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"Ladies and gentlemen of the City Council, I'm just a caveman... Your world frightens and confuses me. When I see your tall buildings and flashing neon signs, sometimes I just want to get away as fast as I can, to my place in Martha's Vineyard. I'm more at home hunting the woolly mammoth than I am hunting a good interior decorator. And when I see a solar eclipse, like the one I went to in Hawaii last week, I think 'Oh no, is the moon eating the sun?', because I'm a caveman... but there is one thing I do know. The new resort housing development proposed by my partners and myself, will include more than adequate greenbelts for recreation and aesthetic enhancement. Thank you. (smug grin)"—Cirroc, The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, Saturday Night Live
We've all seen it. A character is placed in a completely unfamiliar environment, perhaps sent forward through time, or to a ship in outer space, or something equally ridiculous, and quickly becomes a Fish Out of Water.
This case doesn't seem any different. Just like every other time, the fish is flapping around, and is running out of air. But wait, why does it look like that fish is trying to walk on its hind fins? IT'S LEARNING TO BREATHE AIR! Something's fishy here.
Take it to the illogical extreme, and you could end up with a caveman, frozen in ice for thousands of years, who awakes to the modern world and promptly becomes a lawyer. It's when a former Fish Out of Water becomes well adapted to their new environment, to the point where they almost fit there better than the people that actually belong there. Makes you think this is where they should have been in the first place.
Often justified in that the person coincidentally had an affinity for the very environment they ended up in, and thanks to their Genre Savvy manage to adapt with little fuss. i.e. a person who reads a lot of sci-fi novels ending up in space and thanks to all the stories he's read about aliens, is inoculated against the shock of being around them and easily wraps his head around their whacky explanations of all the Phlebotinum they tote around.
Sometimes the justification is that the newcomer's fresh viewpoint makes them superior to the natives at operating in his new environment. An alternate justification is that the newcomer possesses a trait he always considered useless, but is of incredible utility in his new environment.
Named for SNL's Cirroc, The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, who slyly manipulated the jury by playing the "I'm just a caveman" card, who wore nice suits, and had a smug charm stereotypical of modern laywers.
Despite the name the character is not necessarily a Contemporary Caveman. Compare Like a Fish Takes to Water, Going Native, Mighty Whitey, and I Know Mortal Kombat; contrast Fish Out of Water and Fish Out of Temporal Water. An Unfazed Everyman may grow into this. Villains Blend in Better is a subtrope. Very like a Bunny Ears Lawyer in that they're strange but competent and accepted as such.
Anime and Manga
- Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night: Most Heroic Spirits --souls of heroes of (usually) ancient ages given form to participate in a There Can Be Only One tournament-- easily adapt to modern day living. Some have their justification, e.g. Saber having the innate ability to ride anything including modern cars; this includes jet fighters!. But Alexander takes it to a whole new level, he considers buying jet fighter, tanks, and other war machines of modern times.
- Whenever a human transfers from Earth to El Hazard, they gain Personality Powers. A boisterous gym teacher gains Super Strength(when sober). A shy geek becomes a Technopath. A High School Hustler gains a Third Eye. A Control Freak becomes The Chessmaster(offscreen).
- One issue of Marvel's What If...? comic featured Conan the Barbarian being stranded in the twentieth century, where he promptly becomes a successful gang leader. This was actually spun out of a story arc from Conan's own comic, where he was sent back to his proper time and place eventually instead.
- Another "What If...?" had the Hulk becoming a barbarian king.
- As did the major, canonical arc "Planet Hulk."
- Another "What If...?" had the Hulk becoming a barbarian king.
- Travis Morgan quickly adapts to life in the Lost World of Skartaris and ends up becoming its greatest warrior in The Warlord.
- Harrison Oogar, the caveman of Wall Street, from the Age of the Sentry miniseries. He beat market five years straight!
- Java, the unfrozen caveman butler, of Simon Stagg in Metamorpho.
- Kang the Conqueror is a villainous example of this. Bored with his life in a peaceful 30th Century, he traveled back in time to conquer Ancient Egypt, and then hopped forward to take over a war-torn 40th Century. He was so successful, he became a few of Marvel's biggest villains.
- Double Subverted by Booster Gold. Originally a screw-up in his native 25th century, he stole some future tech and a time machine to travel back to modern times, figuring he could become a beloved hero. Instead, he gained a reputation as a screw-up. He later does manage to find his niche, but as a guardian of space-time.
- Another example, would be Encino Man, where an unfrozen caveman becomes the most popular kid in school without even trying.
- Similarly, several of the historical personalities in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
- With Brendan Fraser again, in Blast from the Past he plays a guy raised in a fallout shelter by parents who have no experience of the outside world beyond the Cuban Missile Crisis. Upon emerging, he finds his old-fashioned manners and values render him impossibly charming to the average modern joe.
- Played with in Never Been Kissed. The protagonist was an outcast in high school the first time and she's on her way to becoming one this time around, despite her theory that she could study her way into the popular clique. Her brother, on the other hand, drops in and becomes the most popular guy in school with no effort. Again.
- This is the implied fate of Dr. Gillian Taylor, a whale specialist from the 1980s who essentially bullies her way into going back to the 23rd century with Kirk and company in Star Trek: The Voyage Home. After Kirk's trial, she takes a post on a science vessel, exclaiming excitedly that she has "three hundred years of catching up to do!" This may be a case of Fridge Logic depending on the nature of the assignment. Unless said
wesselvessel is an ocean ship, it would be more than a bit odd that her first act be to ship off and leave the whales to fend for themselves, especially considering that she'd justified coming along with them by the fact that no one in the 23rd century would know anything about taking care of whales.
- To be fair, the whales are intelligent to a degree and like dogs or dolphins have personalities, so she'd be able guess their moods and other behaviors, also how many people specialize in extinct species' that control giant monoliths that cause monsoons?
- The Vonda McIntyre novelization clarifies that the science vessel in question is going to an aquatic planet, to recruit divers to help with the whales.
- The Last Starfighter: Alex Rogan is stuck in a rut in his trailer park, and the only thing he's really good at is a video game. Turns out the game's actually an alien flight simulator that was delivered to his park (instead of Las Vegas) by mistake, and he's scoring in the top percentile. He finds his place in life as a hotshot Gunstar pilot for the Star League, thousands of light years from home.
- In Back to The Future, Marty McFly travels through time back to the old west. Despite being only a teenager who has presumably never shot a real gun before, he turns out to be an expert at quickdraw and pistol shooting (once he adjusts to the recoil) because of his familiarity with a video game from 1985.
- Two of the modern characters in Michael Crichton's Timeline ends up living with ease and comfort in Late Medieval France. The first is a marine with an uncanny knack for languages. The second is a history grad student with a passion for all things from his period of study; language, clothes, culture, sports, war... The first insinuates himself into a French court. The second lives his natural span, happily married as an English nobleman.
- One of the Choose Your Own Adventure Books was called The Cave of Time, which, predictably enough, involved time travel. In one of the endings, you're aided in your journey home by a man in colonial America who is dying from TB. Once the two of you return to your time, the guy is cured thanks to modern medicine, becomes a history teacher, and becomes renowned due to his expert knowledge of colonial America.
- Alan Dean Foster's novel Glory Lane features an '80s punk rocker who gets abducted by aliens along with his brother and a random girl from the local college. He fits in much better in space than he did on Earth.
- Flores Quintera in Spellsinger also prefers the Wizard's World to home.
- Buck Rogers is probably the paramount example of this trope. No matter what version you hear, it's all about Buck, a guy from today's times, being sent a couple of centuries in the future where he turns out to be such a hot shot ace at everything that he single-handedly saves the world, defeats the evil empire, or whatever it is needs doing.
- Lord Jagged of Canary in Michael Moorcock's The Dancers at the End of Time cycle is a time traveller, who ventured to the eponymous End of Time, made his home there, and became more at home there than many of the era's native inhabitants, and being more pro-active than the rather clueless and almost purely hedonistic natives, ends up solving many of their problems, all while cheerfully embracing their (from our point of view) decadent hedonism.
- Pham Nuwen from Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep and A Deepness In The Sky. Medieval prince of a human planet that has lost spacefaring technology. He then has to adapt to life as a programmer-at-arms after his planet is visited by traders from another human civilization, and computers, travel between stars and life extension become commonplace. Millennia after, his corpse is unfrozen and he is confronted by a world where faster-then-light travel, antigravity, and thousands of civilizations of sentient beings, including godlike powers are a reality.
- Matthew Mantrell in Christopher Stasheff's Her Majesty's Wizard (and later, other characters in sequels, including a grad school buddy and Matt's mother), decodes runes he finds in a book in the library, and is transported to a magical kingdom under siege. He finds that not only does he fit in perfectly to this fantasy kingdom, but that being an English major is a distinct advantage in a world where poetry IS spellcasting.
- There is a Poul Anderson short story in which a white-collar worker has his soul switched with a Conan-esque barbarian warlord. In the end, the goddess that switched them offers to return them to their original bodies. They both turn down the offer.
- When Carrot Ironfoundersson first arrives in Ankh-Morpork he has no idea about city life and is completely naïve about nearly everything. By his very next book he's completely at home, in some ways more so than his boss Samuel Vimes, a classic city man who's lived in Ankh-Morpork all his life.
- Justified in that it is strongly implied that he is the rightful king of the city, and thus the whole city bends to his will.
- Carcer in Night Watch is thrown through time and adapts with terrifying speed, to the point that he ends up becoming a secret policeman.
- Tom Billings, the hero in Edgar Rice Burroughs The People That Time Forget, who adapts to life very easily in the primeval Lost World of Caspak and elects to stay there with the woman he loves. Possibly crosses over into Born in the Wrong Century.
- The main point of Jared Diamond's nonfictional Guns, Germs, and Steel is based on this trope and how, under the right circumstances, this applies to literally everyone on earth.
- The downtimer community in the Time Scout series adapt to varying degrees. Some are Fish Out of Temporal Water, some are The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. The same is true of people who travel to the past. Some are conspicuous tourists, others are invisible. Being a downtimer tourist is only possible down a gate developed for that; uptime is more friendly to downtimers. They even provide counseling.
- In Leo Frankowski's Crosstime Engineer series, Conrad rapidly adapts to being stranded in midevil Poland.
- Justified in that he is college educated, military trained, and is unwittingly receiving assistance from the time travelers that stranded him.
- Also, in Conrad's Time Machine, a whole time traveling society known as the 'Killers' revel in joining ancient societies, especially in combat. At the same time, subverted by the other time traveling society of 'Smoothies' who are incapable of coping with so much as a scraped knee.
- Of course, Cirroc, the unfrozen caveman lawyer, from SNL.
- SNL also did a sketch about the 2007-08 OJ Simpson Las Vegas assault trial in which even the guy who'd been in an amnesiac coma, the guy stranded on a desert island, and the newly arrived alien knew that OJ was a killer.
- Lisa on Green Acres, who ironically wants to return to New York, but adapts better than her husband to the unique ways of Hooterville. Justified in that she is a Cloudcuckoolander and Hooterville is prime Cloudcuckooland real estate.
- John Crichton, star of Farscape has his season-or-so of being a regular Fish Out of Water. However, after that season ends, the series sees John pull stuff that not even the Xanatos Gambit-wielding villains had ever once considered- with the possible exception of Scorpius. And, boy, was he just getting started... Heavily justified as though every other race is stronger, faster, tougher, and/or smarter, Crichton has two little aces up his sleeve; first, he simply doesn't know when he's been beaten; secondly, he is completely and totally batshit insane. By the end of the series, Crichton is willing to strap a nuclear weapon to his hip and stroll right into The Empire's most secure facility and blackmail them as part of a rescue mission - and pull it off!
- This sentiment is expressed in the series finale "Bad Timing", though (presumably) not meant to be taken literally.
John: What did you imagine for your life?
Aeryn: Service, promotion, retirement, death. You?
John: This is exactly what I imagined...and a couple of kids.
- Elizabeth Bennet in Lost in Austen adapts to the 21st century a lot better than the nominal heroine adapts to Regency England, despite her assumption of being Genre Savvy from reading and re-reading Pride and Prejudice, the book she's trapped inside.
- Nimrod the neanderthal adjusts pretty well to being a butler in the Doctor Who serial "Ghost Light", and later an interstellar explorer.
- Space Precinct 2040: Intelligent races tend to homogenize and eventually follow rules as a manner of etiquette. Then Faster-Than-Light Travel was discovered, they started interacting, finding that they had different forms of etiquette, and parts of their civilizations started rediscovering crime. Solution: find a race that still practices criminal investigation and recruit them as Space Police!
- An interesting villainous example in Lois and Clark. A time-traveler from the 30th century, a time with no war, crime or poverty, visits the 20th century. He's so enthralled by the violence and vice of the era that decides not only to stay but to try and take it over.
- On Supernatural, when Sam and Dean get sent to prison, Dean adapts to the situation with ease and actually seems to be enjoying his stay. It gets to the point where Sam asks, "Dean, doesn't it bother you how well you seem to fit in here?"
- Arthur Dent becomes one of these towards the end of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, but given the things he's seen by that point it's not surprising that he's desensitized to the bizarre.
- Zoey from Left 4 Dead was doing poorly in college and spent most of her time watching horror movies about zombies. After the world is overrun with zombies, she is Genre Savvy enough to survive.
- It doesn't always work in her favor, though. For instance, her father got bitten and, knowing how it turns out in the movies, forced her to shoot him. He was immune.
- There is a strong case that a female City Elf Warden in Dragon Age was expected to Stay in the Kitchen and ended up being a better Grey Warden than Alistair the trained Templar.
- Eddie Rigg of Brutal Legend not only fits in better than the natives of his new land, his is genuinely shocked they would think he'd want to go home again.
- Parson Gotti of Erfworld, Justified in that he was specifically summoned in order to be able to adapt rapidly. Also, the spell was supposed to summon someone who would find the place familiar.
- Rina Lee in The Dragon Doctors, a girl turned to stone and left in an abandoned mine for 2000 years before being rescued by the magical doctors. Society has actually been destroyed fully four times in a row over the course of 2000 years and is currently more or less back at the same level that Rina is able to relate to, though she's still horribly traumatized at first. The doctors point out that if she had been frozen during one of the Dark Ages she wouldn't have fared nearly as well. It also helps that she already knew magic before emerging into a magical world.
- In Schlock Mercenary, Gav, the former webcomic artist who wrote Nukees, was a Human Popsicle for a millennium (ever since the 21st century). When he was defrosted, he became... a wormhole physicist. Justified as he was defrosted just as an alien technology-suppressing conspiracy was broken, meaning he has an untainted viewpoint.
- The Compozerz is set in modern times, with five famous classical music composers inexplicably transported to the desert of the American Southwest, where they suddenly speak perfect English and get used to modern conveniences in no time. With a little help from their new friend Connie.
- Nordkapp Man, a member of the Global Guardians, is an Unfrozen Caveman Superhero. Within a few years of his being thawed out of the glacier he'd been trapped in for 30,000 years, Nordkapp Man (a neanderthal with superpowers) had become a university professor, a regular club-hopper, and, of course, an ice-wielding crimefighter.
- The businessmen from Adventure Time were literally unfrozen from an iceberg.
- Fry from Futurama, who went from completely freaked out and dumbstruck by the future to almost too comfortable in 3000 A.D.
- Played for laughs in one episode when he sees a huge light in the sky and stares at it in wonder, calling forth all the usual imagery of alien abduction, and suddenly the interest on his face evaporates when he realizes what it is:
Fry: Oh, it's just a flying saucer. You can't park here!
- When his ex-girlfriend from 1999 shows up, she is confused and terrified by the world of the future; Amy and Leela point out that Fry was a bizarre outsider in his own time, and so he has adapted much better to the bizarre world of 3000.
- The animated series Martin Mystery has a character named Java, a caveman that was frozen in ice for 200,000 years. He works at the titular Martin's high school as a cook and janitor and helps him and his stepsister Diana solve supernatural mysteries for The Center. He's rather wary of technology and has terrible hygiene and grammar, but otherwise has adapted to 20th century life quite well.
- And of course, the character is based on a character of the same name from an Italian comic, and works as an assistant and sort-of butler for Martin Mystère. No bad hygiene or wariness of technology is evident, in fact, he almost seems to fit everyday modern life a bit better than his boss. His only seeming flaws are his lecherousness and 'wandering hands'.
- Inversion: "Gorak" from South Park. Frozen in the ice nearly 32 months previous; after thawing, was difficult to train in "modern" communication, unable to adapt to "modern" ways, and ultimately moved to Des Moines, Iowa, because they're nearly three years behind everyone else.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force did a similar joke with a caveman who kept on ripping off Frylock's inventions while pretending to be just a stupid cave man.
- Gargoyles: Brooklyn, Lexington, and Broadway take pretty quickly to the world of 1994, despite being a thousand years out of date. All the Gargoyles have shades of it, really, but it's most noticeable with the trio.
- Hudson too, once he discovers television.