National Shilling Bee

This past weekend, some kind of animated movie featuring the comedian Jerry Seinfeld as a bee debuted. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

I’m not sure why I found the ginormous marketing run-up to this particular film so annoying. I understand that DreamWorks generally blankets the earth with promotion and cross-branding tie-ins for all of its films. So piece by piece it’s hardly new or shocking.

I guess it’s the Jerry part. One element of my anti-Jerry rage is that anyone that rich should just go sit on his money (or give a lot of it away) and not get busy partnering up with a Happy Meal. At least with his HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld co-creator Larry David—who has always played the darker John Lennon role to Jerry’s sunny Paul McCartney—has the good graces to show he’s still miserable.

OK, the bungee jump from the roof at Cannes while dressed in a ridiculous bee costume was a pretty shameless stunt, but earlier this fall it looked to me like Seinfeld was at least trying to regain his dignity. He appeared on the season premiere of NBC’s 30 Rock as himself, angered that Jack (Alec Baldwin), head of the TV network and microwaves division, had without his permission digitized old Seinfeld video and, in a blitz called “Seinfeld Vision,” dropped Jerry’s body into promos for all of NBC’s new shows, including MILF Island, a fake reality show—but with the strike, you never know—about 25 young, sexy moms abandoned on an island inhabited only by 50 eighth-grade boys. Appropriately outraged by the sheer vulgarity of it all, Seinfeld tells Jack to pull them off the air; even worse, he had to find out about it while “on a European vacation with my family in a country only really rich people know about.” That’s a damn funny line that shows some awareness for how he’s perceived.

Still, shill he must. In a head-spinning commerce-imitating-life-imitating-TV spiral, Jerry actually appeared during the commercial breaks on 30 Rock in a series of TV Juniors (they sound delicious) that he wrote and produced to promote Bee Movie. They were pretty terrible. It’s the not currying favor while aggressively currying favor that’s so irritating. One of them featured a coffee-carrying kid intern named Carl whose ideas Jerry cruelly dismisses. Then Jerry finds out that Carl’s last name is Spielberg and, you got it, Jerry himself ends up delivering the coffee. No hilarity ensues.

But dressed up as interstitials, the Juniors were a smart way for NBC to deliver content in between the Ford commercials that wrapped around them. And Ford came out looking innovative. (Twenty of the video shorts will reportedly appear on YouTube, and maybe in that context they’ll seem great.)

So where were we? Let’s see: Cannes, bees, TV Juniors, Spielberg… Oh yeah, the point of this critique was for me to review the latest HP spot starring Jerry Seinfeld as himself, promoting a project called Bee Movie.

And what with all the cross-promotion that had to fit into the spot—HP, Microsoft’sVista, Jerry, his movie, DreamWorks, and worst of all, as if it really needed a plug, his wife’s “trick your kids by putting spinach in their brownies” cookbook—it’s amazing that anything intelligible, never mind entertaining, came out of it.

But the spot is entertaining, because it’s so well crafted. Of all the “The Computer Is Personal” commercials so far, it has the best pacing. It’s a natural match with the magician-like, sleight-of-hand, torso-only visual set-up. The delivery of a stand-up comic, punctuated by punch lines, is perhaps the closest thing to the patter of a magician.

It seems cleaner and brighter than the others, all of which have been beautifully designed, though some came off as dark and arty. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

And as long as we’re resorting to dropping famous Seinfeld lines, let’s go for the shrinkage/linkage joke. You recall that after swimming, George had a “shrinkage” problem. This “hand commercial thing,” as Seinfeld starts out calling it, involves some elegant linkage: He mentions his former show, plays a clip from the new movie, uses Vista software to watch some baseball and gets an e-mail from DreamWorks that demands two mentions of the movie, so he conjures up an animated bee. He also plugs his wife’s cookbook at length (What, no Oprah clip?), but even this is done so well, visually, that it moves breezily.

I love all the clever visual allusions to New York, and specifically Seinfeld’s New York, including a diner setting complete with napkin holder and salt and pepper shakers. The music sounds good, and for one happy moment, we can feel the chemistry, as well as the synergy, of the HP/Bee partnership.

I’m afraid everything else is simply Jack’s “Seinfeld Vision,” squared.