And Then Daddy Walks In: The Fundamentals of Panic
Why Comedy Is the Most Effective Way to Advertise
It was early on Day One of a public relations shoot for the Girl Scouts, and every time I asked the Community Outreach Director for anything she answered “Yes, dear.” As a director, I’ve been called a lotta things in the heat of battle (many unmentionable), but the crew instantly aped the phrase, and as I said, it was Day One. I had to quickly nip this one in the bud.
I pulled her aside, as to not embarrass her, and politely but firmly told her that I knew it was probably just habit, but for the rest of the shoot please don’t refer to me as “dear.” She smiled and nodded. As she walked away, I whispered “Thanks, Mom.”
Family dynamics are rife with comedic opportunity. Take, for example, the three-minute gut-buster for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s titled “Carl Hardee Sr. Returns.” The rebranding video was directed by Wayne McClammy at Hungry Man for the Los Angeles agency 72andSunny.
Since it dropped about a week ago, there’s been plenty of ink spilled over the new direction and reasons for the change, but there are so many good things in the production that haven’t been explored. You see, this commercial could have gone so wrong in so many places, but from the script and casting to the tone and execution, this team nailed it.
The script is peppered with wonderful lines like these:
“Cut-no-corners food for you… to eat with your mouth.”
“It started how all great things start, with meat and fire.”
“You see, this is what I’ve been talking about. Food, not boobs.’”
“Nashville” actor Charles Esten plays Carl Hardee Sr. The comedian Drew Tarver plays his son Carl Hardee Jr. And the relationship between the two is the flame-broiled magic that burns the house down.
Senior marches into Junior’s office to reclaim his company and instantly starts making changes. Almost as an afterthought, he asks Junior a single question. When he lies, Senior tells him to shut up without missing a beat. It could have come off as mean-spirited, but it plays like the old man has heard this kid’s B.S. one too many times… about a hundred times ago.
The dynamic is crystallized every time Junior reflexively responds to Senior telling him to shut up. He contritely mumbles “Yes, sir.” As Senior walks out of the office, Junior desperately repeats what Senior just said: “We’re keeping the bull!” The no-nonsense Senior never even breaks stride. Then Junior spends the rest of video trying to look like he’s still in charge while explaining away his questionable decisions. The subtext is clear: I’m here. You’re not important anymore. Things are changing.
The take-no-guff, “tell it like it was” way Esten plays Senior juxtaposes nicely with the defensive, goofball performance of Tarver. Senior is the ultimate truth-teller who sees through all Junior’s shenanigans, a point dramatically illustrated through Tarver’s Muppet-like reactions to every word uttered by Senior.
There’s a lot going on in that relationship. That’s great writing, great acting and great directing.
Away from the judging eyes of friends and staff, Junior whines “But, Daddy…” as Senior takes his parking space. His emasculation is complete. The moment Junior crawls into the passenger seat and Senior tells him to buckle up, I know we’re going to see more of these two. It should be a fun ride. Relationships are everything.
Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for freelance consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike.
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