Sometimes eating a large, carbo-centric meal — right when you get home — and then sitting on a couch with a laptop is not healthy.
For instance, I was too logy on a recent evening to take any decisive action when I suddenly found myself assaulted by a TV show. At one point it was simply piddling background noise to be safely ignored. I thought it was a commercial. Just a long commercial, and, after a while, one that had overstayed its welcome. It wasn’t until after five minutes I realized that this was actually a show.
The show in question is called “Cavemen”. It is part of ABC’s bold Fall lineup, and it exists as a potent reminder of what a horrible existence we humans lead on this earth.
If you’re at all familiar with what passes for popular culture in our society — and I consider myself somewhat versed in television, if only tangentially at times — you might be aware of the Geico advertistments which feature actual cavemen as the agents provocateur.
The general premise for the television show mirrors that in the commercial. It is all piled mercilessly upon the schtick that Neanderthals (or a similar biped from the more hunched, left end of the evolutionary diagram) have stopped evolving in any demonstrative fashion and have existed simultaneously (presumably) for hundreds of thousands of years alongside Cro-magnon man. And like us modern sapiens, these cavemen — despite their genetic predispositions for fashioning basalt spearheads and discovering fire — suffer from the prosaic angst we humans have consensually owned as our lifelong affliction.
In the commercial, these hombres erectus wax pathetic to unfeeling psychologists, explore frustratingly complex inter-personal relationships, and debate meta-physical reality in all its confusing glory. The 30-minute show provides this same launch platform for caveman ennui (sans a conventional laugh track).
It really is astonishing, the gall of ABC, to even consider showcasing this tripe. Do they expect the hoi polloi to swallow such a wildly unreasonable concept: a commercial that has shed its cocoon to emerge as a prime-time butterfly? Does ABC honestly believes this transaction is transparently on the up-and-up, that we are so gullible, so starved for self-referential Splendatainment that we’ll gladly line up to be force fed like a foi gras goose?
The idea is laughable at face value. Yet there it was, on television. In prime time, nonetheless. The synopsis of the debut episode is thus: one of the cavemen, I dunno, “Robert(?)”, who happens to be roommates with two other cavemen (let’s call them “Phil” and “Fred”1), is convinced that the hot, blonde, female sapien action he’s been getting is illusory.
Robert is wracked with the same self-doubt and confidence issues that is so endemic to us all. He is convinced his girlfriend is ashamed to admit to her friends that she is getting porked by some guy with as much hair on his knuckles as on his back (which is a lot, for the record). However, once he confronts her — while she is enjoying drinks with her friends — at some trendy watering trough, he ultimately finds his fears have been unjustified.
Prior to this singular, episode-changing event, the other roommates go on a shopping spree to soften the blow of impending romantic disaster, indulging in crass materialism as a panacea (just like us humans!). However, it is with such boarish levity that Cavemen lowers the discourse. And this exists as the core of show: cavemen, like minorities and teenage Goths, are misunderstood. They may look different, and technically be another species (as one caveman tells his roommate, “keep your penis in your genus”), but underneath that primordial hypodermis lies the same vulnerable, quivering core of uncertainty, a fleeting, shallow and crass individual preoccupied with Pinkberry and fair trade coffee.
The very real societal maladies of over-generalization and false stereotypes are simply swept aside in favor of a running gag. It is hard to imagine how this can be kept up for the average length of an SNL skit, much less an entire broadcast network season.
The Cavemen environs are quintessential L.A. in all its wondrous self-indulgence. The roommates — despite being underemployed — live somewhat luxuriously in a well-appointed apartment replete with the latest modular IKEA wall units and kitchen systems. They have gym memberships, where they twiddle away the desperate details of their painful lives while walking on treadmills. All the chicks are generically hot, vacuous model types. The writers of the show are letting you into their world. They constantly sift through the detritus and present polished nuggets of pop cultural aphorisms that simultaneously denigrate and exhalt modernity.
I imagine they are a sick breed, these writers, wickedly smart and capable of absorbing trivial knowledge like a sheet of Bounty (the “quicker picker-upper”), yet with a healthy predilection for the absurd. While you or I or any other aging doofus is pefectly satisfied with indulging our camp fetish by bowling on Rock’n'Bowl night and drinking domestic beer by the pitcher, this is the sort of freak whose idea of getting his ironic rocks off is getting blown by a transgender high-rent call girl while a repeat of Family Guy plays on the hotel television, all the while texting his girlfriend on his iPhone AND watching some midget fist a dog on RedTube.
Cavemen is a paean to our drive-through society, encapsulating everything it stands for but at the same time saying nothing at all. After we willingly suspend our disbelief that modern day humanoids actually do exist (and shop at Abercrombie & Fitch), the viewer is presented with additional logical fallacies that on the surface seem to spark intellectual curiosity, yet fail to deliver satisfactorily. For instance, the fact that Neanderthals do exist appears to validate the core tenets evolutionary theory, and that they are consumed with consumerism and suffer the trappings of modern human culture and discourse speaks somewhat to Social Darwinism.
However, the opposite argument can be made; Neanderthals and Cro-magnons exist together because that is exactly how the Intelligent Designer created them 6,000+ years ago. God in this case allowed Neanderthals, unlike the dinosaurs, to continue existing. Albeit, he put them in cashmere V-neck sweater vests. It’s all part of the plan.
This sort of maddening dichotomy acts as a governor, keeping the show from driving too fast. This parallels our existence here in America, where a President can veto a $5 billion bill that extends healthcare for children, dismissing it as impractically expensive, yet go before Congress and demand an additional $150 billion to fund some wayward nation-building wet dream half a world away. With a straight face.
Then it struck me. Cavemen is an intentionally evil work of madcap satire. It is a carefully crafted alternate universe, a Kafka-ish dream state, one whose narrative constructs a meta-reality so insanely ludicrious that it defies the imagination. It mines territory heretofore unexplored by previous entries to the genre (e.g. the movie Encino Man, which existed mostly to capitalize on the brief supernova-like existence that was the career of Pauly Shore). The bulldada absurdity is viscerally poignant, so real and material you can smell it. It’s akin to screening David Lynch’s The Elephant Man in a convalescent home for a bevy of unwitting octogenarians, after dosing them with peyote and Dulcolax.
Cavemen is essentially a 30-minute malapropism built around a loosely constructed plot. The plot doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to. It only exists as a greaser, a non-stick lube that allows a light, crispy, trans-fat-free breading to easily separate from the surface.
Cavemen reminds us of our shallow, empty and mindless pursuits of pomp and artifice2. And for this alone, it is eminently qualified as fantastically lurid agit-prop that happens to use the premise of two hairy knuckle draggers playing Nintendo Wii as its delivery vehicle.
Then the following sitcom came on with four guys3 who carpool to work together AND IT WAS THE SAME EXACT SHOW.
Tuesday nights, 8/7 Central
1These are not really the cavemen’s names, but they might as well be.
2 Also, it reminds us of how all men just want to get laid.
3 One of these guys was the fat kid from Stand by Me, who is the latest beneficiary of Rebecca Romjin’s incessant proclivity to marry down.