In Defense of “Cavemen”

Nick_caveman1 I didn’t hate “Cavemen.”

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.”)Caveman2_joel_2

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

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  3. Vance says:

    I’m not sure I will add it to my roster but Cavemen was nowhere near as bad as everyone’s been saying it has been. And funny, I said the same thing about Kroll’s character fitting into The Daily Show. I could have delt less with the brother character but main two cavemen were actually likeable enough.

  4. Myles says:

    I think that my only issue with the racial allegory is that it is not a contemporary allegory: rather, it’s Texan Oil Barons and High-Class Country Clubs. I don’t think the show’s inherent allegory is the problem, but rather its presentation.
    A new pilot, maintaining Nick (Whose wit and cynicism were, indeed, a highlight) but perhaps softening that allegory, could certainly emerge as a decent comedy.
    To be honest, I was more annoyed by Big Bang Theory’s presentation of Geeks, which despite its innocuous nature was just plain not funny.

  5. jill says:

    I was surprised as well; it didn’t suck. It wasn’t great, but it was better than the average sitcom these days. It actually has potential.

  6. Joe says:

    Caveman will be the sleeper hit of year. It is so for out there that it will draw people each and every week to see it.

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