Good ’ol Super Bowl, devoured by the new one

February 5, 2012

Media revolutionaries picked an excellent year to actively discourage Americans from watching the year’s highest-rated telecast on stupid, old, outdated televisions. Had you not occupied yourself with at least two other devices, you might have drifted off during Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday night on NBC. Live or not, the night felt somehow like a rerun.

The game between the New England Patriots and New York Giants stayed close (ending with the Giants winning, 21-17) and became technically exciting in its final few minutes but, curiously, it also seemed to crawl along.

The commercials blazed no new creative territory and even verged on dud gags and filed-down ideas. Like hot wings lacking spice, Go Daddy experienced an impotence brought on by its own puerility, while the E-trade baby ran out of things to say. A little boy urinated in a swimming pool to get you interested in software to do your taxes. A head popped out of a man’s shoulder to get you to visit a car sales Web site. Ferris Bueller came back, played by the doughy and appropriately aged Matthew Broderick — but it turned out all he had to show was this year’s Honda.

Part of that is everybody’s mutual fault: We opened all the presents early. All but a few of the mythically expensive Super Bowl ads had been available to view days ago, online. They were socially shared last week, judged to pieces and thus old news.

A plus, I suppose, is that letting everybody see the commercials before they air has robbed a particular Super Bowl party guest — the guy who haughtily shushes everyone in the room when commercials come on — of all his sofa-sectional tyranny. No one needs to pay attention to what’s on the screen; everyone’s already yakked it to death on iPhones. In fact, the ultimate goal of modern Super Bowl consumption is to not even be in the same room together anymore. Best just to be linked virtually. Such is the disunited state of America.

After much groaning and lowered expectations, only Madonna can be said to have outdone herself, executing a flashy half-time tribute to her own image (“Y-O-U, Madonna”) but also honoring the concept of longevity and old-fashioned pop stardom, reaching back through her catalogue of hits and enlisting the help of some present-day acts that the kids listen to.

Someone please give her a Boniva for her creaky yet sturdy bones. Arriving by a Trojan-pulled chariot-throne, then stamping around in sky-high stiletto boots, the singer leaned on her muscular dancers, literally, who lifted her up to platforms and risers and tipped her into slow-motion cartwheels with a certain delicate assist. She sat on the shoulders of one of the guys from LMFAO. She shook cheerleader pompoms with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.

M.I.A. flipped the bird and mighta-sorta uttered a bad word during Madonna’s rap portion. Knicker-knotting commenced almost immediately. If nothing else, we get to see how far things have come since Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” eight years ago. Have we evolved? Which is to say, have we devolved enough to let it blow over?

Cee Lo Green came on board as Madonna sang a refrain from one of her ’80s chestnuts, as if imploring her lifelong critics: “Open your heart, I’ll make you love me.” Pilates and persistence pay off, people. She’ll be doing this kind of thing until she’s 90.

But Madonna’s show also left a few requisite question marks in its glittery, even gayish, wake, mysteries only Madonna can solve: A guy with a Richard Simmons ’fro wearing a toga and bouncing around a tightwire, for instance. A nation tweeted the word WHY.

Earlier in the evening, Kelly Clarkson delivered a model and embarrassment-free rendition of the national anthem, all but erasing the butchering it got from Christina Aguilera last year.

Backed by 45 lovably geeky-looking members of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, Clarkson demonstrated a couple of things about “The Star-Spangled Banner”: 1. The words aren’t so hard to remember and 2. Simple is still the best and most graceful way to deliver it. NBC’s only mistake was to aim the camera at everyone but Clarkson, at one point zooming in on Eli Manning’s pores.

Clarkson also got a helping hand from married duo Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, who delivered a similarly restrained and lovely rendition of “America the Beautiful.” Could we possibly be entering a post-melismatic era of anthem singing? Or is that just wishful thinking?

Back to the ads, if we must. VW kept it clever with a bit about a fat dog going on a workout regimen so he can once again bound through the doggy door and chase the 2012 Beetle, but then the commercial segued into “Star Wars” territory again, which served VW well last year but fell flat this time. As Darth Vader would say, “All too easy.”

More cars than beer this time: Hyundai tried it every which way, including an ad that featured its Alabama assembly plant workers singing the “Rocky” theme a capella, but it scored with an ad in which a cheetah tried to race one of the Korean cars and instead turned on its keeper. Another, for the Chevy Silverado, offered a wry take on apocalypse, in which only male, Twinkie-eating Silverado owners survive the end of the world — which brings new meaning to “Not if you were the last man on Earth.”

Chrysler enlisted Clint Eastwood to build on the advertising campaign it unveiled at last year’s Super Bowl — further jingoism and hubristic proclamations of Detroit’s resiliency. Last year’s “Detroit is back” ad, featuring Eminem and church choirs, at least made some sort of sense. This one just seemed like a ridiculous and even quasi-political tangle of images and bombast.

The Super Bowl continued to be a fair measure of our cultural weirdness around sex and gender, but nobody seemed terribly interested in getting too thinky or interesting about it. We see your Go Daddy babes and raise you one nearly-naked David Beckham, modeling his new H&M tighty-whities. My favorite commercial aired during the pre-game show: an Old Navy ad that featured the “Corporado,” those men who will forever wear pleated khaki pants and corporate-logo polo shirts and keep their phones clipped to their belts. They are beyond help, even at Old Navy.

Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima was featured in an ad for Teleflora, reminding men that Valentine’s Day “is not all that complicated. Give and you shall receive.”

You are expected to know what she means.

Sorry, seen that ad already. Seen ’em all. Watching Super Bowl on TV was like trying to rouse a lover who fell asleep long ago. How is all this pre-release considered progress?

More from Washington Post:

A play-by-play of the Madonna halftime show.

The 10 Super Bowl commercials that are worth a second look.

Photos from Super Bowl XLVI.

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation.
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