How much do TV critics hate “Cavemen,” the upcoming ABC sitcom based on Geico’s ad campaign? So much that when producers for the show arrived here at the television press tour, we had to resist the urge to club them on the head and drag them by their hair through the lobby of the Beverly Hilton.
To be honest, some of this ill will was festering before we even saw the pilot episode. The very idea that a network would attempt to wring a 30-minute comedy from a 30-second commercial simply boggled the mind.
“What’s next?” wondered Ellen Gray of the Philadelphia Daily News back in May. “A buddy sitcom for the Mac and PC guys?”
Sure, it’s never fair to judge a show sight unseen, but in this case many of our worst fears were realized. The “Cavemen” pilot, as delivered to us, is a broad and doofy bit of work that casts our prehistoric pals as “America’s oldest minority group,” complete with heavy-handed allegorical references.
ABC obviously realized it had a clunker on its hands. One of the lead roles has since been recast and the entire pilot is being retooled. Still, you have to wonder: Can this show be saved? Should it be saved? Responding to a barrage of pointed and sarcastic questions from reporters, Geico cavemen creator Joe Lawson cracked, “I didn’t know we would catch so much hell. I’m surprised.”
The real surprise is sure to come in the form of ugh-filled reviews this fall. Yes, America did fall in love with “The Flintstones,” but is it ready for a bunch of flesh-and-blood actors in mounds of makeup and mangy hair?
Actually, there’s a commendable concept behind “Cavemen.” In making the modern Cro-Magnons an oppressed and misunderstood minority, it provides the opportunity for some piquant commentary on race relations. But from what we’ve seen so far, there’s no sign that the writers can pull it off with any deftness and/or insight.
The depictions of racial stereotypes have a clumsy and overly obvious feel to them. The show’s cavemen are known for their athletic skills, sexual prowess and dancing ability. They are also viewed by some parts of society as dumb and lazy.
Said executive producer Josh Gordon, “In terms of them standing in for any one group, that’s not our intention.”
Wow, they could have fooled us.
Here’s something even funnier: The people behind “Cavemen” say their main focus is to depict the struggle for acclimation by social outsiders. But all eight panelists - actors and producers - representing the show here just happened to be, um ... white males.
Now, that seems downright primitive.
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