After slogging through hours of nonsports TV during the Super Bowl on Sunday, I learned a few things:
a) The Black Eyed Peas need a new sound engineer, and whoever transcribes lyrics for Christina Aguilera should join the Peas' soundman on the unemployment line.
b) Watching guys get hit in the crotch by Pepsi cans isn't nearly as funny as seeing Joan Rivers' 77-year-old face digitally stuck onto a Maxim model's body.
c) A cute kid in a Darth Vader costume can trump all the computer animation and swimsuit models in the world.
But the two biggest fails in a night of overhyped commercials, misfiring musical performances and awkward celebrity encounters centered on pop diva Aguilera's embarrassing flub of the words to the Star-Spangled Banner — she muffled some words, dropping the line "o'er the ramparts we watched" — and a halftime performance by the Peas was spoiled by serious technical issues.
Visually, the Peas were typically jaw-dropping, with backup dancers in neon suits which looked imported from a Tron 3-D outtake, spelling out the word LOVE. Band members had a Blade Runner-meets-the WWE look, complete with singer Fergie's shoulder pads festooned with what looked like extra Christmas lights left over from the holidays.
But Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash joined Fergie in a rendition of Sweet Child O' Mine that felt like a bruising acid flashback, made worse by consistent sound problems that marred all of the members' performances. And kinetic R&B dance god Usher's appearance mostly highlighted how boring the four Peas looked without him, stalking around a stage with no discernible dance talents of their own.
Aside from Aguilera and the Peas, the nonsports spotlight fell on the commercials, which failed to match the hype in another tough year (Glee's much-anticipated post-game episode aired too late for inclusion here).
In fact, one of the most popular commercials — a Volkswagen spot with a kid in a Darth Vader costume made to think he used the Force to start the family car, when it was his sly dad working a remote — was available online days before the game.
Worst use of a new Super Bowl ad: Groupon. The online coupon company fumbled its first Super Bowl spot with an ad which seemed like a plea to help Tibet but turned into a crass come-on for their services, inspiring a flood of online scorn.
Best "Forget You" to a competitor: Motorola Xoom. Set in a numbing land of office drones tethered to Apple-style earbuds, this commercial for Motorola's iPad alternative couldn't have been a bigger push back against its rival's classic "1984" ad if it dumped a slushie on the head of a Steve Jobs imitator.
Weirdest use of computer technology: GoDaddy.com. This company often produces sexed-up ads like an online version of a Hooters franchise, but placing Rivers' well-lifted face on a swimsuit model's body will bring nightmares for weeks to come.
Best use of chip crumbs: Doritos. Next to the Darth Vader kid, this ad showing a roommate bringing back a dead goldfish, deceased plant and cremated grandfather with Doritos crumbs was priceless. And yeah, the Doritos ad in which the guy sucked his co-worker's fingers was funny, but did it really make you want to eat Doritos?
Best use of Eminem: Chrysler. Featuring the Detroit-born rapper celebrating the return of a classic car brand to the Super Bowl was a gutsy attaboy for a tough town on the rebound. Way cooler than his Claymation ad for Lipton iced tea, which couldn't have been the first time I heard a curse word during a Super Bowl ad, but it sure felt like it.
By Steve Spears, Times Staff Writer | Suggest a Top 5 at firstname.lastname@example.org