Super Bowl ads deliver big laughs

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Feb. 2, 2009
BY JULIE HINDS

FREE PRESS POP CULTURE WRITER

For a country that needs some economic stimulus, the 2009 Super Bowl did its best. The commercials weren’t the best ever, but they tried to be as big and bold as those from better times. There were romantic Clydesdales, soda-stealing bugs and a hilarious cameo by the rear end of a moose. The laughs mostly outweighed the winces. And if the ads could make you smile during this financial crisis, there’s hope for us all. The halftime show was even more optimistic as Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band set off musical fireworks (accompanied by real ones) that were soul-stirring enough to make everyone believe we can get back to our glory days. And did we mention the game was exciting?

Most likely to spark a speed-dating trend. If you like gentle humor more than the vicious approach, you had to appreciate Taco Bell’s soft sell, where an eager young man went in the blink of an eye from getting a girl’s phone number to taking her to Taco Bell to meet his parents.

Least sentimental remake. The Coke Zero update of the classic Mean Joe Greene ad from the 1980 Super Bowl had Steeler Troy Polamalu tackling a brand manager for regular Coke and ripping off the white-collar flunky’s shirt before he tossed it to a kid. It’s the drink for a snarky generation.

Best/worst Conan appearances. Some celebrities turned out to tout Conan O’Brien’s move to “Tonight,” including Tina Fey, who said, “If your Conan lasts more than three hours, call a doctor.” But Conan could have skipped the Bud Light spot, where he crawled around on a fur rug while wearing a mesh vest. He’s funnier in late night.

Best chance at making iPod playlists. The “Forever Young” Pepsi ad with youthful Bob Dylan footage and Will.i.am’s update was a nice pairing. Hip is hip in any millennium.

Funniest portrayal of workplace despair. Kudos to Monster.com for showing two adjoining offices: one with a moose head on the wall and one where, well, the other half of the moose stuck out over the desk of a clearly miserable worker. And you thought you couldn’t laugh at your employment situation.

Best sound effect. Thanks, Denny’s, for offering a free Grand Slam breakfast on Tuesday. We’ll probably still be chuckling then about those mob guys trying to make their plans while a waitress squirts a noisy whipped-cream can and draws smiley faces on their pancakes.

Grossest portrayal of workplace despair. CareerBuilder.com’s reasons to find a new job were amusing, except for the one about the hairy, underwear-wearing, toe-scratching guy in the cubicle. Too much information — and it might be enough reason for the company to find a new ad agency.

Most noteworthy signs of the times. How could you tell this is 2009? By the spot for the Hyundai program that lets consumers return their cars if they lose their jobs. And by the fact that there was a Cash4Gold.com ad starring Ed McMahon and MC Hammer.

Most creative visuals. The acrobatic animated insects who absconded with a Coca-Cola bottle were a virtual ballet of bugs. Talk about green energy.

Most valuable player. Move over, Prince and Tom Petty. Bruce Springsteen joins the list of performers whose halftime shows have lived up to the hype. From the moment he asked viewers to step away from the guacamole dip and put down the chicken fingers, the Boss had America in the palm of his hand with a set that included “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Born to Run,” and “Glory Days.” Hot on the heels of his performance at the Lincoln Memorial, Springsteen again demonstrated why he’s the go-to guy for rockin’ national unity.

Best special effect. Sure, the 3-D “Monsters vs. Aliens” and SoBe plugs got attention, but they couldn’t hold a candle to watching the 59-year-old Springsteen show off his flexibility by sliding on his knees and crashing into an onstage camera. Now that would have been fun to see with 3-D glasses.

Best one second. “High Life!” Enough said.

Nastiest approach. Teleflora slammed boxed flowers with a spot where some buds in a cardboard container insulted the young woman who received them. “Go home to your romance novels and your fat, smelly cat,” the snarky blooms said. They also told her nobody wants to see her naked. Yikes, every rose ad has its thorn.

Most noticeable omission. In the Hyundai Genesis spot where Japanese and German rivals were shown railing furiously at the sedan being named Car of the Year, there were no American automakers joining in the histrionics. Well, at least the Detroit Three weren’t portrayed behaving badly.

Best horsing around. Watching the Clydesdales is sometimes like seeing your great-uncle tell a family joke for the umpteenth time. But the familiar animals scored for Budweiser in several segments, including a romance-drenched frolic where a Clydesdale raced across the country — and jumped a small canyon — to reach his circus-horse love, all to the tune of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Best excuse to bring in Alec Baldwin. Smart move by Hulu.com, having the “30 Rock” star reveal his evil plot to turn our brains to mush through online TV viewing — because he’s an alien (or, at the very least, he’s out-of-this-world amusing).

Best argument that monkeys aren’t always hilarious. As much as we love a capitalist chimp, the Castrol Edge bit where a man watches grease monkeys take care of his car while he wears an air filter crown (because they’ve made him their king) probably won’t go down in the great ape ad annals.

Most sexist. The sleazy GoDaddy.com spots were so desperate to be controversial, they’re hardly worth mentioning. But it was disappointing to see the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head ad for Bridgestone, where the spud husband is secretly happy when his annoying wife’s mouth falls off. Is it possible to be a male chauvinist starch?

Most forgettable bruisings. Several guys took an impossible battering for Pepsi Max, yet popped up to yell, “I’m good.” Another guy crashed into imaginary trees while skiing to demonstrate Bud Light’s drinkability. Well, maybe in an age of real economic pain, fake pain isn’t so funny.

Worst use of a speeding car. A predictable Toyota ad in the first quarter offered nothing but the fast-moving vehicle. “Are you Venza?” it asked. Not unless they come up with a zippier pitch.

Best use of a speeding car. Jay Leno zipped around wordlessly in a convertible in the short, snappy teaser for his future NBC prime-time show.

Most shattering ads. The broken glass flew in three early commercials: a Bud Light spot where an office worker was thrown out a window for suggesting no beer at meetings as a cost-cutting measure; an action-packed Audi spot with actor Jason Statham, and a Doritos ad where another white-collar dude hurled his crystal ball snow globe at a vending machine to make a free-snacks prediction come true. Um, in this economy, who’s going to pay for the repairs?

Biggest grab-the-handkerchief moment. A nervous but composed Jennifer Hudson making her first big appearance since the slaying of her family members turned her soaring version of the National Anthem into an emotional highlight of the evening.

Best fashion foresight. During her performance of “America the Beautiful” before the kickoff, the impeccable Faith Hall’s eye shadow was perfectly coordinated to go with the robes of the choir that surrounded her.

Most unexpected airtime for a celeb mag. Who knew Matt Lauer would hold up a copy of Us Weekly during his live pregame chat with President Barack Obama and tease the leader of the free world about being left out of the cover photo of Michelle and the girls? Or that Obama, referring to another major story on the cover, would note Jessica Simpson is “in a weight battle, apparently” — officially making him the most pop-culture-aware prez ever.

Most unexpected airtime for Lauer. The NBC “Today” host got more face time during the game. In a preview for the upcoming “Land of the Lost” movie, Will Ferrell’s character was interviewed by a skeptical Lauer about time travel. Then, as Ferrell was rubbing shoulders with way-back creatures, he yelled, “Matt Lauer can eat it!.”

Most shocking product placement. Did you notice Pepsi’s use of “MacGruber,” the “MacGyver”-like skit that usually runs on “Saturday Night Live”? The ad debuted Saturday night during the 90-minute “SNL” block, when a series of “MacGruber” skits made references to the soft drink and MacGruber changed his name to Pepsuber. SNL fans probably will be appalled.

Contact JULIE HINDS at 313-222-6427 or [email protected]