Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Fall ‘07 Season TV Blitz, Day 7: ABC’s Laudably Shameless Tuesday Night Block

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 4, 2007

You bring the roast duck, I’ll make the mango salsa

Cavemen

(Tuesday Nights, 8-8:30 PM, ABC)

Starring: Bill English, Sam Huntington, Dash Mihok, Nick Kroll, John Heard (supposedly), Julie White

Premise: Not like you really need an explanation, but those four cavedudes from the GEICO commercials living life as swinging singles in modern-day California.

Thoughts: It’s rare that the more cynical members of the general public get delivered a slam-dunk quite like Cavemen, the kind of offering for which the more acerbic of writers spend months sharpening their knives and which consumers can’t wait to ignore. The closest point of comparison I can think of is when Kevin Federline released debut album Playing With Fire, which charted at a truly astonishing #151 (an Alien Ant Farm live EP could probably chart higher in this day and age) and got a score of 15 on aggregate review site MetaCritic–by far the lowest for any album in recent memory. It’s not like anyone actually listened to that album with an open mind–in critical communities especially, there’s a sort of unspoken rule that for certain works, of which there might only be one or two a year, it’s totally acceptable to pass premature judgement, and it’s OK to form reviews about them to meet pre-scripted opinions. The suckiness is just that obvious.

Cavemen, as we all know, is spun-off from a TV commercial. Take a second to think about the ramifications of this. As obnoxious and ubiquitous as so many advertising campaigns have been, at least they’ve been confined to thirty-second segments in easily avoidable blocks which, especially with the emergence of TiVo and DV-R, are for many already entirely skippable. But with a precedent like this, now there’s no stopping them–this time next year, we could possibly be looking at I’m a Mac, I’m a PC,y the CBS sitcom. Which isn’t to say that the GEICO Cavemen made for a bad ad campaign–in fact, it might be the best commercial series in recent memory–but I think the percentage is pretty low of people that saw them and said “aw man, I wish these commercials were 21 minutes and 30 seconds longer and came out every week!” Plus, now you gotta deal with the meta-crisis of seeing commercials advertising Cavemen itself. WHERE WILL IT END?

Just for the hell of it, though, let’s talk about the actual show for a bit, and how, possibly, maybe, kinda, perhaps, it isn’t actually that bad. Or, at least, how it is bad, but not quite in the way you’d think, and in a way which raises all kinds of interesting new questions. When thinking about how to approach a show like Cavemen, the natural inclination is to go as broad as possisble–to take the commercials to their logcial 22-minute conclusion, a bunch of loosely strung-together gags about cavemen intermingling with homosapiens, struggling to adapt to their modern day prejudices, mixed with plenty of wink-wink references to Flinstones and Quest for Fire.

But there’s also a second way to approach it, and it’s one that’s far closer to the path Cavemen actually took. And that’s just to create your basic singles-in-the-city sitcom, starring a bunch of dudes that just happen to be Cro-Mags. Cavemen would be the best mediocre sitcom of the new TV season, if it wasn’t for that pesky titular detail–besides that, the writing is sharp, the pop-culture references are fast and furious, the production values are high and the general, non-neanderthalic plot totally believable as a sitcom set-up. I saw someone comment that Cavemen is the only show that would be better with a laugh track, and frankly, that sort of hits the nail on the head.

The show can’t fully avoid falling into the broader jokes here and there, of course. There’s lots of obvious racism parallels–ABC bills the show as a “unique buddy comedy that offers a clever twist on stereotypes and turns race relations on its head,” naturally none of which is even remotely true aside from the “buddy comedy” part–and yeah, they do work in one Flinstones reference, though they get it out of the way at the beginning and are at least remotely subtle about it. But a lot of the time, watching Cavemen, you’re liable to forget that this is anything but a regular sitcom, and when you remember that this seemingly inconspicuous show is somehow starring the GEICO cavemen, it makes for one of the greatest tickles a pop culture fiend is likely to experience in his lifetime.

The most remarkable thing about Cavemen is what a waste it’ll eventually end up being for ABC. Cavemen posted decent ratings its first week, but now that viewers are done their rubbernecking, and since critics unsurprisingly led the thing to the fucking slaughter (pegging a 12 on MetaCritic, a whole three points lower than Sir Fed measured), it’s only a matter of time before the thing gets pulled. And all the effort that ABC for some reason thought was wise to put into the show, which actually might’ve been something of a hit minus the Paleolitic dudes, will be for naught. What I really hope happens, though, and it looks like it probably won’t happen, is that the show gets cancelled sometime before next Tuesday. One-episode wonder is exactly the kind of pop culture cachet that this show/experiment deserves.

Carpoolers

(Tuesday Night, 8:30-9:00 PM, ABC)

Starring: Jerry Minor, Jerry O’Connell, Fred Gross, Tim Peper

Premise: Four guys (Minor, O’Connell, Gross, Peper) carpool to work together. Yeah, think that about covers it. Bruce McCulloch of Kids in the Hall created it!

Thoughts: Well, one thing I can say–putting this after Cavemen is definitely inspired time slot casting. Together they combine for the most ridiculous and unbelievably dorky, but also arguably most gleeful hour of TV comedy–programming that make Scrubs and The Office look like The Sopranos and John From Cincinatti in comparison. Just take the central premise of the show, which is arguably even higher concept (or lower, I can never remember how it works) than Cavemen‘s historically flimsy premise, which is simply: four adult males drive together to and from work together. Sure, there’s some outside stuff, one of the guys has a crisis over his wife making more money than him, one of the guys is going through a rough divorce, one of the guys’ place in the carpool rotation is on thin ice…and there’s really effeminate black guy that has lots of kids. Yeah.

Regardless of your feelings about Carpoolers (dear lord, just try saying the name out loud!!), you can’t help but have a certain respect for just how little the show appears to care about looking even slightly cool or masculine. Frankly, before this show, I had no idea that men carpooled as a practice anywhere, ever. But not only do these guys do it, not only are they unapologetic about it, but they make frequent references to how much the carpool means to them, how it’s their only oasis in a world of madness, etc. It’s like they have no idea that approximately 6.1 million people will be watching them on national TV, imagine!

The rest of Carpoolers’ (hahahahahhahah) pilot follows from there. At extremely little provocation, they break into one of their rank’s house to steal a toaster (metaphor purposes, you see) and bungle it horribly, of course. Earlier, Jerry O’Connell’s character bemoans his empty apartment to one of his fellow CP’ers, and asks “What’s [my ex-wife] gonna take next, MY PHONE BOOOKS???” pointing to a stack of phone books he has lying in the middle of his otherwise empty room. The whole group repeatedly feuds for a parking spot with the “Fancy Carpool,” who eat sushi and scowl while leaning out of the windows of their Mercedes. And of course, there’s the obligatory tearful singalong.

I don’t want this show to be cancelled after just one episode. I want this show to run for ten million years. I want to get up tomorrow and start to make the millions necessary to purchase ABC and ensure beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will always be a place for this show from 8:30-9:00 on Tuesday Nights. I want the roaches that survive our inevitable nuclear holocaust to really band together and do their best to, if not rebuild civilization, then at least figure out a way to get Carpoolers (hahahhaahhahahahahahahahhahahahah) back on the air. McCulloch, you fucking prince.

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5 Responses to “Fall ‘07 Season TV Blitz, Day 7: ABC’s Laudably Shameless Tuesday Night Block”

  1. Ken said

    I watched Cavemen for about thirty seconds, hated it, and then changed the channel to watch the premiere of Pushing Dasies. Now there’s a quality program. I don’t think I’ve seen a premiere episode of a series and been so impressed before. Brilliant show.

  2. Andrew Unterberger said

    I’m impressed that you were able to turn the channel to 24 hours into the future.

    And yeah, I’m getting to Pushing Daisies soon enough.

  3. Sonja said

    This was maybe my favorite entry yet. I’m disappointed that there is anything nice to say about Cavemen.

  4. Al1 said

    I thought the phone books line was kind of funny.

  5. candy bag said

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this post plus the rest of the website is really good.

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