sail on yachts.

One big problem with the series is out of the hands of its writers and actors. Because of the success and popularity of the commercials, the show initially gained a large audience and an even larger set of critics. The series is a victim of past success, which could easily doom the show.

The idea of cultured Cro-Magnons can only go so far. The biggest problem is that the characters never do anything substantive. While they are painted as cave-dwelling intellectuals, all their activities are annoying. The characters are nothing more than supercilious troglodytes, on the road to full-on emulation of the depraved and insipid characters from a Bret Easton Ellis novel. They’re not quite there yet, but a few more rounds of racquetball, a martini with some blow sprinkled in it, and we’ll have Joel Caveman–meets–Patrick Bateman.

Where does it end with funny commercials becoming shows? Television could do without Cavemen on ABC, an episode of House featuring the Hamburglar, or a Cialis-based crime drama on NBC.

Cavemen died out long ago, but extinction number two looks like it’s just around the corner. While few shows survive the sitcom purge after the autumn deluge, maybe we’ll be able to remember the good times—the Geico times. My appetite is back and I am looking directly at that moving picture box for satiation, but nothing grabs me. On this year’s network TV menu, there is no roast duck with mango salsa.