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TELEVISION REVIEW

Tired and tasteless humor dooms 'Cavemen'

Bill English is the lead caveman in the series. Bill English is the lead caveman in the series. (Mitch Haddad/ABC)

Clearly, body hair was not an issue during auditions for "Cavemen." The three lead actors are plastered with fake hair out of a convenience-store Halloween collection. Maybe the shoddiness of the glued-on fuzz - on their faces, heads, arms, and legs - is for laughs, and to recall the Geico commercials on which the new ABC sitcom is based. But it just inspired bouts of hysterical itchiness, as well as a few thoughts about hair as metaphor. Cheap hair, cheap jokes.

Despite ABC's affection for "Cavemen," which premiered Tuesday on Channel 5, any sitcom about Neanderthals as an oppressed minority in homo sapiens America has very limited potential. The question regarding the series has never been "Will it be good?" so much as "Just how bad will it be?" And the answer is, "Cavemen" is pretty bad. It's definitely among the stalest pieces of bread in the loaf, which already includes "Two and a Half Men" and "According to Jim." And it's certainly the most tasteless.

Oddly enough, ABC aired a re-shot pilot on Tuesday, since the original pilot was offensive as well as unfunny. But some of the worst material made the new cut, as the cavemen face the same stereotyping as black people - that they're good in bed, for instance, or that they all look the same to white people. Also, the lead caveman, Joel (Bill English) takes flak from his caveman roommate Nick (Nick Kroll) for dating a white woman - excuse me, a "sape." Nick, a bohemian know-it-all, is a fount of lines such as "Crave the cave." It's as if the show is delivering retro black jokes thinly veiled as cavemen jokes.

But even without the question of racial divisiveness, "Cavemen" has very little going for it. The visual joke of seeing cavemen among us is tired from the get-go, unless you're still laughing over the sight of the alien "ALF" with the Tanner family. The cavemen have single-quality personalities, with the pretentious Nick winning the prize for the most annoying. The third roommate in the San Diego apartment is Andy (Sam Huntington), and his one defining attribute is that he's obsessed with his ex-girlfriend and spends every minute arguing with her on the telephone.

It's hard to imagine "Cavemen" catching on, even while it was one of the best known new shows of the season because of its Geico origins. Those who wondered how a series of insurance commercials could be transformed into a weekly series now know: Not very well.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

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Cavemen

Starring: Bill English, Nick Kroll, Sam Huntington

On: ABC, Channel 5

Tuesdays, 8-8:30 p.m.

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