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2019 Super Bowl commercials: The best and worst of what we’ve seen so far

By Steve Johnson • Feb 2, 2019 at 12:00 PM

This year’s advertising Super Bowl has, again, lots of celebrities and lots of dogs. It also has many ads featuring dogs, amirite? The recent trend toward sincerity continues with spots about environmentally responsible beer making and female empowerment in sports and in dating. And tech giants Amazon and Google continue to battle for the small pieces of our mind share they cannot already access.

Here are our rankings of the best, the worst, and the vast middle of the pack among the 2019 Super Bowl commercials that have been released so far:

M&M’s, “Bad Passengers.” A-

The Mars hard-shelled candy brand has had a pretty good run with its ads featuring anthropomorphized spokesmorsels. This one continues the tradition. Christina Applegate, driving the SUV from the “mom” position, attempts to quiet squabblers in the back seat. Finally she’s had enough and dramatically pulls over, turning and announcing, “If you don’t stop, I will eat all of you alive right now!” The “kids,” who are, of course, the humanoid M&M’s, freeze, then one says, “I prefer the break-us-apart option.” It’s a tight, well-executed take on familiar scenes of parental frustration and embarrassing overreaction. Demerits for having nothing to say but a tagline about the new product supposedly being introduced, an M&M’s chocolate candy bar.

Hyundai, “The Elevator.” A

A young couple is going car shopping via elevator (just go with it). Elevator operator Jason Bateman knows what that means: “You’re going down.” Down past root canal, down past jury duty, even below “the talk” and the vegan dinner party. But when they arrive at car shopping they announce they’re using Hyundai’s buyer protection program and get whisked up to a high floor. It’s funny from the “beet loaf” to “Captain Colon” in a hospital gown trying to sneak off up high, and it dramatizes the good the carmaker says its Shopper Assurance program achieves.

Olay, “Killer Skin.” B

While I wasn’t paying attention to skin care products — that is to say, at some moment during the last 30-plus years — they took the Oil out of Oil of Olay. But that’s not the point here. The point is that Sarah Michelle Gellar, in a horror-movie scenario, can’t call the cops on a home intruder. Because her phone doesn’t recognize her face to unlock itself. Because she’s been using Olay. Props to the venerable face cream for being so tech-forward, but this is more a competent execution of this idea than an inspired one.

Planters, “Crunch Time,” C

Big Peanut is in the game for the first time since 2008. You can tell because the two celebrities it’s hired are of about that vintage. Mr. Peanut drives the Nutmobile recklessly through city streets. Watching from a bench, Charlie Sheen says, “People think I’m nuts,” flattering himself with the notion that people think about him. Mr. Peanut is on his way to a sports watching event in a living room, where he slides nuts down the table to bump chips out of the way of snacker Alex Rodriguez. Those won’t be the first pill-shaped things Rodriguez has ingested to boost his earning power. Tired famous people and a stock chase-scene scenario do not a wired advertisement make.

Pringles, “Sad Device.” A-

I’d rather have nuts than these ersatz potato chips any day. But in terms of second-quarter ad quality, Pringles has it all over Planters. The pressed, shaped and flavor-dusted potato-fragments brand plays with the interesting concept of stacking, merging several flavors together to create something new (confession: I do this with salad-bar soup sometimes and have been hunting for a name for it). But where the ad really shines is in making fun of the always-on home assistants you’ll see presented sincerely in other SB ads. The sad device of the title answers a question about the number of flavor combos that are possible, then laments its status: “I’ll never know the joy of tasting any, for I have no hands to stack with.” As it is about to bemoan God’s role in this, its owner commands, “Play Funkytown.” This is fun and breezy and on-snack-message for Super Bowl watchers, but there are whispers of sharp social commentary in there, too.

Skechers, “Easy Life,” B+

“I like to make my life easy,” says play-predicting savant NFL announcer and retired QB Tony Romo. So he has a robot vacuum. He has a tennis-ball machine to play fetch with his dog. The golf hole he putts toward is the size of a kiddie swimming pool. And the shoes he wears, Skechers Slip-ons, don’t even require lacing. Some people call this surrender, an accompaniment to sweatpants all the time and midnight Ben & Jerry’s. But Romo and the shoe brand pitch it as cleverness.

Colgate Total, “Close Talker.” B+

Fans of the ‘90s will appreciate this homage to a “Seinfeld” concept, the person who stands way too near you in conversation. It makes sense as a way to sell mouth-care products, and actor Luke Wilson is, of course, nimble in the title role. The one problem in the series of drily amusing workplace scenarios? Unlike Wilson, who uses Total to manage his quirk, real close talkers don’t know they’re close talkers. They just get up in your face, minty fresh or not.

Amazon, “Not Everything Makes the Cut.” C+

Alexa, get me a new ad agency. The concept here is OK: Amazon’s not-at-all-creepy, always-on digital assistant is going into a lot of devices these days — but not every idea works. It’s the dramatization of the reject pile that falls flat. Forest Whitaker does some business with an Alexa-enabled toothbrush, and Harrison Ford is forced to play against a dog wearing an Alexa collar that understands dog language. And then there’s the muddled scenario where a city’s lights blink on and off, apparently due to overheard concert lyrics? In that one the first lights-out shot is a Chicago River cityscape. So we were good enough to illustrate urban beauty, Amazon, but not to host an HQ2? Add this long, costly spot to the list of Alexa fails.

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