While the fans of the Mean Kitties mourn and fans of the Fire Horses celebrate, it's time for the real competition: The Ads.
Overall, this year was a yawner. None of them stuck out as truly hysterical, powerful or even effective. At least we lacked the theme of several years running, "weak men and the women who harangue them." Or last year's quasi-depressing "heartfelt" ads that made us all run for the bar. This year, the theme was pretty much mediocrity. The good ads were mildly good; the bad ads were mildly bad; and the only real theme seemed to be, "inanimate objects will insult you."
On to the ads, as nominated by those at the marvelous Superb Owl party I am honored to attend each year, and the good folks who followed along my livetweet and cross-post to Facebook. It's always more fun to watch with friends.
• Helen Mirren's Budweiser-sponsored PSA calling all drunk drivers "pillock." Important and amusing, with the bonus of wondering if Mirren actually would drink Bud.
• Jeep's "Portraits," one of the few truly moving ads this year with images from history interspersed with Jeep's part of it. I found it compelling, and even more interested in Jeep, which is kind of the point of ads.
• Who would have expected one of the best ads to be promoting avocados? Sci-fi zoo displays the blue dress (yes, it's blue) and poor Scott Baio, who doesn't even get the guac. Amusing and it made me want avocados. By the end of the night, everyone was giving it a thumbs-up.
• Lady Gaga's rendition of the National Anthem was beautiful and highlighted her considerable talent. The automatic comparison to Whitney Houston falls short, but barely. One amusing meme already circulating pointed out that her costume was "Super Bowl" by day and "hosting the Hunger Games" by night, but by Gaga standards, it was practically subdued.
• BMW Mini's "Defy Labels" falls in the win column for me solely because I am dead tired of car ads that center on "image" and "lifestyle." Look, a clue for Madison Avenue: It's a car. Four wheels and an engine, a method of transportation. If you want to sell me a car, talk to me about gas mileage, reliability, safety and price. Stop trying to sell me an image and then relate it to the car as though buying the car makes me a different person. So even though I could never afford a BMW, I appreciate their attempt to shunt off the labels that say a car makes you more this and less something else or whatever. It's a freaking car.
• Others that people liked: "Moving On Up" spoof for Apartments.com, Death Wish Coffee with the valiant Vikings, the Singing Sheep (who really rocked, but didn't actually sell me a truck, which is baaaaaad.)
• The Halftime Show. Granted, every show is a comparison to the nadir of live entertainment, the year of the Blackeyed Peas and the Dancing Boxheads. This year, I struggled past the realization that Coldplay's "oldies" segment dated to my college years and that 1995 really was 21 years ago. Then Bruno Mars stepped up, and Beyonce was queen, as usual. She never fails to impress, and the subtext of her Michael Jackson jacket and backup dancers in Black Panther gear was apparent (and the racists rose up on Twitter). I enjoyed it despite my decrepitude, and CultureGeek Jr. liked it as well. It's a rare musical act that can please both old and young.
• In all fairness, several people nominated the Town Full of Ryan Reynolds as one of their favorites. I was mildly interested at first - Reynolds isn't my thing, but it was amusing in a "whut" kind of way, and I'm intrigued by Hyundai's pedestrian-alarm auto-stop feature. But later, others pointed out that car commercials underscoring "women are lousy drivers" should be relegated to the 1950s where they belong. My usual test for sexism is to flip the genders: would this be possible or considered funny if the genders were reversed? If it were a man distracted by a town full of beautiful women, would we be laughing? Maybe, but for the same reason: a stereotype that men are hormonally stupid, whereas this one said that women were hormonally stupid. So it's a good thing the car is smarter than we are?
• Shock Top beer's trash-talking tap continues that brand's strange idea that insulting its patrons is a good way to get them to drink your beer. I was amused by speculation that if Helen Mirren had been in that ad, she'd have put that mouthy orange wedge in its place.
• Audi aimed for the heartstrings with the retired astronaut reliving his glory days by... driving an Audi, while listening to David Bowie. Points for intent, but in the end, it fell short, as did Steven Tyler's Skittles portrait.
• The Snickers "you're not yourself" ad caused a little controversy. Willem Dafoe transforms into Marilyn Monroe, so we can film The Seven-Year Itch. I thought it was amusing at first; then some discussion referred to it as transphobic. Was it funny because of the ongoing schtick, or because we were looking at Willem Dafoe in a dress? At first I didn't think much of it; last year, after all, we howled when Danny Trejo turned into Marcia Brady. But quite frankly, it isn't for me as a cisgendered heterosexual white woman to say what is or is not transphobic.
• Christopher Walken doing hand puppets with colored socks? It started out so well! And then the ad - with a message of "don't be beige" - switches to a Kia Optima. A white Kia Optima. Perhaps, if trying to teach us to be individuals, maybe not showing us such a boring product.
• T-Mobile tries to blame lawyers for evil cell phone company policies. Yawn. Likewise Turbotax's "Never a Sellout," because Sir Anthony Hopkins deserves a better ad.
• There was one person excited about LG's "Man From the Future" ad with Liam Neeson. But seriously, who's hunting after wafer-thin TV shows? Waste of talent.
• Prius's bank robber chase would have been mildly amusing, except it seemed to stem from some perceived public opinion that Prius's are slow, inefficient or otherwise mockable. Maybe I haven't been listening to the right late-night comedians, but everyone I know either loves Prius or wants one. It's also not much of an endorsement: "Prius is the preferred brand of felons everywhere!"
• The side effect of being tired of political news is that even when it's a spoof, we don't want to join the Bud Light Party. As writer Keith R.A. DeCandido pointed out, Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen were diminished by their Budweiser commercial; Budweiser was elevated by Helen Mirren's.
• Doritos "Ultrasound" was annoying and quasi-horrifying for any woman who's been in labor, with bonus creepy points if you realize the subtext: "Doritos: Causing Miscarriage/Horribly Premature Birth!" Note: This was one of those fan-made spots, and there were some fans.
• Actively offensive: Buick believes women will fight each other over a bouquet, because naturally we're all vying to get married. Ah, sexism. What would the Superb Owl be without it? Note: My mockery of this one got me MRA types messaging me on Twitter! Ah, Internet, never change.
• The ones that were so mediocre as to be unmemorable: Squarespace with Key and Peele, Michelob's "Breathe," Doritos' dogs attempting to sneak into a grocery story, Marmot's marmot is disturbed (as are we) by an amorous camper.
• Hyundai's "First Date" was a close contender for worst ad, with Kevin Hart stalking his clearly-adult daughter on her date. In full disclosure, several people thought it was funny. But frankly, I am tired beyond words of the whole "overprotective dad threatens boys with murder" schtick. It is insulting to girls because it robs them of their agency, their autonomy and their right to choose their own partners without clearing it with their owners - er, fathers. It is insulting to boys because it assumes they have no control of themselves and have no sense of right or wrong save fear of mutilation. Instead, read this column, which has been traveling around the internet this week. "If I treat my daughters with respect, listen to them when they speak, nurture their self-confidence, and honor who they are as young women then they will expect that from other men as well."
Movie ads get their own category, because the quality of the ad is inherently tied to the quality of the movie it advertises. Someone who hates superhero movies will not be moved by the best ad showcasing one. So here's a roundup of the coming attractions, and whaddya mean, no Ghostbusters?
• Jason Bourne gets a teaser, and for some reason I didn't know this was happening. I thought they had rebooted with Jeremy Renner, so it just goes to show that I need to keep my ear to the ground more. And, um, catch up with two or three more movies. The promo shows us nothing about the plot beyond "Another Bourne Movie," with bonus Tommy Lee Jones.
• 10 Cloverfield Lane, the sequel no one asked for and most of us aren't sure should happen. At first I thought it was gender-switched Misery, and John Goodman makes everything better. (Well, almost everything.) Bonus: It doesn't appear to be shaky-cam! (Seriously, I don't mind found footage, but Cloverfield nearly made me ill. I spent some of the movies "watching" with my eyes closed to avoid nausea.)
• Independence Day: Resurrection told us nothing we didn't already know about the movie. The only actual line is Jeff Goldblum's "What goes up must come down," which is something we were all screaming during the first movie only nobody was listening then! #physics Still, since I adored the original movie (warts and all), I can't help but be excited... and the visual of a city in literal upheaval? Almost (but not quite) as amazing as 1996's Super Bowl ad blowing up the White House.
• Captain America: Civil War pretty much had me squeeing on the floor, even if I'm annoyed that Black Widow is on Team Iron Man. (I'm totally Team Cap, in case anyone cares.) Still wondering how/why Tony is flitting about in the suit when he had the glowy thingamabob removed in the last movie (spoilers! Wait, that was, like, two years ago. Bite me.) But... it's Cap!
• Speaking of movies I can't wait to see... the flashback crew made me love X-Men again after the debacle that was X3, so Apocalypse looks pretty nifty. What am I saying? I'd watch it no matter what.
• Deadpool was a big hit at the party. I'm not a big fan, but I'll probably watch it. Just not on Valentine's Day. (Bonus: "I always wanted to be a professional athlete. Because I wanted to have children in cities all over the world." Ouch.)
• Others. There was Teenage Mutant Ninja Reptiles or something. Look, I didn't watch the show when it was cartoon or comic, and Megan Fox would not have been my choice for the smart, capable young reporter. And there was a cobbled-together 30-second spot for Jungle Book that didn't impress (and gave at least one reader the impression that Baloo was going to be a dumbass bro-type). So here's a better Jungle Book trailer. Finally, it doesn't matter how many times they show me trailers for Gods of Egypt. It's still the whitest Egypt in modern film history. Here ya go, moviemakers.
• We're tired of Verizon vs. T-Mobile, but props to Steve Harvey for owning his mistake and turning it into a funny.
• The decidedly unscientific poll is rarely unanimous, but in this case, Mountain Dew's unsettling puppymonkeybaby was the clear winner - or loser. Disturbing, unfunny and generally termed "nightmare fuel," no one liked this one.
• If you're going to steal a mini Coke from the Hulk, you'd best be Ant-Man.