At first I thought this was going to be the easiest Superb Owl column I’d ever write, because the consensus in the room this year was nearly unanimous: NFL players dancing to ‘80s pop is totally awesome.
For those new to the show: I pay only the barest attention to sports, and the Superb Owl is basically an excuse to eat a lot of food with friends, laugh at the commercials and dance around with boxes on our heads during the halftime show. (Okay, that only happened once.) The sportsball is when we go get snacks. And for this blog, it's always about the commercials.
Nearly everyone voted for this hilarious spot in which NFL players reenact the classic choreography of the final dance sequence in Dirty Dancing, and who knew these guys could act? Seriously, I want the outtakes where they simply burst out laughing as they learn the dance steps (with the help of Hamilton choreographer Stephanie Klemons). Hilariously, Abigail Breslin - who survived the ill-advised remake - tweeted in favor of it: “When a football player does the angel lift in a super bowl ad better than you did in the remake.”
Also: Wire work for the win. That guy probably weighed a touch more than Jennifer Grey.
But it’s hard, because the NFL can’t overcome its serious problems with a cute TV spot. This is not the place to debate them - this blog is about popular culture and entertainment with an eye to the geeky, and the ethics of professional athletics are pretty far afield. And if you think I’m touching the issue of the president’s Tweet, you are sadly mistaken. Y’all run through it in the comments if you must.
Still, the hallmark of a good ad is whether people remember it, whether it effectively communicates its message, with a plus or minus for entertainment value. The worst thing an ad can be is boring, which sadly applied for quite a few - Keanu Reeves standing on a motorcycle for SquareSpace was simply dull, and I can’t say much for “dancing badly with Diet Coke” or the Bud Knight.
• High points included Jeff Goldblum playing off his Jurassic Park personality in an obvious tie-in to Jurassic World, Danny DeVito as a human M&M, and Alexa losing her voice. Wendy’s Twitter account got its own Super Bowl ad, which is the best win for a social media manager ever, and of course they took the opportunity to jab at McDonald’s.
• Reactions are mixed to the Tide running gags. Obviously Tide spent a gazillion dollars on a series of ads that would have been hilarious if they hadn’t been obviously intended to try to distract us from the Tide Pod Challenge nonsense. News flash, Tide: It didn’t work. You’d have done better to address the stupidity head on, rather than camouflaging it with an ad campaign that might have done well in another year. You do get bonus points for making us all watch other ads more closely in case they were fake Tide ads. Remember the Energizer bunny? That worked for a reason.
• Laaaaaaame: Tall Diet Coke cans make you dance goofy; Jeep reminds us that roads make it easy to get from Point A to Point B (direct quote for Captain Obvious); and an unsettling Hyundai ad where people are taken aside without just cause after (not) setting off a metal detector, just so they can watch a video about how awesome Hyundai is. Tone deaf as hell.
• Best quote of the night:
ME: Tom Brady, Han Solo and Jurassic World are trending.
MARY: Now that sounds like a good movie.
Extra credit goes to:
• The legal text in the Dodge Ram commercial: “Never ride in the bed of a truck unless you are an authentic Viking.”
• Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman for Doritos and Mountain Dew. I don’t care that they were lip-synching to sell nutritionally questionable snacks; I could watch either of them do anything and enjoy it.
• Dundee isn’t a real reboot, but a travel ad for Australia. Which is nifty and fun and pretty (not just Chris Hemsworth), and thank God they’re not actually making the movie. Error: airing teasers in advance got us started, and then we all knew it was a gag before the Super Bowl. Airing the teaser at the beginning of the Super Bowl and the explanation later on would have been better. However, it was completely redeemed with the brief cameo of a dubious Paul Hogan. Ha!
• The Rocket Mortgage guy explains the subtext of Tinder, the lameness of haute cuisine and “It’s just a gray dot.” Actual laughter is rare enough during these spots, and that was fun.
• Compare that truck ad using a Martin Luther King Jr. speech with the overlay of “we care about social justice,” to the T-Mobile ad of the babies that really seemed to BE about social justice. The difference? The MLK ad scattered close-ups of the truck in between a series of images that might have been terrific except for the ad intrusion. (Also, MLK sometimes referred to overly-expensive car purchases as a moral failing, so maybe read all the way to the end next time.) T-Mobile left the damn cell phones out of the ad, leaving only a logo placement at the end. That made a better impression on me.
I don’t mind companies using their Super Bowl ad time to altruistically advocate for something better and more affirming than selling stuff. In fact, I consider it good corporate citizenship to use their gazillions for the betterment of society. The ads are expensive and they need to pay off. But do it right: make the product ancillary to the ad itself. The message should be the cause, not the product. Do it well enough and it will be effective. For example? I don’t remember what truck the MLK ad was selling, but I remember T-Mobile and the babies.
Other altruism includes Budweiser bottling water for disasters and Stella Artois selling … goblets, I think? … to bring clean water to third world countries. Bravo, even if you’re looking for a pat on the back with the ad itself. Hey, could this signal a new trend? Corporations doing good works as the new fashion? The commercials might be insufferable, but I doubt that matters to the people getting the fresh water.
• Several votes for best commercial online went to the 15 seconds of dead air. Somewhere there is a production tech cleaning out his cubicle. Rough estimates are that was $3 million worth of dead air (and it produced some of the funniest Twitter snark I’ve seen in years.)
• The Blacture ad was compelling and effective, silencing the room for a moment. “Be celebrated. Not tolerated.” I tweeted about it. And immediately got a response from a nasty racist using an ethnic slur. Reported. At first I gave Twitter credit because shortly thereafter it disappeared from my feed, so I thought it had been removed. Then further examination showed it was still up on his feed. I guess we’ll see if they take action, or if, like Facebook, screaming racists don’t qualify as violating community standards.
I’m not a huge Justin Timberlake fan, and this bit didn’t do much to make me one. I give him credit for working his tail off out there, with no dancing sharks or people with boxes on their heads that have made me wonder what wacky tobacky might have been smoked in the design meetings in years past. I spent more time puzzling at the fact that he was inexplicably wearing an elk than I spent enjoying the music - though bonus points for actually using a marching band for once.
The homage to Prince was both touching and annoying. He was the hometown hero, and his music was a welcome break for my ears. Turning the neighborhood purple was awesome. I was not so fond of Timberlake singing a duet with a dead man who likely would have eschewed his holographic resurrection, especially since Timberlake famously dissed Prince years before his death.
More annoying: Timberlake actually sang the song that ended with the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, which just underscored the infuriating dichotomy that Timberlake has no repercussions from that incident while Jackson’s career has never quite recovered. Bad enough that he’s back at the Super Bowl careening about the stage while she’s a pariah, leading to the hashtag #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay. Way to underscore the tone-deafness to 2018 race relations, Super Bowl. As of this writing, Timberlake’s new album is featured on iTunes’ front page and is the iTunes top seller, while three of the top ten songs are Timberlake’s. It’s not just about the Super Bowl gig, folks.
Among the trailers: Hands-down, Avengers was the winner among just about everyone I surveyed (a scientific sample to be sure). Maybe because it’s the movie people are most eager to see, but frankly, Solo fascinated me more. I’m curious to see how it emerges from its development hell.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is problematic, even as it becomes clear we will be deluged with marketing for the summer blockbuster-wannabe. I couldn’t stand Jurassic World, and keep in mind this comes from someone who really liked all the previous ones, even III. I was not the only person angry throughout Jurassic World at how a decidedly non-sexist film like Jurassic Park devolved into this mess.
This article skillfully examines all the ways in which Jurassic World hates, mocks and tortures its female characters, while Jurassic Park celebrates both Dr. Sattler and Lex as brave, smart and ultimately heroic. “Aside from the obvious advances in CGI, it’s honestly difficult to believe Jurassic World came out 22 years after Jurassic Park,” it says. I could go into all the ways that we've devolved in gender parity since the 1990s, but that's another column.
The Super Bowl trailer is a good one, in that it actually tempts me to see the sequel. Perhaps it’s my stubborn optimism, my hope that a crappy, sexist script was simply written and filmed by a bunch of clueless men and the repeated criticism of its nasty misogyny could be corrected by a second movie with smarter people behind the keyboards. Sadly, I suspect I’ll be disappointed.
• The Cloverfield Paradox is a surprise Netflix drop - I heard there was going to be another one, but I thought it was going to be a feature film. People are already watching and commenting, so I’d stay away from the internet if you don’t want spoilers. Here’s my spoiler-free question: Do I have to watch the second one to watch this?
More seriously, someone asked me if Netflix is the new “direct to video.” Yes and no. Yes in that obviously it has replaced the DVD-only release as a way to circumvent the extensive cost of a feature film release. No in that Netflix’s original content is turning out to be a much higher quality than a lot of the dreck we’re seeing in theaters and networks. Whereas “direct to video” was pretty much a screaming red flag that “this sucks too much to release,” a film released direct to Netflix (or other streaming service) might just be the best thing ever.
• Westworld creeps us out with its season 2 ad, leading to cries of “Finally!” It’s not looking good for the humans in the Fake Wild West.
• Castle Rock! Still the trailer tells us nothing. That won’t stop me from endlessly examining it frame by frame (the monkey!) for clues. Scott Glenn is the latest variation of Alan Pangborn, a much older Alan than the ones we’ve seen previously. I doubt the dog scaring Sissy Spacek (of Carrie!) could possibly be Cujo, because everyone knows Cujo is a St. Bernard. Andre Holland plays “Henry,” who could be one of several characters or a new one. Clues include sewers, Shawshank Prison, creepy-looking “students,” blood swirling into a sink, snow, and more. We still have to wait for summer.
• Boo hiss to Skyscraper, the lamely-named Die Hard knockoff with Dwayne Johnson, who seems to be signing any contract they shove in front of him these days. Nothing in the trailer told me I’d enjoy it more than my Die Hard DVD. Johnson is cute and charismatic; he should be picking better scripts. (Yeah, I’ve heard Jumanji is actually good, despite its trailers. We’ll see.)
• Too boring for links: yet another Mission Impossible movie, and do I even need to address Jesus Christ Superstar Live with Alice Cooper as King Herod? Parody is dead in the 21st century.
And now it’s time to ignore sportsball again until the Cardinals home opener. Play ball!