Once again, we come to that greatest of American holidays: Super Bowl Sunday. And whether you’re a die-hard Patriots fan or a bleeding-green Eagles fan, or you can’t stand the game and you just came to the party for Tanya’s outstanding seven-layer dip, we can all agree on one thing: Commercials should be judged and probably put on a list somewhere on the internet.
BEST OF THE BEST
Tourism Australia: “Dundee” with Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth
Sure, the cat got let out of the bag a week ago that the Crocodile Dundee reboot starring McBride and Hemsworth was a hoax. But for most people, the fake commercial for the movie (that seamlessly slides into an ad for Australia proper) got our hopes up and let us down in the most delightful way. Of course, it could easily become a tragedy if they actually do make the reboot. Sorry, gang, we’ve got to stop the nostalgia train somewhere.
Tide: “It’s a Tide Ad”
Pshht. Blowing your wad on a 90-second Super Bowl ad is so 1990s. Instead, why not do what’s called a “runner” in comedy circles: A 45-second ad, followed by three 15-second ads calling back to the gimmick of the first. In this case, doppelgänger ads for other products we’re all familiar with. Add David Harbour from Stranger Things to give it all a faintly surreal vibe and you’ve done something almost memorable enough to make us forget all those kids eating your detergent pods.
Groupon: “Who Wouldn’t” with Tiffany Haddish
Tiffany Haddish can turn even the most pedestrian commercial copy into something special. Everything else in this spot is terrible. Generic rich dude, generic shot to the groin — they couldn’t even afford to use the jerseys of an actual team. But just like Haddish could read the phone book and make it engaging, she sells the hell out of this. Hopefully, she got the extra money Groupon saved by making everything else so low-budget.
Michelob Ultra: “The Perfect Fit” with Chris Pratt
Chris Pratt is basically a walking, talking bottle of low-calorie beer. He’s fun, he’s light, he’s a gentle reminder that you should probably get back to the gym. It’s, frankly, kind of weird that it has taken Michelob this long to make him its spokesman.
Amazon: “Alexa Loses Her Voice” with Gordon Ramsay, Cardi B, Rebel Wilson, Anthony Hopkins
It’s the little things. Anybody could throw a bunch of money around and say, “Ramsay, be angry! Cardi, you’re brash! Rebel — inappropriate! Sir Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal Lecter meets Goldfinger!” But what sells this spot are the details. Ramsay’s justified anger (did they bleep out him saying “Donkey”?). Wilson’s use of the perfectly innocuous word bush. The timing of country music gag. And the inexplicable peacock for Sir Anthony Hopkins. Why would he have a peacock? It makes no sense. But go ahead and imagine his home in your head. How could there not be a peacock there?
M&M’s: “Human” with Danny DeVito
As with the Chris Pratt commercial, DeVito is the perfect casting for a human version of an M&M. Well, more specifically, that one M&M that gets left in the bag that gets forgotten at the bottom of a backpack. Then you find it three weeks later, but now it’s sticky and is covered with lint. “I should probably throw this away,” you think. But, hey, nobody’s around, right? So you pop it in your mouth and, sure, it’s a little hairier than usual. But who doesn’t love an M&M?
Budweiser: “Stand by You”
Feel-good commercials are harder than you’d think. It’s a fine line between dignified and sanctimonious, and it’s especially hard when you have to talk about your charitable work. Too much one way and it sounds like you’re bragging; too much the other and it sounds like you’re scolding. Focusing on the workers on the factory line is a solid choice though, so here’s to popping a cold one — beer or water.
Doritos and Mountain Dew: “Doritos Blaze vs. Mountain Dew Ice” with Morgan Freeman, Missy Elliott, Peter Dinklage, and Busta Rhymes
Hey, remember when lip-syncing was such a sin that Grammy Awards were taken away from people accused of it? Nothing about this should work, but… Well, Dinklage and Freeman are two of the best humans on the planet. And if they had to lip-sync something, Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes are the artists to do it with. Next year, though, maybe have them both do Space Pants?
Pepsi Generations: “This Is the Pepsi” with Cindy Crawford and Kyrie Irving
Nostalgia is easy to do but hard to do well. Pepsi nails it here with a breezy look at some of its greatest spokespeople. Cindy Crawford, Ray Charles, Jeff Gordon. There’s even an appearance by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. One wonders what he’s thinking in the afterlife, considering that Pepsi almost put him there 25 years early by setting him on fire in 1984.
Toyota: “Good Odds”/”Mobility Anthem”
It’s kind of brilliant to connect the personal mobility of cars with the personal mobility of people with physical disadvantages. If Lauren Woolstencroft’s story — from baby to medal — doesn’t get you a little misty-eyed, crack a couple more beers and come back to it. You’ll get there.
Sprint: “Do the Math”
Everything is hilarious — especially the laughter of robots bullying their creator — when it’s delivered in that AI monotone.
WORST OF THE WORST
PETA: “Redemption” with James Cromwell
PETA is like Congress: Even when there’s an issue that absolutely everybody agrees on — like, don’t be a jerk to animals — the group still finds a way to ruin it for everybody. This spot is literally preachy in the worst possible way. Whose mind is going to be changed by this?
Lexus: “Black Panther”
Remember those music videos from the ’80s where the song was part of a movie soundtrack? And to tie it together they’d get, say, Tom Hanks (who is great) to stand next to the Thompson Twins (who are great) and everyone would look so uncomfortable that you would kind of make you feel sorry for both? That times 10 is what’s happening here.
Pringles: “Wow” with Bill Hader
You know, jelly beans did the same thing — stacking flavors to make new flavors. After that came those Harry Potter Every Flavor Beans. Now does that mean that, because of this commercial, there will soon be a booger flavor of Pringle? Maybe not. But can we take that chance?
Febreze: “The Only Man Whose Bleep Don’t Stink”
Jimmy Kimmel can tell you — there’s nothing funnier than an unnecessary bleep. It’s not just the cutting something out; there’s something about the sound of that bleep that our brains associate with something filthy. Saying the word “bleep” instead of using the sound is like telling a fart joke without hearing a fart. Come on, man, this is Comedy 101!
Bud Light: “The Bud Knight”
If “Dilly Dilly!” doesn’t already grate on your nerves, give it a week.
Jack in the Box: “Jack vs. Martha” with Martha Stewart
There are a lot of people who wonder if the platonic friendship between Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg is real. It seems to good to be true, right? But this commercial proves it beyond a shadow of doubt. Look at how wooden Stewart is here; if she’s not into something, you can tell. As for you, Mr. Box: I know Snoop Dogg. Snoop Dogg is a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Snoop Dogg.
Jack Link’s: “Runnin’ With Sasquatch”
Jack Link’s has had a good long stretch of excellent Sasquatch commercials. The key, though, is a delicate balance of silliness and violence — none of which comes through in slow motion.
Kia: “Feel Something Again” with Steven Tyler
Is this terrible CGI like they did for Carrie Fisher in Rogue One? Or is this just an actor who kinda, sorta, but not really looks like a young Steven Tyler? Either way, that question is more interesting than this commercial.
Squarespace: “Make It” with Keanu Reeves
It’s like watching The Matrix viewed through the eyes of an aging Ted from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure high on pills stolen from the set of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Wendy’s has been doing pretty well with its Twitter account — seemingly staffed by an endless supply of smart, snarky teens — and it feels like the company is trying to transfer some of that “burn book” vibe onto TV. It’s hard to say whether this is good or bad; it should work, but it kind of feels like it’s in the wrong place.
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