Tuned In

Man and Caveman

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BOB D’AMICO / ABC

Last week, ABC debuted Big Shots, a show about the relationship problems of a group of heterosexual alpha males. Tonight, it debuts Carpoolers, a sitcom about the relationship problems of a group of heterosexual beta males.

You’re better off with the betas. True to its name, the show is about four white-collar guys who commute together to work somewhere in California–where, of course, the very practice is beta-male by definition. (Sorry if that offends any Golden Staters, but I’ve seen your wide-open diamond lanes.) In a way, its concerns are much like Big Shots': divorce, anxiety over the role of men in the postfeminist world, the need to constantly compare one’s big swinging whatever. But it’s more appealing than the noxious Big Shots because (1) anything short of an abscessed tooth would be, (2) it’s funny and (3) the characters are little enough fish that they don’t seem like such crybabies. Think of it as Small Shots.

Carpoolers (from Kids in the Hall’s Bruce McCulloch) stars Fred Goss, the patron saint of uncomfortably funny, quickly cancelled, semi-improv sitcoms, like Sons and Daughters and Significant Others. Carpoolers is less improvised than those comedies but has a similar feel and a similar focus on the awkward comedy of social minutiae. In the main story of the pilot, Goss’ character Gracen, a professional mediator (can you get more beta male?), is anxious that his wife (Faith Ford) is making more money than he is, buying and flipping houses. He soon becomes more anxious when his son lands his first job–which also pays more than Gracen’s–via a job interview in which he does not wear pants. “I don’t need pants,” his son sneers. “It’s an online interview? Like they all are nowadays? Don’t you know anything?”

The show is not much on plot–the pilot centers on an expensive toaster Gracen’s wife buys, which becomes a symbol of his emasculation–but Carpoolers’ humor is mostly in the tossed-off moments, like the hectic pick-up scene where a new passenger’s wife tells him “I love you” and Aubrey (Jerry Minor), the group’s meek driver, absent-mindedly tells her, “I love you too.” It’s not a sign of a hidden affair, just one of those weird, thoughtless, embarrassing moments. Carpoolers’ pleasures are small, but it’s a pleasant enough ride.

Also tonight on ABC, the debut of Cavemen, which as I mentioned the network is refusing to screen for critics. Because it’s so awesome!