Leave it to Dame Helen Mirren to wring laughs out what amounted to a PSA against drunk driving in an ad mounted by the folks at Budweiser, whose Super Bowl commercial stars have ranged over the years from prancing Clydesdales to talking frogs. “This is supposed to be fun!" she declared.
She meant downing a cold Bud. But intended or otherwise, the line, heard nearly 3.5 million times on YouTube before kickoff, set the tone for many of the ads sprinkled throughout Super Bowl 50 on Sunday. Following an off year, remembered most for Nationwide’s depressing dead-kid spot, humor made a modest comeback in 2016.
Advertisers who went the comedic route served up, for the most part, the commercial equivalent of comfort food – the kind of fare that goes down well with a Bud. And Mirren proved far from the only recognizable face to show up during Super Bowl spots, many of which were already familiar from days of online exposure.
With a price tag of $166,666.667 per second, it’s hard to fault the many advertisers who played it safe, by combining celebrities, gentle laughs and pre-game publicity. Still, here are some spots worth another viewing:
Gotta Have Hart
Kevin Hart emerged as a literal helicopter parent, playing a dad keeping tabs on his teenage daughter, her date – and the family Hyundai.
Willem Dafoe channeled Marilyn Monroe by donning her iconic white dress from “The Seven Year Itch” to hawk Snickers. Stick around for the kicker with Eugene Levy.
Chachi Loves Avocado
The Earth museum of the future features an emojis exhibit, a Rubik’s Cube – and Scott Baio. Oh yeah, and Avocados from Mexico, whose appeal apparently spans galaxies.
Steve Harvey makes fun of his Miss Universe flub – and of Verizon – on behalf of T-Mobile.
T-Mobile also scored with another self-mocking celebrity pitchman: Drake, who gladly extends his meme friendly "Hotline Bling" to the cause of advertising.
No "I" in Team, Part I
Key and Peele remind us how much we miss them already as they reunite for a Squarespace spot.
No "I" in Team, Part II
Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen pair in an election-year-themed Bud Light ad that suggests we can all unite over beer. Look for a cameo by Paul Rudd.
Mean Bruce Green
Speaking of Rudd, his Ant-Man tussled with the Hulk over a can of Coke. There’s a Mean Joe Greene in-joke somewhere in there waiting to burst out.
This Honda commercial, featuring a woolly choir, plays like a "Far Side" cartoon with a Queen soundtrack.
Christopher Walken's sock puppet antics and unique pronunciation of "Kia Optima" are worth the trip.
Jeff Meets Jeffersons
Jeff Goldblum shows off his piano skills with an air-borne rendition of “Movin’ on Up,” the theme from “The Jeffersons.” He’s joined by George Washington and Lil Wayne in an Apartments.com commercial tailor-made for those of us old enough to get the George and Weezy reference.
Chip Off the Old Block
Being in-utero is no deterrent to craving Doritos, the folks at PepsiCo would have us believe.
Dews and Don’ts
Mountain Dew Kickstart managed to both tweak Super Bowl advertisers’ penchant for commercials featuring cute animals and cuter kids – and creep us out with its puppy-monkey-baby mutant creation.
Skittles contributed to the creepy quotient with its rainbow portrait of Steven Tyler, which duets with the human version.
Creepy Part III: A scuzzy talking razor makes a good argument for Dollar Shave Club.
Alec Baldwin and some famous friends prove no match for Amazon Echo.
Death Wish Coffee's clever Viking-inspired spot provided a jolt of action-driven humor. The small java company made the most of its big break, which came via QuickBooks.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.