Since at least this past summer, when ABC introduced its sitcom Cavemen at the Television Critics Association press tour, critics have been crowing about the show?s pilot episode, which they claimed was a racist allegory to minorities with the cavemen ”race” portrayed as a group of outcasts. EW decided the best way to get to the bottom of all this was to sit down with the guys behind the much-talked new series: executive producers/creators Josh Gordon, Joe Lawson, and Will Speck, and star Bill English, who plays the the most assimilating caveman and de facto group leader, Joel. Although they opted to shoot completely new first episodes to launch the series, the Cavemen team says it has nothing to do with the criticism and everything to do with telling a good story.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I want to clear up a few things. Tell me about the whole discussion about the allegory to minorities, etc. What’s the final word on that?
JOSH GORDON: I think it’s something that sort of courses through the show, but it’s not our primary focus. I don’t think any of us set out to make it an issue-oriented show. More than that, we just wanted to sit with these characters and explore the things that they face day to day. And we just thought it was funny that there is no association with this group of people, they just happen to be angry.
JOE LAWSON: They’re going to be treated differently, there’s no way around it.
WILL SPECK: That’s where a lot of the comedy is going to come from, is their always feeling like they’re outsiders. But that’s kind of where it ends.
LAWSON: We’re not trying to make a serious, issues-oriented show.
EW: When you were putting together the show and the pilot, was that a discussion?
LAWSON: Probably not. I mean, it wasn’t a discussion going into it. I think, after the fact, we sort of looked at it and said, ”You know what? These are moments where we’re hitting it a little hard. These are moments where it feels like the racial element is way too front-and-center and we want to scale back if we got to go to series.” And I think it’s just been a learning process for us. I think it was really informative to actually do it and put it out there and now have an opportunity to do something different.
EW: [Your decision to record new first episodes], does that give you the chance to do something different? Or are you staying on the course you set with the pilot?
SPECK: For us, as in the commercials, the most interesting part of this story is the relationship between these two guys. When we say ”different,” we don’t mean, ”Whoa! That was a mistake.” It’s more like, let’s just focus on the guys for a couple of episodes and sort of develop their characters. And then the pilot will be one direction that they go.
EW: So there’s going to be more exposition at the beginning and helping the viewer understand where they are. How does that play out?
LAWSON: It’ll be interpersonal dynamics within the group. So Nick is a guy who’s been working on his PhD for five years and is getting nowhere. And essentially, he is unemployed. And Joel, his roommate, who is sick of floating his best friend, forces him to get a job at the store where he works to disastrous effects. So that’s an interpersonal kind of story that delves more into the dynamics of the group.
EW: Just understanding who they are together.
GORDON: It’s basically three guys and their making their way through the world. Living together in the same space. One of them in Joel, who’s played by Bill [English]. The other is his brother, his younger brother, Andy, played by Sam Huntington. And the last one is Nick Kroll, who is kind of their long-time friend.
EW: Bill’s character is the guy who’s the nice guy, the good guy. You don’t want to stereotype these characters, I’m sure, but that’s how he came off in the pilot.
LAWSON: No, but there are archetypes.
EW: You have the sarcastic guy, that’s Nick, right?
LAWSON: Yeah, Nick has a chip on his shoulder about being a caveman. You know, he’s very defensive. Joel’s not. Joel believes it doesn’t matter who you are, the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be. He believes in the American dream. Like, he’s slightly naive in that way. He thinks people will judge me as Joel, not just because I’m a caveman.
EW: And he seems happy to assimilate.
LAWSON: I think he would like to assimilate. And he thinks he can do that best by doing really well at work, you know, just pretending he’s like everyone else. Don’t run around with a chip on your shoulder and you will be accepted as such.
BILL ENGLISH: Well, honestly, from a real acting point of view, it’s the most you can do to really hide yourself from everything and be immersed in this character in every way. Physically, and everything that comes into it — all the makeup. It actually makes it easier for us. [But it ain’t cheap; see EW’s new Hollywood Insider blog for details.] Sam and I actually talked about that element of it, [how] we don’t have to work as hard at it to get into the characters. As far as my specific character, yeah, he’s hopeful. He’s an optimist. And he’s looking to put his best foot forward. But at the same time — and he needs to be reminded of it a little bit by Nick — he is a caveman and there are certain elements of being a caveman. So I feel like he’s not a pushover, but he’s definitely a guy who wants to make a difference and make a name for cavemen with hard work with all these things…. Yeah, the American dream.
GORDON: He’s also a little bit the heart of the show and kind of the everyman.
ENGLISH: He’s an outstanding guy, and he’s going to own up to whatever he is. Joel tries to do what’s best for cavemen. Nick does what’s good for Nick.
EW: Nick seems like the eyesore of the group. He hates everybody.
GORDON: I think we’ll see different sides of him. I think like any character, it evolves over time. What’s fun about Nick’s character and where we’re going to take it — and what’s great about Nick Kroll as an actor — is the ability to be vulnerable. Not to always be a smart-ass. To also find himself in a situation where he has to put himself on the line or he has to actually realize the thing he stood up against and face it head on. So, hopefully, that’s a dimension that will start to show itself.
EW: Pilots are funny because people want to draw everything out of this one episode. But Andy — what’s his scoop?
GORDON: Andy’s our newest character, and he’s actually the brother of Joel. What we decided when we sort of sat around [working on] this whole idea was that cavemen are like Hassidic Jews and they tend to acclimate in these small communities.
SPECK: Or Amish, or anyone who lives away from society.
GORDON: But Andy is the last one to join these two in San Diego and the last one to arrive. So he’s definitely looking to his older brother, Joel, as the pioneer. First on the beach.
EW: These are themes that I feel are universal.
LAWSON: They’re fairly universal. The fact that they’re cavemen, after a while, I think people will just kind of forget that they’re cavemen. What it’ll let you do is just view everything that we all go through in a normal day-to-day kind of experience but just from slightly askew kind of point of view. But we’ll be dealing with all the same kind of issues.
ENGLISH: Concept-wise, what I thought was great about it is that you can take these guys and put them anywhere. Mundane places like the grocery store, wherever, the beach, whatever normal place. You don’t have to punch it with some kind of a bonus. What we noticed during the pilot — the three of us — was that just walking outside or even in front of our own crew, people that hadn’t seen us, every morning at five in the morning we’d appear in our full get-up and instantly, Boom! You just look at somebody and they kind of stop in their tracks. It’s like, you’re very unfamiliar, and that in itself brought us closer together. Totally changed the situation.
EW: That has to help the three of you to have that bond working together, too.
ENGLISH: Yeah. At the end of the eight days of shooting the pilot, on the second to last shot, I was like, I know this guy now. I know this character now.
SPECK: Just in time for you to go back to civilization.
ENGLISH: So I was really happy that we’re going to get to continue to explore more with these guys.
EW: What about the fact that ABC is loaded with pretty people? Do you worry that the stars won’t be recognizable?
GORDON: I think there were a few moments during the pilot where everyone was in the learning curve and we definitely got a note here or there, like, ”Can we get a t-shirt that makes him look more attractive?”
LAWSON: Yeah, you either find cavemen attractive or you don’t.
SPECK: ABC needed to round out their portfolio. We’ll just round it out with ugly people.