As part of my personal crusade to ensure that “fortnight” is deployed accurately, I'll be taking a fortnight away from this column. On the (temporary) way out, I feel I’ve earned the right to throw my cyber-weight around and check in on two of my five favorite non-human things: meat and “The Simpsons.”
Meat makes me big (read: fat) and strong (read: fat). “The Simpsons,” all these years later, makes me laugh. I can’t conceive of a non-coronary-related or -deal-with-the-devil situation that would prompt me to tire of either. And in a wonderful column-facilitating coincidence, both meat and “The Simpsons” launched brand clips into the online ether this week. In an even more wonderful coincidence, they’re both pretty awesome.
The meat mirth comes courtesy of the folks at Montana’s Cookhouse, a north-of-the-border chain whose acquaintance I should’ve made lifetimes ago. To tout an upcoming Best of BBQ Sampler event, the company has produced “Paid For in BBQ,” a clip which only mentions the event in passing. Instead, it sends a dude into the local-business wilds and tasks him with trading a well-stocked plate of BBQ for massages, haircuts and ice cream, among other goods and services.
That brief description reads like a recipe for craaaay-zeee wackiness, so it’s to the clip’s great credit that it plays more like a social experiment than a cheap bit. Much of that can be attributed to the genial would-be BBQ Trader, who resists the temptation to mug for the cameras. Hell, the guy barely raises his voice above conversational level. He approaches the job of BBQ bartering as if it’s… well, a job. The clip is funnier and more effective for it.
“Paid For in BBQ” similarly downplays the man/woman-on-the-street reactions to the BBQ offer. We’re treated to a host of nonplused reactions (“well, this is a first,” “you’re gonna pay us in meat?,” “well, now that you’ve got it in front of me I can’t refuse that”) that, while tinged with skepticism, feel both genuine and unforced. There’s not an exaggeratedly broad, OMG THIS IS SO WACKADOODLE response in the bunch. As a result, I found myself smirking along with the host and wishing I were face-deep in the vittles he displayed. Mission accomplished.
“Kitchen Sink,” which promotes the August arrival of “The Simpsons” on FXX and an app which will make every single episode available on demand (fanning self), couldn’t be more different in tone or setting. While the show has long mined glib, blissful dumbassery for satire, the clip’s approach plays off fan reaction to the news that the “Simpsons” vault is about to be cracked wide open. When I heard it, my first two responses were “I will never find myself in a place where there’s nothing to watch ever again” and “I hope my marriage survives the onslaught.”
“Kitchen Sink,” then, is about me. We open on a scene where water flows three feet deep from unmonitored sinks and rogue lawnmowers run rampant. Later, we cut to a desolate cityscape, stilled by a disaster of a “Simpsons” kind: the new accessibility of show content has prompted everyone to check out on day-to-day reality. Then comes the kicker, in big honkin’ letters: “Every. Simpsons. Ever. We’re All Gonna Die.” Yup. Is it August 21 yet? No? Lousy calendar.
The approaches are disparate on the surface, but I’d argue that the one similarity renders “Kitchen Sink” and “Paid For by BBQ” birds of the same feather: neither opens its arms wide, majestic-soaring-eagle-style, to accommodate newbies. In fact, one senses that both clips have no designs whatsoever on luring new believers, which represents a huge break with the accepted norms of brand content. Generally, the genre isn’t about preaching to the brand-simpatico choir; it’s about enticing newcomers or skeptics with flashy graphics and in-on-the-joke appearances by R-list celebrities.
Thus “Kitchen Sink” doesn’t run viewers through a litany of Simpsons catchphrases and “Paid For in BBQ” doesn’t attempt to sell vegans on the virtues of carnivorous living. The former plays off the euphoric reaction to the “Simpsons” news and the latter affirms that people who like meat will generally behave in a manner consistent with meat-liking. There’s a lot to be said for not trying too hard.
Watching tens of these things per week, I find myself wincing as I imagine the muscles their creators must’ve strained while trying to make them all things to every viewer, independent of age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, height, gullibility, facility with power tools and propensity to purchase appliances. Creating a clip that feels light and effortless is no small challenge, but “Paid For in BBQ” and “Kitchen Sink” make it look easy.
Catch you in a few weeks. The column will be left in far more capable hands than my own. I ask only that you treat him decently and promise never ever never to like him more than you like me.