America was ready for this jelly, but as it turned out the lights in the Superdome weren’t, not entirely. Super Bowl XLVII looked like like it was going to be forgettable and short on drama. The first-half ads were lackluster. (Click here to read time.com’s reviews of every big-game ad; I covered the first quarter.) The game was looking like a blowout.
And then, as if ignited by the flame jets set up for Beyoncé’s halftime show, the night got spectacular, weird and interesting. As it turned out, the combination of meticulously planned entertainment and live-TV unpredictability can still make America’s one last communal night unexpected and thrilling.
With the Ravens trouncing the 49ers going into the half, it was up to Beyoncé to slap the home audience awake, with the best halftime show in years. Granted, that’s an extremely low bar, but Beyoncé somersaulted over it backwards with an army of CGI clones, propelled by a gusher of fire and trailed by a guitar shooting sparks. The singer was just coming off a National Anthem performance at the inauguration marred by controversy over whether she lipsynched, but it’s hard to imagine anyone watching this performance–commanding and sassy, with a boost from her reunited Destiny’s Child mates–and paying much mind to what she was doing with her lips.
After the fire came the darkness. Shortly after the third quarter started, power went out to most of the Superdome, serving as a reset button for the lopsided game and a giant pause button for CBS‘s coverage. Left to fill a half hour of players warming up on field, the network’s commentators seemed lost, vamping over shots from the sidelines while offering little in the way of information about what was, after all, a major news event going on live amid the presence of millions’ of dollars’ worth of media.
All in all, it proved the value of watching the game with a second screen, as Twitter proved to be a much better lights-out companion than the CBS crew, as millions of viewers cracked open extra beers, cracked their knuckles and cracked wise. The irony of this happening at the site of Katrina was not lost: “This time,” snarked writer Neal Pollack, “it’s the rich people trapped in the Superdome.” Oreo, meanwhile, rushed out a timely blackout ad, funnier, more effective and undoubtedly millions cheaper than its actual game commercial.
After the juice was restored, either because of the break in momentum or coincidentally the game became, well, a game, as the 49ers pushed Baltimore improbably to hold on for a last-seconds victory. Meanwhile, the second half also featured the most striking ad of the night: a two-minute piece for Dodge Ram trucks set to Paul Harvey’s 1970s testament, “So God Made a Farmer.”
The accompanying photos were gorgeous, but the star was the late Harvey and his words, spare, expertly paced and paused, and almost Johnny Cash-like in their raw evocation of Americana. Yes, it was not wholly original. (A reader on Twitter pointed me to YouTube, where you can find several earlier montages set to the Harvey speech.) Yes, it was sentimental and retro, as Harvey always was. And yes, the small family farmer that Harvey celebrated was, even when he gave the talk, becoming almost as rare as the unicorn in the Pepsi Next commercial. But the talk and the ad–which after all, aims to sell trucks to a whole lot of non-farmers–are more about capturing a feeling, a set of ideals, an attachment to something authentic, even or especially if it’s vanishing. It worked on me, anyway, and I drive a Scion:
Overall, the night was an example of what the Super Bowl still can be: the last big TV conclave that entertains men and women, young and old, sports fan and non-sports-fan, with immense servings of spectacle, surprise and generously ladled cheese. It’s an all-day, bloated affair, and yet it was still able to turn on a dime and snatch excitement from the yawning jaws of boredom. Even the celebration brought a shocker, if of a familiar kind: winning quarterback Joe Flacco brought potential FCC trouble on CBS by declaring live and unbleeped on TV that the night was “fucking awesome!”
More so for him than the rest of us, maybe. But for a TV viewer, the sentiment was hard to argue with.