We here at Indiewire are not about to pretend we’re capable of offering up in-depth game analysis of Super Bowl XLIX, but subjectively, this year’s game was one of the more exciting in recent memory. Thanks to a close score, both teams pulling off some pretty exciting plays and an ending that could have been a bit of a letdown — except for the totally ridiculous fight that broke out after Seattle blew the faintest chance it had at victory — the Seahawks losing to the New England Patriots (final score: 24-28) broke a few Indiewire intern hearts, but by and large was pretty captivating from a layperson’s perspective.
Of course, the Super Bowl these days is so much bigger than just a football game — it’s a massive pop culture event. Potential blockbusters try to build buzz for the summer movie season. Brands try to craft narratives around their products. The host network tries to use it to launch or relaunch the shows that will keep people watching the other 364 days of the year. And here are some of the night’s biggest faceoffs that have nothing to do with balls. (Footballs, anyway.)
Super Bowl Ads vs. America’s Fear of Mortality
The famed Super Bowl Ad slot has the capability to be a king-maker or brand-killer, now more than ever thanks to social media’s swift and merciless groupthink judgement. It also offers a potential window into today’s culture — which, based on today’s ads, is a culture obsessed with disappointing family relationships and death.
Nationwide was perhaps the biggest offender here, with an ad that reminded viewers about the very real possibility their beloved children might die at any moment in a household accident. But in general many ads took a pretty grim look at the world. When one of the more joyful ads featured Liam Neeson swearing revenge against a stranger who’d wronged him (a stranger he was playing in a goofy mobile game, sure, but still), there’s reason to be a bit concerned.
Winner: Super Bowl ads. And American therapists, probably.
Super Bowl Ads vs. The Perception that Super Bowl Ads Are Super-Sexist
This year (perhaps not surprisingly, given this season’s worth of terrible, terrible press), advertisers seemed to cut ladies a break. There weren’t too many ads that pushed the boundaries of taste: while Carl’s Jr. continued to think women in bikinis sell burgers (Carl’s Jr. has clearly never asked a non-bikini-wearing woman if she feels like eating a burger after seeing those ads), Victoria’s Secret was a relatively classy affair and GoDaddy didn’t get the opportunity to offend (turns out that potential puppy abuse is worse than treating women like objects).
Most importantly, one of the most feminist commercials in recent memory — Always’ award-winning “Like a Girl” spot — got a pretty prime slot. Mid-way through the biggest athletic event of the year, a feminine hygeine company reminded America that girls don’t have to be weak or lame. That’s pretty special.
Winner: Women. All women, for once. That’s a pretty rare thing in football.
Katy Perry vs. Katy Perry Doubters
Playing the Super Bowl is one of those epic gigs that usually gets reserved for epic acts: Beyonce, The Rolling Stones, Beyonce… So when Katy Perry was announced as the artist for this year — despite her pretty large catalog of hits — there were skeptics. But while watching Lenny Kravitz sing “I Kissed A Girl” didn’t have much shock value (Lenny, you have kids, we’d guessed as much), Missy Elliott’s surprise appearance/domination of the camera was captivating, the visual effects were on point and the dancing sharks were instant, perfect meme fodder in all the best ways. The halftime show isn’t about the music, really. It’s about putting on a show. Perry went well beyond show to full-on spectacle, and it was fun as hell.
Winner: Calling it now — in 2017, President Katy Perry, having won the office in a landslide election, rides to the inauguration atop her ever-loyal robot liger. Accompanying President Perry are her constant companions, First Lady Missy Elliott and Vice President Dancing Shark.
A Male-Skewing Audience vs. Female-Driven Blockbusters-to-Be
Here’s how badly NBC wanted to sell the upcoming “Fifty Shades of Grey” to the Super Bowl audience: It used a pretty silly exchange between innocent Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and seductive Christian (Jamie Dornan) as the button for at least one ad aired during the game, entirely because it included a joke about the Xbox. “Men know what Xboxes are! Many of them even like Xboxes! When their wives and girlfriends demand to go see ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ on Valentine’s Day, they’ll put up less resistance!” seems to have been the thinking there. Too bad the actual dialogue — “This is my playroom.”/”Where you keep your Xbox and stuff?” — is pretty tragic.
Winner: Women whose desire to see “Fifty Shades of Grey” has been validated by the multi-national corporation behind the movie — it’s an NBC Universal production. (Loser: The rest of us.)
NBC vs. Shonda Rhimes
Now this is a match-up, and one with a great narrative. A legendary institution with decades of success behind it, trying to reclaim lost glory against an upstart newcomer that’s won the hearts of the public in recent years, but could be vulnerable. Let’s not even pretend that ABC as a network is involved here: It’s NBC’s new Thursday night lineup of dramas, up against the Shondaland empire.
In honor of the season, let’s break this battle down in football terms. The kick-off was tonight, with NBC using the post-Super Bowl slot — a storied timeslot, which has been host to iconic shows including “Friends,” “The X-Files” and “The Simpsons” — to premiere a “game-changing” episode of last year’s hit series “The Blacklist.”
But tonight’s really just the coin-flip, the outcome of which we won’t even know until Monday morning’s ratings report. And the real game is on Thursday, when “The Blacklist” anchors new shows “The Slap” and “Allegiance” — putting a star-ridden family drama and an “Americans”-esque spy series up against “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” all of which are massive hits for ABC.
Here’s the important element: Gender. Using the Super Bowl as a launch strategy could be legitimately brilliant, as betting on the idea that men are more interested in James Spader than Viola Davis is not at all a dumb move. We don’t envy the DVR fights that might ensue in households divided between the two different options. (But we will remind potentially unhappy couples that Hulu exists.)
Winner: To be determined. But as of tonight, we’ll gamble that Shonda’s got the stronger start (especially after last week’s stellar “Scandal” premiere). NBC might have owned Thursday night for over a decade. But sometimes, the newer blood deserves your trust.
Other NBC Programming vs. the Super Bowl Audience
Maybe not so great. The only other ads that really stood out were for “Heroes Reborn,” (which was only a quick teaser to remind audiences that yes, Jack Coleman — 2007’s favorite morally ambiguous Man In Black — was confirmed for the reboot of NBC’s disappointing “X-Men” pastiche) and “Chicago PD”/”Chicago Fire.” Dick Wolf’s latest procedural drama franchise did successfully communicate the news they would be launching another massive crossover event this week, but it did so at the expense of selling the actual appeal of the show to potential new fans.
Winner: The other networks, who were hopefully watching the game, thinking to themselves, “Thank God we have a deeper bench of content than NBC.”
Who do you think was the real winner of the night? Tell us in the comments!