The Black Eyed Pea

At least the Packers and Steelers brought it. If only the advertisers had fought as hard to be worthy of the Super Bowl hype.

In recent years, the cliché of saying "I only watch for the ads" has been supplanted by a new Super Bowl truism: The game on the field somehow upstaged the jousting from Madison Avenue. Even this year's most memorable and charming ad — a bit of wordless magic involving a child in a Darth Vader outfit tricked into thinking he had self-started the family Volkswagen — stole some of its own thunder by being leaked and disseminated online days before Sunday's showcase. For Volkswagen, this extra exposure is likely considered a win. It's the sort of ad you're happy to watch and re-watch — and online it even runs longer. But the surprise factor was gone by Sunday night, robbing the ad of its "event" status.

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Very little stood out Sunday night — except in the "Christina flubbed the lyrics of the national anthem" way or the "Black Eyed Peas gave my mute button a workout" way. (Cool day-glo dancers, though.)

Almost all of the noisy movie ads looked and sounded alike (the notable exceptions: the Spielberg-J.J. Abrams super-secret collaboration Super 8, the genre mashup Cowboys & Aliens, and, very late in the game, Fox's impressive teaser for the small-screen dinosaur/time-travel series Terra Nova). There weren't a lot of instant winners in the long night, but kudos to the NFL for that nifty nostalgic mash-up of classic TV moments, including Marcia Brady getting clocked in the nose by a football (followed by Urkel piping up "Did I do that?"), with glimpses of everyone from Fonzie and The Golden Girls to ALF, Modern Family's Gloria and finally Cartman running home so as not to miss the commercials. It was like my entire life in front of the TV had flashed before my eyes. Couldn't help but appreciate that.

Celebrity winner: Eminem, doing double duty — first as a Claymation rapper telling us why he hated doing commercials, while (literally) swearing on behalf of Brisk tea; then to better effect in a forcefully moody Chrysler ad extolling the virtues of Detroit. On a lighter note, befuddled Ozzy Osbourne was a hoot in a Best Buy ad, wondering "What's a Bieber?" alongside the Beeb himself (who doubled in stubble, muttering, "Guy looks like a girl"). A good weekend for young Justin, who got laughs on Saturday Night Live the night before, cavorting with Dana Carvey's Church Lady and gamely appearing with Andy Samberg in a Roommates parody trailer.

But if Joan Rivers thought becoming the new GoDaddy girl would make her this year's Betty White: Sorry. No dice. Ditto a neurotic Richard Lewis in a derivative Snickers ad only salvaged by a log knocking Roseanne Barr to the ground as this year's Abe Vigoda. (Last year: surprise. This year: Not so much.) And much as I like Stella Artois beer, why was Adrien Brody doing lounge-lizard shtick in an underground cabaret? Surely I wasn't the only one praying, as Kim Kardashian threw over her hot trainer for her Skechers, that no one would ever give her lines to read again. And the nadir? Timothy Hutton in an offensively tone-deaf Groupon ad, trivializing the suffering in Tibet, of all things. For shame.

Under the shameless heading, slapstick backfired in a variety of annoying beer and soda ads in which cans and bottles crashed into people's heads or crotches. Doritos was probably the most successful at grody-silly humor, using chip crumbs to bring a goldfish, plant and the ashes of a grandpa back to life, and introducing us to a creepy-kooky fetishist who licks cheese dust off fingers and trousers. Appetizing? No. Funny? Kind of. But the comedy act likely to have the most traction is the tight Bridgestone spot about the schnook who thinks he sent a "reply all" e-mail and races around to minimize the damage.

And were there animals? Were there ever. Top honors go to the suited monkeys-with-briefcases trapping an employee in his car in a CareerBuilder ad, the Bridgestone beaver who returned "respect" to the motorist who swerved to spare him, the Doritos pug breaking down a door, and the Bud Light dogs serving drinks, then playing poker, at a raucous party. But did any of this rival the good old days of the talking frogs? Afraid not.

The single most provocative ad in this dismal company was Motorola taking on Apple's iconic 1984 ad with its futuristic look at a society of white-cloaked earbud-wearing Apple drones, the exception being the lovestruck owner of a Xoom tablet — which I initially thought was an iPad, which of course was the point.

One of my truly favorite ads of the night didn't even air during the game. It was saved for the episode of Glee that followed: a Busby Berkeley-influenced musical spectacular in which the Glee cast, decked in white, perform the classic "See the USA in your Chevrolet" ditty (Dinah Shore alert!), part of a show-within-the-show gimmick involving Sue's scheme to trap the glee club into going pro.

Alas, this was pretty much the highlight of the heavily promoted Glee hour, another hot mess of nonsensical plotting and psychotic Slushee throwing in which characters quit and join the glee club, the football team, the Cheerios, with reckless abandon while Mr. Shue and Coach Beiste haplessly preach unity. (The ridiculous twist of the "glee girls" joining the football team in the 11th hour feels especially and annoyingly cartoonish to anyone who's been following the sublime Friday Night Lights play out its final chapters on DirecTV these last few weeks.)

Even the much-anticipated "Thriller" half-time production number felt choppy and unsatisfying. Much better, because it was a surprise, was the football boys' spirited rendition of "She's Not There" in zombie drag — clever choice, too, given that the song was a hit for '60s British pop band The Zombies.

Otherwise, the episode pretty much felt assembled by the singing and dancing dead. Sue throws a mighty tantrum? Check. A Warblers number ("Bills, Bills, Bills," which was pretty terrific) tossed in for no earthly reason, except to give us a Kurt (and Darren Criss) sighting? Check. Pointless celebrity cameo (Katie Couric, interviewing "Loser of the Year" Sue) reminding us that everyone wants to get in on the Glee action before it burns itself out? Check.

It was far from the best or the worst Glee episode ever, but given the circumstances, it's almost sure to be the highest-rated. So for Fox, using this occasion to bring the pop-culture phenom back after a long break, it was the most appropriate way to go out swinging — and singing — on Super Bowl Sunday.

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