One of the
benefits of problems with watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament non-stop over a 48 hour period, Saturday to Sunday, from the cozy confines of your couch is that you see the same commercials over and over and over and over, etc. At a certain point, the ads stop simply washing over you and you become a commercial connoisseur, dissecting them, judging them, rating them. For instance, in 2017 we received another round of Capital One broadcast blurbs featuring Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee as compadres placed in supposed-to-be comic situations where Barkley is predominantly made to be the butt of the joke with Jackson and Lee existing as Shaking Their Head straight men. The problem, however, is that Barkley's comic skills blow a bunch of airplane-ish stale air; watching him disco dance just put me to sleep. The best 30 second skit, in fact, is when Jackson is the butt of a joke, victim of Barkley's terrible "Snakes on a Plane" pun ("steaks on a plane") which gets by entirely on Jackson's I'm-So-Weary-With-All-This reactions.
Over the weekend, I saw this sort of advertising narrative misapprehension elsewhere, like the commercials for AT&T and DIRECTV in which Dan Finnerty, famously of "Old School" and "The Hangover" as the noticeably terrible wedding singer, is made to terribly croon Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" as the soundtrack to CBS sports commentator Greg Gumbel explaining to various bystanders how easy it is to stream the NCAA Tournament from your mobile devices. Now in these spots, Gumbel is mostly just there for expository purposes with Finnerty intended as the star of the show. Yet Gumbel nevertheless gives a performance, a good one, brilliantly (adverb is correct) fashioning himself as something like Finnerty's Hype Man.
Consider the "Sales Meeting" (watch here) spot in which Finnerty and Gumbel burst into a white collar conference room...
Here Finnerty is the principal in the frame, but notice Gumbel wheeling in the portable speaker in the background. In a still, sadly, you can't get the full scope of Gumbel's comically workmanlike manner in this moment. Gumbel isn't trying to be funny; he's just trying to get that speaker into the room. And it is the determined pragmatism with which Gumbel approaches this task that makes the shot funny.
Here, given a few quick seconds to explain the actual meat and potatoes of NCAA Tournament live streaming to an unsuspecting office worker, Gumbel does so crisply and succintly, like the professional he very much is, warmly rather than glibly, and with just a skosh of flair given the commercialized circumstances.
But then...back to the performance, as he watches Finnerty croon about not missing a thing.
At which point Gumbel turns back to the woman to whom he was just giving the plug with a look that is not self-impressed but more kindly "See What I Mean?"
She does see what he means as in the concluding long shot she happily watches the NCAA Tournament on her device while Gumbel stands there, keeping watch, not, mind you, in a domineering way but in a satisifed-to-see-a-satisfied-customer way. This is good shit.
Even better, however, is the "Parking Booth" (watch here) spot in which Finnerty and Gumbel pull to a stop in front of the parking attendant, ostensibly so Finnerty can get his ticket validated but really so they can espouse to the parking attendant the virtues of live streaming March Madness. Now Finnerty, of course, is supposed to be the point of this frame, but notice the way Gumbel, knowing his role as the Hype Man is to be at the beck and call of Finnerty, remains focused on Finnerty rather than the parking attendant.
And when Finnerty breaks into song, as he must, Gumbel sort of shifts into his seat, almost impercetible in the still, emanating this "Aw yeah, now we're cooking" vibe.
And when Finnerty puts out his hand, Gumbel, like the hype man giving the M.C. the mic, smacks a mobile device into Finnerty's hand with a dutiful yet confident force.
And as Finnerty hands the device over to the parking attendant, Gumbel opts for this repose, which is just mind-blowing, a man buried so deep in the part that he completely overshadows all the nonsense happening at the front of the frame.
Then Gumbel again gives his plug, and notice the change in his face, where he re-assumes the typical Gumbel-ian air we know so well, effectively working as the pitchman he was employed to be.
But once the plug is over...right back to hype man.
And then the capper...when Finnerty takes it up a notch, so does Gumbel, reacting like he just heard Judy Garland live at Carnegie Hall.
That? That is a man who momentarily is so moved by the song that he has forgotten all about live streaming and March Madness.