There are only two television commercials out of the thousands aired that I pay any attention to: Guinness (“Brilliant!”) and Geico. It’s not that I favor their product, I just love the commercials.

And … what you’ve heard is true. The Geico cavemen are going to tape a pilot for their own ABC TV show. Can motion pictures be far behind?

The two actors who portray the cavemen, Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ben Weber, have entered the mid-heights of show biz the hard way — through TV commercials. This is not unprecedented; remember Baby Bob? No? Okay. Baby Bob was a talking baby from a dotcom commercial whose pilot made it to air for nine episodes. Five taped eps never made it to air. Some called this a bottom feeding sitcom. But the cavemen are different.

For one thing, Joe Lawson, the advertising copywriter (and Veep) who helped create the commercials for The Martin Agency which reps Geico, is writing the pilot so we can expect cavemen with low tolerance levels. If you recall the commercials, these dudes need anger management classes even more than Mel Gibson. Note how upset they get at the line: “So easy a caveman can do it.” Touchy blokes. Political correctness has struck society’s most primitive of men. One can only hope ABC won’t be intimidated into calling them “cavepersons.”

The cavemen first entered our consciousness in the autumn of 2004 in an ad that initially appears quite humdrum, says slate.com. “It’s so easy to use Geico.com, a caveman could do it,” recites a blow-dried actor smiling into the camera. “What?” we hear off-screen. The camera pans, breaking through the fourth wall and revealing that the boom operator on this film shoot is, in fact, a caveman (wearing a backward baseball cap, as all boom operators do). Huffily dropping his boom mic to the floor, he shouts, “Not cool!” and storms off the set.

Nice gag, slate continues, but it’s in the follow-up spot that this concept hit its stride: We see two cavemen being treated to an elegant dinner, at which Geico hopes to make amends for the previous slur. When the waiter asks for orders, the first caveman requests “the roast duck with the mango salsa,” (a phrase now in the pop-culture lexicon). The second caveman folds his menu shut. “I don’t have much of an appetite, thank you,” he hisses, glaring at the squirming Geico apologist.

Two comedic elements here: 1) the lighthearted satire of interest-group pique, 2) Neanderthals as urbane sophisticates. An amusing dual premise, but the elevating genius is completely in the details. That startling entree choice. The stylish sunglasses perched on the caveman’s too-prominent brow. The stone-faced seething of the hunger-striker. (The soundtrack is synth-pop from the little-known indie band R¶yksopp.)

Geico cavemen fansites feature people who seek out exotic restaurants and order this dish, often to stares of disbelief from waiters. Sorry — I meant to say “waitstaff,” but I’m a writer and it’s important to give you a clear picture so screw PCness.

The cavemen won fans for their portrayal of hyper-sensitive cavemen who are easily offended by the use of their image as, well, cavemen. They feel they are branded as even dumber than the old standard of dumbness: blondes.

“The cavemen developed an almost cult following and became a great reminder of how easy it is to use Geico. So …. the cavemen [came] back,” said Ted Ward, Geico’s marketing veep on brandweek.com.

“The response to the cavemen has exceeded all of our expectations,” said writer Lawson, “We were thrilled to continue the caveman narrative, thrilled to share our version of what it’s like to be a caveman in the modern world.” Unless he’s a hirsute example of Neanderthal City himself, I wonder how he’d know what it’s like to be a caveman in the modern world. There are, after all, some similarities, like instead of ancient stick figures on cave walls, we have modern grafitti on building walls. Not much difference there.

One of the funniest caveman spots is on an airport’s moving sidewalk. Without any dialog, we see a caveman glide past a Geico sign showing a caveman, a computer, and the incendiary words, “So easy a caveman can do it.” This of course raises the caveman’s ire, as he stalks off with his luggage and tennis racket. No mean feat to express anger from within the confines of a mask; ask Eric Stoltz.

In addition to his acting job, Jeff Daniel Phillips is also a writer, director, producer and editor. Check him out at IMdb which has everything except his picture. Ben Weber has been around a bit longer, appearing as far back as “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” and as recently as Sex and the City, West Wing, and the Medium. His picture isn’t there either. It might be a sinister advertising plot eventually morphing into some kind of a Disney Guess-The-Identity contest.

The plot for Touchstone Television (Disney), features the cavemen as they “struggle with prejudice on a daily basis [and] strive to live the lives of normal thirty-somethings in 2007 Atlanta,” based on their original Geico premise of trying to snuff out discrimination. Sounds like a can’t-miss-funny premise to me.

On the other hand, I doubt they’ll find discrimination against cavemen in Atlanta or anywhere else for that matter, since many girls marry Neanderthals. For that matter, in today’s re-gendered society, many may end up Sheanderthals.

Check out www.cavemanscrib.com — a website showing the deluxe apartment of one of the cavemen. You can click on various objects to gain entry. For example, clicking on a door will get you into the caveman’s bedroom. There, you can click on any number of objects such as the clothes strewn on his bed, resulting in the caveman’s mirror image dressed in that outfit; he has several changes of clothes. And his diary can be found under one of the bed pillows.

If you want to poke around further, there’s an abundance of cultural give-aways as to his personal likes: yoga, Tolstoy, Paddy Chayefsky movies, smoked Hungarian paprikash and blogging. According to Slate, there are also poetry magnets on the fridge, in Esperanto. Brilliant!

These cavemen may well be lowbrow, but their tastes are definitely highbrow.

Stay tuned for more info on this as it unfolds.


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