Even for an event as media-saturated as the Super Bowl, this
year’s game offered unusually meaty, cinematic storylines.

NFLThe brothers Harbaugh, Jim and John, going head to head,
obviously; but also Baltimore, back in the football spotlight decades after the
Colts abandoned the city most people in TV think of as “The Wire”-ville; and even the guy from “The Blind Side,”
completing his storybook, movie-embellished journey.

They still had to play the game, though, and that was when the XLVIIth edition of TV’s sports-and-advertising orgy got weird, with an extended blackout that exposed the CBS Sports crew's shortcomings as they vamped to fill time and unsettled the whole evening. Fortunately for all concerned — except perhaps the folks on "Elementary," which didn't kick off its post-Super Bowl episode until after 11 p.m. ET — the San Francisco 49ers roared back, keeping the outcome in doubt until the final moments.

As for the advertising part — which is all casual fans seem to care about — as usual, Budweiser cast the
biggest shadow, and laid one of the bigger eggs while producing perhaps the most touching spot of the day. Sure, those Black Crown bottles are kind of cool-looking, but I'm still not sure Budweiser is the name anyone thinks of when looking for an upscale brew. An extension of the Bud Light "Superstition" campaign (with Stevie Wonder) fared considerably better, but it was a Budweiser ad featuring a horse breeder reunited with a Clydesdale that put a sizable lump in your throat.

For Variety's purposes, much of the focus is invariably on the movie ads, even if it's often difficult for them to stand out, since there's only so much one can do with a cut-down trailer; and the host network, in this case CBS, which aside from saying "We're No. 1" over and over again, promoted the hell out of its shows, and aired a "2 Broke Girls" "spectacular" that managed to be almost as annoying as the show often is. On the flip side, there was a fun football-themed spot for "The Big Bang Theory," and the chance to remind people "Rules of Engagement" is back, assuming anyone noticed it was gone.

In terms of the movies, here are some knee-jerk reactions, in the order shown:

"Oz the Great and Powerful" (Disney): Certainly conveyed an epic scope that made it look like more than a kid's movie, which should be a hurdle the title has to overcome. Plus, it's out in early March, which means the spot is a little closer to release than some of the spring and summer movies. (Actually, I was waiting for the ad to say "We promise – Not 'John Carter,'" but you can't have everything.)

"Fast & Furious 6" (Universal): While I have no desire to see it, they blow shit up real nice.

"Star Trek: Into Darkness" (Paramount): The idea of threatening a future Earth caught my attention, but I wish the spot had been a little less hectic. Sometimes a little less can be more. Not that "Trek" fans won't be giddy, but the goal is to win over some folks who don't have an Enterprise replica in the spare bedroom.

"Iron Man 3" (Disney/Marvel): The best movie spot of the day, hands down. Focused on one jaw-dropping moment, and actually got me excited about seeing the movie, which is impressive, since I still haven't forgotten how much I disliked the first sequel.

In terms of the best spots, aside from the Clydesdale commercial, those with an emotional hook tended to play best, including a Jeep ad for returning soldiers and their families; and a Dodge Ram tribute to the heartland using a Paul Harvey reading. Big slapstick frequently rates well in surveys, but the only ones that really tickled me was the "Got Milk?" ad featuring the Rock ignoring all kinds of threats while going to get milk for the kids; and a Mercedes spot, in which the Devil (played by Willem Dafoe – a good bit of casting) offers a guy the car and all that goes with it, before the fellow realizes he can afford the ride on his own.

Other spots that stood out include Audi (the kid gets courage from dad's car), Cars.com (the adorable wolf puppy and its protective mom), the second Doritos ad (where dad and his friends play dress-up with the young daughter), Calvin Klein (beautiful male bodies to look at, if perhaps not the best image to present while people are scarfing down thousands of junky calories), Samsung (a bit with Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd would have been funnier if it hadn't dragged on so long), Kia's "Where do babies come from?" bit, and a Coca-Cola spot that mixed all sorts of movie genres in a big desert chase scene.

As for those advertisers who would have been just as wise sitting out this year's game and saving their $133,000-per-second investments, here's a partial roster: GoDaddy twice (first yuck, then yawn), M&Ms, Hyundai, the first Doriitos, Pepsi Next, Oreo (a fight in a library to show off stunts), Toyota (looks great, but nothing to do with cars), Volkswagen (sorry, that one just annoyed me), and Axe Apollo (ditto).

And the absolute worst spot of the day: Mio Fit, a sports drink, featuring Tracy Morgan. Not that I would have consumed it before, but trust me, I never will now.

Of course, I suspect a lot of people who work at CBS Sports and the Superdome could use a considerably stiffer drink right now. On the plus side, they're in the right town for it — assuming the lights stay on.

 

 

 

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