By now the GEICO “Caveman” commercials are such a part of the public consciousness that during last November’s Duke-UNC basketball game, Tar Heels fans held up signs saying “Beating Duke – so easy a Caveman could do it.” A sitcom might seem like the logical next step in whittling these Neanderthals into a primitive niche in popular culture – just because a commercial has never been made into a successful TV series doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And, actually, there’s a good chance it can.

Kelly Fraser
Courtesy of ABC
Kelly Fraser
Courtesy of ABC

Joel (Bill English) is a modern-day caveman who shares an apartment with younger brother Andy (Sam Huntington, “Superman Returns”) and best friend Nick (Nick Kroll, “Best Week Ever”). Like their commercial counterparts, these cavemen are tech-savvy and trendy to a satirical degree. They have highly literate conversations using phrases like “pregnant with meaning,” do Sudoku puzzles over their morning coffees and whine woefully when the Wikipedia server is down. Joel works at an Ikea-like furniture store whose products’ names are the most inscrutable Norwegian words and dates sexy Homo sapien Kate (Kaitlin Doubleday, “Waiting .”). Andy plays too much “Wii Sports” and constantly laments the libertine ways of his ex, Amy. Nick is perennially broke but has no shortage of criticisms for Joel, whom he advises to “crave the cave” – i.e., date cavewomen only, not admittedly luscious “Sapes” like Kate.

“Cavemen” is a clever show – the dialogue is fast-paced and witty, and though the cavemen’s yuppie lifestyle is comic and sad, they are likable characters. These cavemen are no Patrick Bateman, materialistic cut-ups; they offer levels of depth that reveal them as good guys impaled by the spear of modern pop culture, and at heart are great friends and caring people – er, cavemen.

Critics of “Cavemen” might wonder how long viewers will put up with watching hairy, wide-faced cave-dwellers interact in society akin to normal humans. The show is reminiscent of Michael Jacobs’s “Dinosaurs,” which had weirder-looking characters and was considerably more biting in its satire, yet managed three seasons. “Cavemen” borrows that show’s “non-humans-acting-like-humans” idea, but it doesn’t ruthlessly dissect human foibles in the same cutthroat manner. Its social satire is more of a friendly poke than a jab.

ABC describes “Cavemen” as a “show that turns race-relations on its head,” but it’s difficult to decide what to make of this idea. Is “Cavemen” supposed to be an allegory on the plight of other disadvantaged minorities? Actually, it’s probably the other way around, especially considering ABC re-shot the pilot to downplay its racial undertones. Joe Lawson, who penned the “Cavemen” pilot as well as many of the commercials, says the ad spots were a critique of what he saw as an overly politically correct society.

But the show complicates this idea, because the cavemen we see are no longer reactionary talking heads but real beings who talk on cell phones, order beers at bars and pay for lattés with travelers’ checks. Obviously, these cavemen differ from the rest of society, but pop culture and technology have made the common ground between them and humans more level than ever. It might be best to just pretend these cavemen are just normal dudes – after all, they aren’t so different from us.

3 out of 5 stars.

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