Cavemen is nothing new. ABC’s foray into meta-television was touted as being something that TV had never seen before, but really, in no way is that true. Not one way. Let’s count ‘em up.
First, it’s not even close to being the first series featuring cavemen. And obviously, I’m referring to the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon comedy The Flintstones here. I mean come on, you new-fangled ad-spawned cavepeople — We knew Fred and Barney. Fred and Barney were friends of ours. You, sirs, are no Fred and Barney. (And at least they had the common courtesy to become stars in their own right before selling out to Cocoa Pebbles.) But that’s not all. Before The Flintstones, there was a weird and inventive comedy called It’s About Time that featured the legendary Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coca as cave-people. And, of course, the more contemporary Saturday Night Live bit, in which Phil Hartman played Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. It’s all been done before, and honestly, been done better.
But that’s not all. Cavemen isn’t the first show to begin as an ad and move to regular television. (And no, I’m not including the late-night nightmare-inducing Rocky’s Autos infomercials that seemed to be both ripping off Sabado Gigante and insulting vaudeville at the same time. Though I will admit that Rocky, himself, sort of reminds me of a caveman.) This has happened several times in TV history, most recently with the series Baby Bob, which took the sarcastic talking kid from the Quiznos commercials and gave him a series. Baby Bob lasted a handful of episodes before the network canned it and then buried the tapes in the Nevada desert where it can do the least harm to the future of American civilization.
Finally, this isn’t even a good sitcom. Every sitcom made has to uncover new areas of the comedy map. It’s not enough to trod well-explored ground — we need terra incognita. But Cavemen relies on its gimmick far too much — the fact that metrosexual cavemen are saying the same lines that we’d find completely trite and ho-hum if they were uttered by, say, homo sapiens. The only way this show was going to work was if the comedy surpassed its conceit. So far, it doesn’t. And the show doesn’t have long to evolve.
ABC had trouble finding ad revenue for Cavemen early on, since many advertisers posed the logical question as to why they’d pay to support what amounts to a half-hour GEICO infomercial. And that’s good a point, though I feel the need to point out that nowhere in the series does a character talk about car insurance (Not that they did in the original ads, either). ABC seems to have resolved that problem, for now, since the ad-load seemed pretty normal for this first episode. So it’s not that issue so much as the show’s basic quality — or lack thereof — that will bring about Cavemen’s eventual extinction.
And really, television is all about survival of the fittest.
-- Teague Bohlen