Super Bowl 2014: Reviewing the Commercials (From the 1st Half) — Plus: Rewatch Them Here!

If you’re going to lay down $4 million for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial, for the love of GoDaddy, make sure it pops.

With this year’s big game underway, TVLine is taking stock of the funny, frantic and warm-and-fuzzy spots that are waving assorted advertisers’ wares in front of a good 100 million people. Which companies opted for cute critters? Who signed splashy celebs to do their shilling? And who’s employing tried-and-true S-E-X to arrest eyeballs?

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Read our quick take on the commercials from the 1st half of Super Bowl XLVIII — refresh for updates! — beneath this handy gizmo for playing back your faves (or ones you missed whilst hitting the loo), then share your own reviews in Comments.

FORD, “Nearly Double” | Is this the omnipresent James Franco’s Super Bowl debut? I have no idea. But in tandem with Rob Riggle, he teases something a commercial has never done before – be followed up with a second one that’s “nearly double” as long. Despite the risk of reviving 2012-13’s Franco Fatigue, it drives home the point about the Fusion’s impressive fuel economy. [Score: SAFETY, fittingly]
BUD LIGHT, “Epic Night Part 1” | When Bud ventures outside of its all-American folksy umbrella advertising, it tends to come up empty. (‘Member last Super Bowl’s douche-targeting Black Crown spots?) This first part in Not-an-Actor Ian’s journey makes me fear the others to come. [FUMBLE]

MASERATI, “Strike” | A semi-mystical moppet (played by Oscar-nominated ingenue Quvenzhané Wallis) muses about underdogs lying low so as to strike when giants are sleeping. Or something. It was anybody’s guess what product was being touted until the final second, and not in an impressive way. Car ads can’t afford to be bogged down by mumbo-jumbo. [FUMBLE]

DORITOS, “Time Machine” | Kid dupes oaf into using his Doritos as “fuel” for a time machine. Oaf then mistakes cranky property owner for aged kid/time-travel success. Barely amusing. [FUMBLE]

CHEVY, “Romance” | As truck commercials go, an odd – and oddly specific – combo, as a rancher drives his “very eligible bachelor” stud bull to meet a gaggle of cows, all while “You Sexy Thing” plays. Cute, if unsettlingly anthropomorphic as the bull licks his lips in anticipation of good lovin’ to come. [FIELD GOAL]

NEED FOR SPEED | Fast cars, bi-ch! Upgraded to SAFETY for the goodness of Aaron Paul.

TURBOTAX, “Love Hurts” | So… if you don’t have a horse in tonight’s Super Bowl race, you should use the time to get your taxes done? No. [FUMBLE]

BUD LIGHT, “Epic Night Part 2” | OK, I was too hasty. Had no idea that Don Cheadle (with the SNL llama?) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (with a bad wig and too-tiny tiny tennis shorts) would show up. Ian’s adventure now rating a SAFETY, if only for the randomness.

BEATS MUSIC | Ellen DeGeneres-as-Goldilocks seeks out the perfect dance tracks, ultimately boogeying with the bears. An effective-enough demo. [SAFETY]

HYUNDAI | The night’s best car ad thus far, leading off with multiple “fun” instances of parents saving their kids from near-calamity. Flash-forward to teenage years, and the Genesis’ auto-braking somethingoranother can cover for Dad now. [FIELD GOAL]

CHEERIOS, “Gracie” | In a follow-up to last year’s “controversial” (yet not) spot featuring on a biracial couple, young Gracie negotiates for a puppy when she learns she’s getting a baby brother. [TOUCHDOWN]

SQUARE SPACE | I’m not 100 percent sure what Square Space is (a web hosting service?), but that damning physical manifestation of “what the Internet has become” — including nagging virus “alerts,” duck-faced selfie-holics and pervasive “Your Funny Words Here” memes — was fantastic. [TOUCHDOWN]

RADIO SHACK | The ’80s called, and they want their store back. If this spot got spoiled pre-Super Bowl, I missed it, but what fun to amass so many icons from “my day” — Cliff Clavin, Kid N Play, Alf, the California Raisins, Hulk Hogan, Mary Lou Retton, Dee Snider — for a pointed poke at Radio Shack’s dusty but now-improved image. [FIELD GOAL]

GODADDY | John Turturro introduces us to Gwen, an actual woman who right here and now, on TV, is quitting her job to start a website for her puppetry biz. Thank goodness GoDaddy had the PuppetsByGwen.com domain free, coulda been awkward. [SAFETY]

T-MOBILE | Tim Tebow shares a snapshot look at what he’s been up to since leaving the NFL — birthing babies, chasing Sasquatch, using talking whales to solve world peace — to underscore how “contracts can be limiting.” Fair ’nuff. [SAFETY]

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION | Mark Wahlberg inherits the heavy lifting from Shia LaBeouf — though Shia will gladly take credit for any success, probably. No hint of plot (I’m serious!), and IMO the ‘bots look a little cartoony this time, a bit less tactile. [SAFETY]

VOLKSWAGEN, “Wings” | This was a “B-” premise elevated by “A+” execution, as VW engineers sprout wings as vehicles pass the century mar on the odometer. Bonus points for restraint on the rainbow-shooting butt. [TOUCHDOWN]

WONDERFUL PISTACHIOS | The nuts are “wonderful,” Stephen Colbert is “wonderful” and the eagle was “good.” A 15-second spot that barely broke a sweat. [SAFETY] Upgraded to FIELD GOAL once the follow-up, featuring a pistachio-headed Colbert, came on.

CARMAX | Satisfied customer elicits a slow clap from the dealer… and then strangers… a park ranger and bear… filmdom’s Rudy (aka Sean Astin) and even a cherub statue. Minimal product info, but the Rudy nod nets a SAFETY.

COCA-COLA | “America the Beautiful” sung in multiple languages over multi-national vignettes. Not one of the pop king’s more memorable Super Bowl forays. [SAFETY]

SONOS, “Face Off” | Clever, using a color palette to literally illustrate how different forms of music can fill your home. But ultimately forgettable. [SAFETY]

H&M | In a spot touting David Beckham’s “body wear” line, the sculpted soccer star sheds bit by bit of clothing as he tries to get back to a fashion shoot — ultimately arriving au naturel. [SAFETY]

TOYOTA, “Big Game Ad Starring Terry Crews and the Muppets” | Dr. Teeth & Co. commandeer Crews’ Highlander, to get to a gig at a nursing home, where they declare there’s “no room for boring” – capped by a Kermit cameo at the end. Whimsical and winning. [TOUCHDOWN]

Coming up, in a separate post: Grading the second half’s commercials.