Keeping a watch on TV the week of February 6, 1998

From sadistic lizards to Kramer in a skirt — the best and worst Super Bowl spots

For more than a decade now, the Super Bowl has been Madison Avenue’s version of a debutante ball — the place to get a first glimpse of capitalism’s most glittering new beauties. That is if you don’t fall asleep during the lopsided game.

But this year a curious thing happened. The football was actually interesting. And the ads — well, maybe it’s because nothing could titillate quite like MSNBC’s presidential coverage, but it seemed there were no real water-cooler phenoms à la Ridley Scott’s 1984-themed Macintosh ad. Of course, that’s not to say there weren’t some worthy players.

BEST BUG DEATH: McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce. Unsettling and extremely witty, the spot shows a mosquito exploding after drinking a fat man’s Tabasco-sodden blood. That’s the kind of TV violence we can endorse.

WORST BUG DEATH: Pepsi. A huge-lipped mosquito gets squashed mid-rendition of “Brown Sugar.” If we wanted to see spindly critters warbling oldies, we’d go to a Stones concert. (Pepsi redeems itself with its visually stunning air boarder versus goose contest.)

BEST NBC PROMO: Working. They can bite the hand that feeds them. Soon after airing Nike’s stirring “I Can” spot, NBC spoofs it with a wicked pitch for the Fred Savage sitcom: “I can photocopy my face…. I can lean way back in my chair without falling.”

WORST NBC PROMO: Those ubiquitous Peacocks that fluttered onto our screen after every tackle. Feed those birds some Tabasco sauce, please.

BEST AD FOR A BRUCE WILLIS FLICK: Armageddon. An ID4 rip-off to be sure (the Chrysler Building explodes instead of the White House — big diff), but this meteor movie does look like tasty eye candy.

WORST AD FOR A BRUCE WILLIS FLICK: Mercury Rising. Math equations (is it Good Will Hunting?). Angry guys in suits (Men in Black?). Bruce acting all paternal (Kramer vs. Kramer?). Who knows, this spot’s too murky.

BEST SPENT $1.3 MILLION: FedEx. A bold meta-ad featuring a test pattern, this dialogue-free gem rivals FedEx’s fast talker.

WORST SPENT $1.3 MILLION: Intel. In a labored, pun-heavy film-noir parody, the chip maker asked Internet users to solve a mystery. The results — aired during the second half — were as riveting as a DOS manual.

BEST SEINFELD SPIN-OFF: American Express. In yet another tightly scripted pitch from Jerry, the comic trades whines about the travails of fame with a cartoon Superman (voiced by Patrick Warburton, who plays Seinfeld‘s Puddy).

WORST SEINFELD SPIN-OFF: Tommy Hilfiger. A study in strained wackiness: A cross-dressing Michael Richards begs the designer to let him appear in a sneaker ad. Well, at least we didn’t have to see the hipster doofus in Hilfiger’s trademark undies.

BEST SLIPPERY CREATURES: The Budweiser lizards. The green-with-envy reptiles try to rub out those one-note frogs. Next time, let’s hope they succeed.

WORST SLIPPERY CREATURE: Bill Clinton. In an awkwardly timed pregame spot, America’s head honcho promoted racial tolerance.

BEST TAG LINE: Doritos. “Ay, Chihuahua.” A ’90s version of “hubba-hubba,” this phrase is uttered after a hot babe in a Laundromat demonstrates some oral acrobatics (not the kind they’ve been discussing on CNN, mind you).

WORST TAG LINE: Oracle. “Enabling the Information Age.” Who knew the Information Age was co-dependent?