They scream at us, as well as irritate, educate, and amuse. “They” are commercials, and they’re everywhere. They also come in a variety of forms, from the high-production ads during the Super Bowl to low-budget pitches for local car dealerships and restaurants. Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal are comedians who actually love those local commercials, so much that they’ve made a string of viral videos, ads for small businesses and McDonalds, and, now, their own series, IFC’s Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings.
Rhett and Link have been best friends since first grade. They know each other very, very well, and often, they eerily appear to think in unison. No doubt, this is an asset when they’re constructing comedy routines. It also might help in Commercial Kings, where each week’s schedule is tight, as the pair is assigned to create commercials for real life small businesses. Creating a bad commercial can have significant consequences for the company.
Of course, they pick colorful characters for their clients, with large personalities or personal idiosyncrasies. Each commercial production story on the show is divided into three parts: initially, we hear the business owner’s own vision of the business, then we see the commercial shoot, and finally we witness “The Reveal,” as the clients watch the finished commercial. As it turns out, Rhett and Link some good advertisements—with a few small glitches.
In the series premiere, Rhett and Link help two separate pet-oriented business owners, one who runs Holiday Hotel for Cats, a boarding “resort,” and another called Super Shmuttle, a “shuttle for mutts” that provides dog-sitting services, including daily trips to the park for playtime. Holiday owner Margaret says she speaks “cat,” while Shmuttle owner Judy is a tattooed, ‘60s-style Earth Mother who wants all her doggie customers to get along in a spirit of love. It’s clear that Rhett and Link find both women to be a bit eccentric. During their initial interactions with Margaret, it appears they don’t connect so well.
The ads themselves look like they might draw business, but they’re not precisely straight. The Schmuttle ad includes a scene of two dogs humping, and the Holiday Hotel spot features Margaret doing her cat-call imitations. Cat lovers might identify with her, but the average cat owner may find her too odd to deal with.
Aside from these two instances, though, the finished commercials are catchy, with production values above the average local commercial. In one episode, the guys work with Troy, an award-winning, African American salon owner who wants to bring more “non-black” business into his shop. Rhett and Link worry briefly about how to bring up race in the ads, then plunge right in. When they instruct Troy to refer to a white woman as a “snowflake,” both the woman and Troy’s staff object, so they quickly change the script. To lighten the mood, the pair decides to experience the salon’s services, with Rhett getting a multi-colored upsweep Mohawk and designer nails and Link getting a massage and cornrows: when he agrees to take off his glasses, Rhett’s suddenly no longer a dweeb.
Clearly, Troy’s staff knows what they’re doing. As for Rhett and Link, the results are uneven. Their fans may miss the duo’s usual broad and quirky comedy. While the pair does ask a befuddled Margaret to come up with an equivalent for parasailing at her cat resort, they try to stay on task during each job. With only a few days to produce each ad, they come up with a finished product the day after principal shooting is done. That means a night of editing, developing graphics, overlaying music tracks, and recording voice-overs. This is all done off-camera, and the short timeframe leaves little time for playing and joking. Those expecting a comedy free-for-all will be disappointed.
Instead, the show offers subtler joking, sometimes to make serious points. The ad for Troy’s Spot does raise questions about race and racism, while a visit to the Holiday Hotel by a pet psychic is a waste of time that comes off as filler. And as the finished product is each segment’s climax, it seems a missed opportunity that the show doesn’t follow up with the clients to see if the commercials have an impact on business. The clients say they love their new ads, but will viewers in their respective markets share their enthusiasm? We’ll never know.