Monday Morning Quarterbacking: Reviewing Super Bowl Sunday

Super Bowl Tom Brady
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Super Bowl Tom Brady

It’s always nice when some things live up to the hype. On this Super Bowl Sunday, it was the Super Bowl itself that delivered the goods: a taut, tightly fought game that provided twists—that amazing catch!—and unexpected reversals to the very who-made-that-call end. (An ugly skirmish in the final moments also reminded us of the NFL’s darker side, unfortunately.)

High marks as well to the literally explosive Blacklist episode that followed the game (starting at a reasonable 10:38 ET), a Die Hard­­-like adventure pitting Red and Liz against bloodthirsty info-thief Luther Braxton (Ron Perlman, making Sons of Anarchy‘s Clay look like one of those weepy dads from the game’s ad blitz). Luther had taken over “The Factory,” a black-site CIA prison in the Bering Sea, stringing up other heroes, including the ever-hapless Ressler, in a torture room. An even bigger threat ironically, was the CIA, in cahoots with a shadowy cabal fearing the exposure of a MacGuffin called “The Fulcrum,” which launched a missile strike on The Factory that gave the episode its cliffhanger ending. (The bombs dropped just as Luther was about to spill some long-overdue beans about Liz’s connection to Red, another reason to watch when the show moves to Thursday this week.)

Far less successful was the barrage of overhyped and (to their detriment) mostly pre-leaked ads. Remember when the element of surprise was part of the fun? Even a clever ad, like the one showing former Today duo Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel in their heyday puzzling over this newfangled thing called the Internet, had its impact blunted by having gone viral in advance. (One thing Katie and Bryant never could have predicted was what a spoiler the Internet could turn out to be, even on TV’s biggest night.)

One ad we wish we’d been forewarned about was Nationwide’s cautionary downer, narrated by a little boy who revealed he’d never achieve his dreams because he was dead. From a preventable accident. (Cue image of overflowing bathtub to give any parent nightmares, including those who hadn’t already succumbed to overwhelming guilt by that dirge about a NASCAR driver who had neglected his son over the years, set to Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.”)

Some message ads had power: the 911 call subtly depicting a domestic-violence situation, the “Like a Girl” campaign combating sexism. But cumulatively, the long night of advertising began to feel more like an assault than an escape. (I tweeted that I might have to watch The Lovely Bones again to cheer up.)

On the more upbeat side, Budweiser’s latest dog-and-Clydesdale heart-warmer was so adorable you knew it would top most viewer polls. Personally, I was most amused by the Snickers ad in which the very scary, hatchet-wielding Danny Trejo channeled a grumpy Marcia until Mike and Carol offered a candy bar to morph him into Maureen McCormick. (The line “Marcia, have a Snickers” is one of my favorite lines of the year, supplanted only by “Portia, fetch my shoe,” as delivered by Empire‘s fabulous Cookie a few weeks ago.) Steve Buscemi as a pouty Jan Brady made for a brilliant punch line.

Musically, the night got off to a decent start with John Legend’s mellow crooning of “America the Beautiful” followed by Broadway diva Idina Menzel’s powerful belting of the national anthem (which, if you ask me, should be “America the Beautiful”). And then came Katy Perry’s trippy, campy kaleidoscope of a halftime show.

I could be snarky about her costumes (especially the flame-retarded first one) and the funky sub-Olympics production values, especially the Spongebob Squarepants-inspired beach routine with those ridiculous dancing sharks and palm trees, and her climactic flight atop a cheesy shooting firework that all of social media declared was stolen from NBC’s “The More You Know” campaign. But whaddaya know, I must have spilled some Coke into my keyboard, because I didn’t hate it. There was an exuberance from first “Roar” to last that at least felt like a giddy celebration, which on Super Bowl Sunday is as much as we should probably hope for.

Still, as I stayed up late into the night, I began to wish that Late Night With Jimmy Fallon‘s producers could have taken charge of the halftime entertainment, because that a cappella all-star “We Are the Champions” (with everyone singing their faces off in Brady Bunch-style checkerboard squares) was awesome. And the lip-sync battle that followed with Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart—and a surprise cameo by Drew Barrymore (FTW!) dirty-dancing with Fallon? More than lived up to the hype. It was super.