By Devon Shuman, Senior Staff Writer
In Adam McKay’s 2010 comedy, “The Other Guys,” billionaire David Ershon asks the two protagonists how “Jersey Boys” was, to which Will Ferrell’s character emphatically replies, “The pageantry, the costumes. Wow! What a musical!”
As I watched Super Bowl 50 (RIP, Roman numerals) Sunday night, my mind kept cycling back to this quote. I’ve watched a lot of football, but there’s something undeniably different about the Super Bowl. It brings with it an almost magical quality. Showmanship. Theatrics. A cultural gathering of the masses. Pure American commitment to excess.
An NBC press release from last February explained that of the eight most-watched television events in history, only one (the 1983 “M*A*S*H” finale) was not a Super Bowl, and it came in at number seven. Something is drawing viewers to their television sets, but it’s not just football.
From sports fanatics to pop culture junkies to people who just want to party, the Super Bowl has something for everyone.
And, of course, the common denominator among everybody’s Super Bowl favorites — the commercials. It doesn’t matter if you can’t tell a pigskin from a potato skin, everyone perks up when the announcers declare that they’ll be “right back.” Even fedora-clad hipsters probably tune in to see what the likes of Coca-Cola, Budweiser and Doritos came up with this year.
There’s more to these commercials than simply selling products (although, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t immediately order a pound of Death Wish Coffee after it was touted as the world’s strongest). Nobody sees a Prius in a multi-day police chase and thinks, “I have to get to the Toyota dealership ASAP!”
This is a competition. Who can produce the funniest, most poignant and most talked about ad? What results is a brilliant, beautiful mess of cleverness, oddity and a whole slew of celebrity cameos.
Like any fierce competition, the ad race pushes companies to take creative risks and, while this often works out, it undoubtedly results in a multitude of flops.
LG finished near the bottom this year with a visually intriguing, yet utterly perplexing spot in which Liam Neeson sits at a bar and gives philosophical advice to his younger self. It seemed promising at first, but ultimately got so bogged down in utilizing Neeson that it failed to provide a reason for existing. I went from thinking this was a trailer for “Now You See Me 2” to believing it was a motorcycle ad, and only actually remembered it was LG after looking it up the next day.
As far as strangeness goes, Mountain Dew takes the peculiar cake with “PuppyMonkeyBaby,” the grotesque result of a science experiment that shows up to offer guys KickStart. I guess they did their job, as the Internet is abuzz with everything “PMB,” but if that thing’s going to show up whenever I buy Mountain Dew, I’ll pass.
The worst of the worst, however, had to be Super Bowl Babies, the spot in which the NFL rounded up children who were born nine months after their parents’ teams won a Super Bowl, and then had them sing as a choir with Seal.
There’s enough to dig into there to fill a Tolstoy novel, but for the sake of space, I’ll leave it at this — for a league that’s been accused of being downright morally bankrupt, was this the best way to go? A lot of young kids are going to have some questions for their parents, who might not be quite ready to have that talk.
But enough about the duds.
Super Bowl 50 churned out its fair share of advertising wonders. Typical powerhouses Coca-Cola and Budweiser missed the mark, but Doritos picked up the slack with “Ultrasound,” my pick for funniest ad of the night. It’s depiction of an unborn baby who exits its mother in pursuit of Doritos will probably attract the attention of some anti-abortion groups, but in the ever-competitive world of Super Bowl advertising you have to be edgy to survive.
There were plenty of other hilarious spots, such as Avocados from Mexico’s futuristic look back on our society, Hyundai’s use of Kevin Hart as the overprotective dad and Steve Harvey’s self-deprecating endorsement of T-Mobile.
But for me the best spot of the night, Audi’s Commander, lacked any humor. Instead, it showed an old, retired astronaut who finally gets to relive the past when he gets behind the wheel of an Audi.
In concept, it’s cheesy, but the production is nothing short of magnificent. As the astronaut started the engine and the Audi flew down the road like a rocket ship, accompanied by David Bowie’s “Starman,” I was awash with a sense of poignancy and inspiration that no ad has ever provided.
This is a perfect short film that aims to galvanize the country that’s watching. Unlike Clint Eastwood’s attempt at the same thing several years ago, this one steers clear of any political perspective and, in fact, transcends party lines.
In only 60 seconds, Audi reminded everyone what it means to feel alive. And amid all of the crazy and, most likely, nonsensical festivities surrounding the Superbowl, with the opportunity to air something that will be seen by an entire nation, is there anything nobler for a company to do?