Tuesday, October 02, 2007

TV premiering tonight: Cavemen & Carpoolers

I know it's sort of unfair to rip on Cavemen (ABC, Tuesdays, 8 p.m.) when all I've seen is the original, since-retooled pilot, which isn't even the first episode they're airing. But, come on: It's Cavemen. It's a TV show based on a mildly amusing commercial. And it's also about the laziest possible execution of the concept that they could have come up with. I mean, yes, this is a dumb idea, but some clever writers could have probably made it sort of funny and weird if they had just gone nuts with it. Instead, the result (again, based on the pilot I saw, which has been revamped) is so painfully obvious that it's really more sad than irritating. It's standard sitcom bullshit about three friends living together and dealing with jobs and relationships, plus some really heavy-handed parallels about the cavemen being metaphors for racial minorities. About the only thing it has going for it is the awesome Julie White as the constantly soused mother of the main character's girlfriend.

But honestly, what bugged me most about this show was not the lame comedy and the cliched characters, but the completely sloppy, inconsistent and frustrating way they go about creating the show's world. I realize this is almost entirely beside the point but to me it showed how deeply the problems go here: What you want as people watch this show is not for them to constantly wonder about the logical inconsistencies, but just to accept the premise and focus on the jokes (then you can get to work fixing the jokes). The basic idea is not that complicated: There are cavemen in our modern world. That's it. But instead of either leaving the background unexplained (and thus unimportant) or simplifying it by dropping our three protagonists in the present day from the past, the show opens with a whole montage explaining how cavemen have actually been living beside regular people throughout history (complete with famous historical photos featuring Photoshopped-in cavemen).

This idea creates a whole host of plot holes. First, we never see any cavewomen. Have the cavemen failed to interbreed with normal people? If so, why does the main character have a non-cavewoman girlfriend? Have cavemen always been an oppressed minority? If so, how do they relate to other oppressed minorities? Other than the presence of cavemen, the world seems exactly the same - this is not some sci-fi alternate reality. But the cavemen are treated with such blatant nonstop bigotry that it's like they are black people in the 1950s. And yet there are also actual black people who appear on the show. So, in this world, did slavery exist? Were cavemen free while blacks were slaves? And if so, how is it that blacks are being treated so much better than cavemen in the present day when they started out in a much worse position? And are there black cavemen?

It is a failure of the show that it made me think about these things. Unless you are in fact doing some serious sci-fi alternate-reality thing, you don't want your audience asking these questions. The only thought they should be having is, "Boy, these cavemen sure are funny." Again, the show has been retooled since I saw it, but not so much that they don't plan to salvage the episode I saw. Which means that these problems are most likely still evident, proving that no one thought this idea through at all. As ill-advised as it is, it's even more pathetic that they don't seem to have even put in a token effort to make it exceed people's extremely low expectations.

Oh, also, Carpoolers (ABC, Mondays, 8:30 p.m.), a completely bland, predictable, standard-issue sitcom (although again without a laugh track so it seems edgy) that looks really, really good in comparison by being paired with Cavemen. Both will be off the air in a month.

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