One of the themes of watching postseason baseball on television are the commercials -- there's really no way around it. The same commercials come up over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over …*
*You know, if I just typed the word "over and over" I believe I could type 300 words a minute.
The wonderful thing about the commercials we're seeing in the postseason -- well it's kind of like being in an exclusive club. People who are not watching the postseason (or are watching it on DVR) almost certainly have not seen these commercials and so will have no idea what you're talking about when you say "Conan in a blimp." But if you ARE watching the postseason, you had seen them a half million times, and so you not only know what "Conan in a blimp" means, you can actually differentiate between the various "Conan in a blimp" commercials -- this one seems Hitchcockian, that one more Bergman inspired and so on.
Anyway, a few thoughts about the commercials we're all stuck watching, maybe a little baseball and, yes, of course, R.E.M.:
-- Jimmy Fallon's "More Money" commercials: It's a strange thing … I've come to like Jimmy Fallon. That's only strange because I did not like him at all in Fever Pitch; that movie actually sparked violent dislike. But that might not be fair: I despised that movie so much that Fallon Fallout might have only been a side effect. Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch" is one of my five favorite ever sports books, and to have that wonderful book connected to that not-so-wonderful movie still makes me sick to my stomach. I suppose if the Jimmy Fallon movie was named something more appropriate like, "Blech," then I might not have had such an overreaction to it.
In any case, I've come around to Fallon because:
(1) He's the guy cracking up in the "More Cowbell" SNL skit, and that's awesome.*
(2) His Springsteen impression is really good, and more than good you can hear the love in it.
*I have this story about R.E.M. that I wrote when the band announced it was closing down, and I have not had the time to finish it, and by now it's probably too late to finish it. So I'll put one R.E.M. thought here. I love R.E.M. It's pretty close to Springsteen love. My favorite R.E.M. moment happens in a song called "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight." That's not one of my 40 favorite R.E.M. songs, by the way, but it has what I think is the quintessential R.E.M. moment.
See, what makes R.E.M. so cool to me is that you always got the feeling that they never stopped trying and seeking and all that. At some point, they might have been the biggest band in the world. They could have just re-released some version of "Out of Time" over and over again, made a bajillion dollars, and lived what most people would consider a rich life. But, no, they did "Out of Time" once, and they did "Automatic for the People" one, and they kept moving, kept pushed their music in all sorts of directions -- including directions that, frankly, I didn't like at all. But that's OK. I didn't want them to make music for me. I wanted them to follow the muse, wherever it led them, because that's what I admire in people, that's the only way you can do a song like "Gardening at Night" or "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" or "Nightswimming," or "Moral Kiosk," or even a mishmash of things like "Radio Song." And R.E.M., to their everlasting credit, did follow the muse and keep following it.
Anyway, "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight," is a typically weird R.E.M. song, and there's a part where Michael Stipe is singing:
Baby, instant soup doesn't really grab me
Today I need something more, sub sub sub substantial
A can of beans or blackeyed peas, some Nescafe and ice
A candy bar, a falling star … or a reading from Dr. Seuss
That's an R.E.M. lyric for you right there. In any case, something funny happens after "Dr. Seuss." It sounds -- and I've listened to this many times -- it sounds like Michael Stipe is breaking up. He sounds like he's laughing right through the next lyric. I can't be SURE he's doing this. No matter how many times I listen, it is not entirely clear. And, to be honest, I don't really want to know for sure. It SOUNDS like he's laughing, and that's always been good enough for me. I have always tried to imagine what the other guys in the band did to make him laugh. Put on Dr. Seuss hats? Drop their pants to reveal Dr. Seuss underwear? Asked for more cowbell? I don't know.
But I love that laughter. R.E.M. did serious songs, many of them on very serious topics, but listening to the music always made me very happy. I think surprisingly often about that moment when it sounds like Michael Stipe breaks up, and I find myself wishing that all of my favorite artists -- writers, actors, musicians, whoever -- have those moments when they feel the same joy performing that I feel receiving.
Sorry. Back to Jimmy Fallon. I've grown to like him. But the "I'm going to make it rain," Capital One credit commercial has done serious damage to our relationship. That is probably the second-worst commercial on the playoffs right now. It's annoying and contemptible on about 548 different levels. I should say there's another Capital One commercial he does with a baby, which actually had a cute moment -- Fallon asks the baby if he wants more money, and the baby in a scene-stealing moment says "No." The baby then throws a fire extinguisher at Fallon but, unfortunately for artistic purposes, misses.
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-- Phil Jackson Audi commercial. This is actually THE BEST commercial in the playoffs, and might be the best sports-commercial performance since the heyday of Peyton Manning. The only thing that might prevent it from being an all-time classic is a lazy ending. But even with that ending, it STILL might be an all-time classic.
Jackson is in a restaurant walking by a chef who is yelling at one of his employees.
Chef (to Jackson): "These people, huh?"
Jackson: "You know, I've found that anger is the enemy of instruction."
Chef (who does not recognize Jackson): "You don't know the egos I have to deal with."
Jackson (after pause): "You're probably right."
Those three words -- "You're probably right" -- are so perfectly delivered, seriously, I want to give the guy an Emmy, an Oscar AND a Tony. Sheer perfection. I want to believe that Jackson did that first take. I can watch that commercial 500 times in a row, and I will laugh (or at least smile) every single time he says that line.
Sadly, the commercial goes on and the ending, where someone calls Jackson a Zen Master, is lame. But the original exchange is so inspired, that I forgive.
Audi has another sports-relation commercial where one guy finds a baseball with Honus Wagner autograph on it, and the guy who bought the ball at a yard sale throws it to his dog because he can't recognize how valuable it would be. That concept is pretty good but the ball is too clearly a fake and though Wagner is a fun choice because he's such a buzzword among collectors, I think that Wagner does not have enough of a Q-Rating among even pretty involved baseball fans to offer the full comedic effect (even the guy who recognizes the ball can only refer to him as "the Hall of Famer"). It might have been funnier if that had been a Joe DiMaggio ball or a Lou Gehrig ball, but there might have been rights issues.
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-- Tony La Russa Overmanaging Commercial: Oh, wait, that's not a commercial -- that's real life.
I must admit: I've actually grown to enjoy the La Russa overmanaging act. It's a classic now -- like seeing Don Rickles in Vegas or something. The playoffs would be poorer without it. Of course, that does not take away the joy of watching his ridiculous intentional walk to Carlos Ruiz explode into a million pieces. Think about this: Scoreless game, two outs, man on second, La Russa has Jaime Garcia intentionally walk Ruiz to face a pinch-hitter. You do that, you DESERVE for Ben Francisco to hit monster three-run home run, and that's exactly what happened. Baseball is so much fun when justice prevails.
I should add that earlier in the game, La Russa had Garcia intentionally walked Hunter Pence so he could face Ryan Howard. I'll repeat that: He intentionally walked Hunter Pence so that he could face Ryan Howard in a big situation. That one worked, and it probably said more about Howard than it did about La Russa. As my friend Keith Law tweeted: When teams are intentionally walking players to face the guy you are about to pay $25 million per year -- lefty-lefty matchup or not -- well, that's probably not a great contract.
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-- The back-taxes commercial: I would not want to downplay the circumstances of anyone who owes more than $15,000 in back taxes. But I'm utterly baffled why this commercial is on all the time. Is tax evasion a particular problem for baseball fans? I get why football games feature beer commercials, electronics commercials, car commercials … I can see the connection there. But it seems like every two or three innings, this guy is staring at me and asking if I owe $15,000 in back-taxes and saying that he doesn't have to tell me the serious trouble I'm in. Obviously, the commercial must work, but I'm still having trouble imagining someone watching, say, the Yankees and Tigers, and then seeing the commercial and going, "yes, finally, someone who can help me with my gigantic back-taxes problem" and shouting to their spouse, "Hey, do we have a pen around here?"
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-- The Nissan Frontier doing things it can't do commercials: OK, so you've seen these right? In one commercial, a plane without its front tires lands on the back of a truck. In another, the truck races through the desert sand and pushes a dune buggy up a mountain.
I will readily admit: I don't understand advertising. I just like watching. I get that it works on all sorts of subliminal levels -- including the fact that I led off this section with the words "Nissan Frontier." Still, I don't get the point of this one at all: They show the Nissan Frontier doing things that it obviously doesn't do, can't do, won't ever do. In fact, the words "Fictionalization: Do not attempt" are flashed on the screen. They are worried -- or at least their legal department is worried -- that some people might see the commercial and actually try to land a plane on the back of their truck.
And yet, this is how they hope to sell the truck -- by showing bizarre imaginary things that they will warn you to NEVER try and do. I suppose this technique is used for other products, but I can't recall the attempt being so bold and obvious. It seems to me like trying to sell an iPhone by showing it give CPR to someone suffering a heart attack.
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-- The "I should have married John Clark" AT&T commercial. OK, this is the worst commercial on television. The worst. Nothing is even close. Let's see if we can get this straight: This sad sack guy walks into this wife's greenhouse to give her the good news that he has gotten some sort of unlimited minutes plan or something. The woman -- who remember is in her OWN GREENHOUSE -- is furious that he would make such a huge financial commitment without checking with her first and says, almost certainly for the 1,894,381st time in their marriage, that she should have married John Clark.
The sad sack guy takes this abuse for a few seconds before offering the kicker -- he got the unlimited minutes plan free when he signed up for some unlimited data plan. And this, incredibly, leads to the woman looking at him with newfound respect rather than leading her to say, "How much did that unlimited data plan cost? How about asking your wife? I should have married John Clark."
I have never seen two less likable people in one commercial. The man looks like the sort of guy who would break your lawnmower and keep promising to pay you for the repairs. The woman makes Nurse Ratched" look like Florence Nightingale.* They obviously hate each other, and have for a long time. You imagine that even their kids hope they finally divorce.
*Hey: 1970s movies reference plus British military health care reformer equals comedy gold!
And how is this supposed to make us in any way want to go with this phone plan? No idea. It's pretty clear that there's only one winner in this whole commercial. And that winner is: John Clark.