Earlier this summer, before I watched the original pilot for the controversial ABC sitcom (premiering Oct. 2), I got the impression that I was supposed to hate it. After I watched it, and after more people offered their reactions, I really got the impression that I was really supposed to hate it.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t love “Cavemen” either, not by any stretch, but I thought it had a few important things going for it.
First and foremost was caveman Nick (left), played by Nick Kroll. Nick felt to me like a fully formed character, one whose skeptical yet not entirely dismissive view of the world seemed the product of a good deal of thought by the show’s creative team. Nick’s anger is tempered by bemusement, and even though he has come to believe that society is set up against him, he has not given up the pursuit of joy. (He wouldn’t seem entirely out of place as a commentator on “The Daily Show.”)
Nick plays well off his best friend on the show, Joel (Bill English, right), who is both less cynical about the world and less secure about himself. Joel is optimistic, yet not naive. You can see him trying to make the best of things yet still aware that life is a struggle.
Note that both these lead characters stop short of extremism, that neither can be pegged in a single line. That’s something you don’t see in every television show, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Finally, I admired that a half-hour comedy sought to pursue issues of race in its storyline. That the cavemen of “Cavemen” were an allegory for real-world minorities in the U.S. emerged this summer as a sin in and of itself, and I never was quite clear why. When exactly did racial allegory become off-limits? A critique of the effectiveness of the allegory is certainly welcome, but some people seemed offended by the allegory’s mere presence. (It certainly wasn’t the producers’ intention to claim that any minorities are in fact cavemen.) Me, I was pleased to see a show attempt to combine humor and substance, even if it didn’t entirely succeed.
“Cavemen” didn’t lack for stupid moments. Not every aspect of the plot worked, nor did every character. There was sufficient ammunition for the naysayers, to be sure.
In any case, following notes and criticisms from seemingly everyone in television land, “Cavemen” will premiere next month with a different pilot than ABC screened this summer. Speaking for the minority (word choice just a coincidence) who didn’t hate the original pilot, I’d recommend giving it a try. You don’t have to worry about it being a thinly disguised infomercial: The show has distanced itself from its Geico roots, with the insurance company mothballing any commercials with cavemen for the time being. And the show clearly has ambition beyond any first impressions you might have. It’s anyone’s guess how good “Cavemen” will be or whether it will catch on, but there might be a there there.
— Jon Weisman