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Bob Damico, ABC
ABC's "Cavemen" features Bill English, left, as Joel, Nick Kroll as Nick and Sam Huntington as Andy.

Cavemen has one thing going for it — expectations couldn't possibly be lower.

C'mon, just about everybody expects this show (7 p.m., Ch. 4) based on a series of insurance commercials to be horrible. And it's not horrible. It's bad, but because it's not horrible, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Probably not. But maybe.

If you've ever seen one of those Geico commercials, you pretty much know what "Cavemen" is about. Cro-Magnons live in the modern world, and they're sick of being thought of as inferior and dumb.

The show centers on three of them who live in San Diego. Joel (Bill English) is smart and successful — and he's got a beautiful Homo sapiens girlfriend, Kate (Kaitlyn Doubleday). His younger brother Andy (Sam Huntington) is a dopey surfer dude. And his best friend Nick (Nick Kroll) is smart, sarcastic and wary of the Homo sapiens world.

The premise is that they're just like us on the inside.

"We had always just developed it as they are just like you — they just don't look like you," said executive producer Joe Lawson said. "I think there was some sort of glitch during the Ice Age, and these guys made it through. So everything developed but their sort of outer shell."

"We all believe in this as a show, and as platform to sort of speak about a fish-out-of-water experience or what it feels like to want to belong to something and to feel misunderstood," said executive producer Will Speck.

The "Cavemen" deal with prejudice all the time ... and yet the show's creators/producers run away from the idea that it's a metaphor for racial prejudice. Or, at least, that it's specifically aimed at prejudice against African-Americans. Although that seemed pretty clear in the original pilot shown to critics (which may or may not air later in the season).

In that original pilot, the cavemen are stereotyped as lazy, good dancers, athletic, oversexed, and they have a problem dating outside their, um, ethnic group.

Not that there's anything wrong with using a TV series as an allegory, but it would help if it were a good TV series. "We hope that issues about assimilation and different groups having preconceptions about each other will be something that everybody will identify with," said executive producer Bill Martin.

On the other hand, executive producer Mike Schiff insisted, "That's something we'll touch on, but it's not the driving force."

"Cavemen" is "about, ultimately, three friends in their 20s who happen to be cavemen," Speck said.

He wasn't trying to lower expectations. He just couldn't really avoid it.

CARPOOLERS (7:30 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4): When you've got a show that's supposed to be a comedy but it isn't funny and the characters aren't likable, you've got trouble. And you've got "Carpoolers."

This new half-hour show revolves around neighbors who carpool to work every day. Gracen (Fred Goss) is the unbearably neurotic leader (sort of) of the group. He's got big, awful problems like (gasp!) his wife (Faith Ford) makes more money that he does. Boo, hoo!

His buddy Laird (Jerry O'Connell) is a dentist who's in the middle of a divorce, which he handles by becoming an obnoxious womanizer.

Laird and Gracen both seem intent on beating the joy out of the new guy in the car pool, newlywed Dougie (Tim Peper), who only wants to be one of the guys.

And then there's poor Aubrey (Jerry Minor), whose life is made so miserable by his (unseen) wife that the time he spends carpooling is the highlight of his day.

Spending 22 minutes with this crowd is downright depressing. Which is why this was the single worst pilot of the fall season. (Which is saying a lot, given that "Cavemen" is one of the new shows.)

Could be worse. We could all be stuck in a real car pool with people like this instead of having the option of just changing the channel or turning off the TV.


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