The stars of Super Bowl XLVIII may nominally have been the Seattle Seahawks' stunning defense (and maybe Bruno Mars) — but in between the play, the game's most celebrated faces may well have been those of the one-time stars of some favorite sitcoms of the '80s and '90s.
From "Full House" to "Seinfeld," "Alf" to "The Muppets," some of the game's biggest commercials were full-on nostalgia trips and tributes to TV shows of yore, replete with a couple of partial cast reunions.
Most anticipated among them was the long-teased promise of a "Seinfeld" reunion, or something like it, thanks to an extended promo for a special episode of Jerry Seinfeld's web series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."
That promo showed Jerry reluctantly telling George (Jason Alexander) he wasn't welcome at a Super Bowl party, just before a run-in with reliable annoyance Newman at their long-time diner hangout. (Check back for a video.) What might happen, and who might show up, in the full "Comedians" episode is anyone's guess.
Another long-gone sitcom got a reunion of sorts of its own thanks to Dannon Oikos' suggestive new ad, which reunited a still-perfectly-coiffed John Stamos, aka Uncle Jesse, with one-time "Full House" co-stars Dave Coulier, aka Joey, and reluctant host Bob Saget, aka Danny Tanner: Stamos, flirting with a woman amid some suggestive yogurt-eating, winds up losing both his pants (to his clean-freak roommates) and the object of his interest.
A Radio Shack ad reached even further back into dormant pop cultural touchstones and recruited a who's-who of '80s relics — from gymnast Mary Lou Retton to Hulk Hogan to Twisted Sister's Dee Snyder to the California Raisins to not-quite-human Alf, of his eponymous sitcom, to "Child's Play" villain Chucky — to help poke fun at its fuddy-duddy image, and announce an update to it.
And in a spot for the Toyota Highlander, an in-over-his-head Terry Crews was set upon by a motley crew of Electric Mayhem musicians straight from "The Muppets" (or was it "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test?") after their psychedelic bus broke down in the desert.
But if those faces, human and otherwise, were some of the most recognizable of the Super Bowl commercials, some of the others making waves were doing so by virtue of their ordinariness.
A plaintive Coca-Cola commercial showing scenes from American family life, set to "America the Beautiful" sung in many languages, notched a milestone for same-sex couples' families' visibility. The ad's brief clips of a girl and her two dads roller skating marked the first time a family with gay parents had aired during the Super Bowl, according to GLAAD, which praised the ad.
The ad's message of American cultural diversity, however, wasn't without its critics online. It garnered some backlash not unlike the one that had been aimed at the multiracial family of three featured in a charming Cheerios commercial last year.
That same family was back in a new, and still more heartwarming, spot of its own Sunday night — in which a chubby-cheeked only child bargains with her expecting parents for a puppy to come along with the little brother she's told is on the way.
Of course, there were also the usual Super Bowl ad suspects.
There were more of the sweeping and the touching: A Budweiser ad that could have doubled as a Disney movie about unlikely animal friendships (think puppies and Clydesdales), and an Apple ad that borrowed an inspiring spiel from "Dead Poets Society" to hawk iPads.
But there were other unusual ads, too, like a GoDaddy commercial that, for once, had a woman doing something other than getting objectified. Instead, an actual woman — machine engineer Gwen Dean — quit her job, after a brief introduction from John Turturro and a brief chance to show off the puppets she hopes to make for a living now that she's solo. "I quit," she had her puppet say.
GoDaddy said that Dean emailed her boss her two weeks notice right after the ad aired, according to NBC News. (She's set to talk about her very public resignation on the "Today" show Monday.)
Celebrities and well-trained animals alike also featured prominently in some of the biggest spots, starting with an intentionally cheesy Ford Fusion spot just before kick-off, starring James Franco and a handful of tigers that looked like they'd just leapt from the pages of a Lisa Frank notebook.
Same went for Ellen DeGeneres' starring turn in a Goldilocks-inspired commercial for online music service Beats Music, in which she gleefully showed off her quirky dance moves accompanied by, you guessed it, some bears (plus wolves and a fox).
Music played a big role in other big Super Bowl spots, too, with U2 debuting new song "Invisible" in a black-and-white Bank of America ad spotlighting the bank's work with the AIDS organization (Red), just after the Ellen ad aired. The song is available for a free iTunes download for 24 hours after the game, and Bank of America is set to donate $1 for each download in that time.
Free agent and former Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow's T-Mobile ad showed his fantastical romp through contract-free adventures — from delivering a baby NFL-style to rescuing puppies from a burning building, from showing off some Arabic to chasing a Sasquatch.
On the celeb commercial front, there was also, of course, Scarlett Johansson's much-discussed (and much-criticized) SodaStream spot, in which she shed her unconvincing doctor's whites to inject the requisite sex appeal into a DIY soda ad. (The version below closes with her calling out competitors by name; the version that aired did not, per Fox's insistence.)
There was also Stephen Colbert's two-part, in-character ad for Wonderful Pistachios, its components book-ending an H&M spot starring David Beckham. In that Wonderful ad, Colbert reemerged for part two clad in garish green, his green face encased in an unexpected nutshell.
In case you thought all the sex appeal in Super Bowl commercials was aimed at straight men (or that all the football shown on Fox on Sunday was of the American stripe), look no further than Beckham's naked H&M spot, in which the soccer superstar leapt from a billboard, suffered a wardrobe malfunction and showed up for a photo shoot in all his lean, tattooed glory.
As for the animals? For Greek yogurt company Chobani's first-ever Super Bowl spot, a hungry grizzly bear ransacked a small-town market for a cup of yogurt, to the harmonica-laden strains of Bob Dylan's hit "I Want You."