Because approximately 500 trillion people watch the Super Bowl, it’s become such a global event that the network carrying the game always spends a lot of time creating countless mini-narratives to amplify the suspense. It’s not just a game between two teams — it has to be this epic battle waged by players and coaches who are each turned into dramatic figures, rooting interests and feel-good storylines. For instance, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was no longer treated as some subpar backup — in the buildup to the game, he was transformed into an inspirational meme, a heartwarming guy who loves playing for his daughter so much that he gets weepy talking about her during meaningless press conferences. We’re meant to project our hopes, fears, aspirations and personalities onto these people we’ll never meet — they are us, except with athletic ability and a shit-ton of money.
But during last night’s Super Bowl, my spirit animal was Bradley Cooper, the Oscar-nominated star of Silver Linings Playbook and actual Eagles fan. With every big play, NBC would cut to Cooper in the luxury boxes, celebrating or freaking out depending on how his team was doing. As a longtime New England Patriots hater, I had little hope going in that the underdog Eagles could win. But Cooper believed, and after a while, I started to believe, too. By the time Tom Brady’s last Hail Mary pass sailed through the air into the end zone at U.S. Bank Stadium, I was as stressed for myself as I was for Cooper. Yet we both got our wish: The ball fell harmlessly to the ground, and the upset was complete.
While I take a brief break from cheering in my living room, here are a few other takeaways from last night’s game…
#1. Corporate brands aren’t woke, and it’s offensive that they try to make us think otherwise.
Super Bowl commercials come in two flavors: incredibly zany or stunningly serious. The first batch are easy to identify, featuring forgotten stars, cult icons or hot up-and-comers, usually doing ridiculous, CGI-aided hijinks while advertising some dumb product like Doritos (Peter Dinklage) or Michelob Ultra (Chris Pratt). The stunningly serious ones typically evoke themes of patriotism or community, but in the wake of Trump’s election, many of the somber ads wanted us to know that, hey, they’re on our side. And God, were they insufferable.
For unfathomable reasons, T-Mobile — a phone service — presented us with a series of adorable, racially mixed newborns, informing us that we’re born to believe that we’re all equal and deserve the same treatment as human beings. The implication seemed to be that T-Mobile is totally down with social justice and the #MeToo movement — why isn’t your cellular provider part of the #resistance?
Even more egregious, Hyundai did a spot in which people trying to get into the Super Bowl were stopped by security and sent into a closed room, causing obvious anxiety for those patrons. But don’t worry, it’s all good: They were picked because they’re all Hyundai drivers — and they were going to meet actual pediatric cancer survivors, who wanted to thank them for their Hyundai purchase. (A portion of each purchase goes to the nonprofit Hyundai Hope On Wheels.) So, these poor, unsuspecting people were first led to believe they were in trouble, only to be blindsided by an emotional message from a cancer survivor. And, of course, there were cameras to catch the whole thing — how convenient! Hyundai: Where emotional manipulation is Job #1.
But the worst was the ad that started with a stirring speech from Martin Luther King Jr. King is talking about service — and the fact that any person of any means can make a difference in the world. And what was it an ad for? The ACLU? The Red Cross? Nope: Dodge Ram, a reveal that inspired plenty of online hate. And deservedly so: Corporations ultimately don’t care about the public good. Yes, they give to charities and the like, but they shouldn’t pretend that they believe in values like equality and justice. That’s a lie — and to spend mega-money during the Super Bowl trying to convince us otherwise is offensive.
#2. What’s the point of the Super Bowl Halftime Show?
How was Justin Timberlake’s performance? It was … incredibly fine, just like Coldplay’s was. And Katy Perry’s. And Tom Petty’s. And just about everybody else’s in past years.
In recent days, sites like Vulture spent a little time ranking every single halftime show, and while we all agree that Prince’s 2007 performance was the best, even that one had the problem that all these productions have — including Timberlake’s.
For one thing, they’re too short. You get about 12 minutes, which often forces the superstar to do a medley of their biggest hits. So you hear about 35 seconds of a song you love — which is just long enough to go, “Oh yeah, I love this song!” — until, boom, the next song comes along. It’s like a musical blender, as if a hyperactive child is hitting “Skip” on your Spotify playlist. Who enjoys music this way?
Then there’s the need to play to a whole stadium and everybody at home. It’s so chaotic and over-choreographed — with each performer trying to outdo those who came before them with more gimmicks — that it’s like a rush of movement and energy that’s mostly exhausting and confusing. Wait, is Justin under the stadium? Now he’s going through the stadium to the field! Now he’s running into the stands to hang out with fans! It’s like a flash mob that cost millions and millions of dollars!
After all these years, the Super Bowl is still thought of as this macho activity — the championship game for the most masculine of sports — and yet, the halftime show is this straight-up pageant celebrating pop acts that, stereotypically, most guys can’t stand. (Anecdotally, women I knew weren’t interested in the game but were very interested in JT’s performance. Vice versa for the men.) And yet, the NFL keeps doing these every year. Even when the show’s full of energy but also kinda chaotic, the way Timberlake’s performance was, it always makes me laugh thinking about all the dudes who are straight-up hating what they’re seeing. That’s entertainment.
#3. The Nick Foles/Tom Brady NBC graphic will haunt my dreams for eternity.
The Super Bowl is always a chance for the host network to show off some fancy new graphics. NBC’s great idea? 3D body scans of Foles and Brady to complement onscreen stats for the two quarterbacks during the game. In theory, that’s a cool idea. In reality, it turned into nightmare fuel…
What the hell was this? They didn’t look like Foles or Brady. They didn’t look like Madden avatars. They didn’t look human. They didn’t do anything but creep me out.
#4. Nobody wants to imagine what Steven Tyler looks like young.
Kia hired 69-year-old Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler to star in its ad, having him play a race-car driver who goes in reverse to turn back the aging process. (Apparently, the science behind Superman is real: Just turn the Earth backwards and time goes back as well.) At the end of the ad, we got a CGI-version of a youthful Tyler stepping out of the car. I wasn’t alive when Aerosmith was starting out, but I’ve seen pictures of a young Tyler. He was relatively attractive. Young Tyler in the Kia ad, however, creeped me out as much as the Brady and Foles 3D avatars.
#5. I want the Chris Hemsworth/Danny McBride buddy comedy now.
Nobody wants a Crocodile Dundee reboot/remake. But the brilliance of the Australia tourism ad that aired during the game is that we all believe that Hollywood would make such a thing. The joke spot was presented as a real movie trailer starring Danny McBride and a favorite of mine (Chris Hemsworth), but soon it’s revealed that there is no film — it’s just an ad about visiting Australia. Hollywood shouldn’t make this movie — sorry, Paul Hogan — but Hemsworth and McBride were funny enough that I’d like to see them do something else together.
#6. Tide won the Super Bowl ad sweepstakes.
Amidst all the terrible ads, Tide ruled, easily. The concept was simple, but also surprisingly elastic. Stranger Things star David Harbour starts off doing a relatively straightforward ad about the laundry detergent. But then, other types of familiar ads started showing up during the telecast — and often, they turned out to be Tide ads hijacked by Harbour. That Old Spice ad from a couple years ago with the guy on a horse? Last night, it was a Tide ad. The typical Budweiser ad with a Clydesdale? This time, it was Harbour for Tide. And on and on.
Alone among a night of pseudo-clever, straining-to-be-funny ads, Tide’s were legitimately hilarious.