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TV Eye: An Easy Sell

Web celebs Rhett & Link's TV take on art and commerce

By Belinda Acosta, Fri., June 24, 2011

Web celebs Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal mash art and commerce on IFC's <i>Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings</i>.
Web celebs Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal mash art and commerce on IFC's Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings.

I'm the type of TV watcher the industry hates. I don't like commercials. Not even a little bit. The DVR and the VCR before it were godsends in my book. Oh, every once in a while I'll see a commercial that entertains me, but mostly, I avoid them. So, I was highly skeptical when a screener for the "docu-comedy" Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings arrived in my mailbox. Now, I admire good documentaries, and I like comedies. But a "docu-comedy"? I was prepared to be annoyed. But before I knew it, I'd watched the entire premiere episode, then the second, and was sorely disappointed when there weren't more episodes to inhale. Not only was Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings fun; it was – in its own modest way – enlightening, too.

First, some background: Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings was created by and stars filmmakers, comedians, and Internet celebs Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal. YouTube watchers may recognize them from their independently produced Web videos, including the popular "Facebook Song," the stop-motion video titled "T-Shirt War," and "Fast Food Folk Song" (all viewable at www.youtube.com/rhettandlink). These pieces, along with their 200-odd other videos, have garnered 98 million hits and counting. Commercial Kings is based on their Web series I Love Local Commercials.

The goal in each episode of Commercial Kings is to help a small, locally owned business create a commercial for all the usual reasons – the company wants to expand its clientele, get its name out, and drum up more business. As self-taught filmmakers, Rhett and Link take a near-anthropological approach to the task, interviewing clients and their customers – and in one instance, becoming clients – while asking lots of questions that might not get asked were they not holding cameras. For example, when they start research for the commercial they plan to make for an African-American hair salon, prickly race differences quickly bubble to the surface. To their great credit, Rhett (the tall blond) and Link (the shorter one in glasses) do not shy away from uncomfortable moments, and I suspect it's because of their good-natured and tenacious curiosity that they receive candid and equally good-natured responses from their subjects. It's a lot like watching strangers learn to dance with one another. There's a lot of sincere effort to anticipate the other person's moves and plenty of good humor when toes are inadvertently smashed.

The duo has worked on lucrative national TV campaigns for McDonald's and Coca-Cola, among others, but it's clear they get a real kick working with the homegrown, untrained talent that appears on Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings. Rhett and Link approach each of their subjects collegially – not as the ultimate fount of knowledge, and not as the clueless butt of a joke. Rhett and Link are there to learn as much about their subjects as they are to identify the comic hooks that will ultimately make a memorable commercial. Makes one wonder what it would be like if everyone just asked a few heartfelt questions – with or without the benefit of a camera – in order to better understand their neighbors and move past their assumptions.

Future episodes of this charming, 10-part series feature Holiday Hotel for Cats, a getaway for cats whose owners are traveling; Make Me a Pro Wrestler, a training facility for pro-wrestler hopefuls; Fountain of Health, a routine colon care spa; and Bury Me Naturally, a business offering eco-friendly burials.

Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings premieres Friday, June 24, at 9pm on IFC. Rhett and Link will live-tweet during all first runs of new episodes throughout the season. Don't have cable? Encores of the previous week's episode will stream online after a new episode airs on TV, with the pair interacting with fans at www.ifc.com/rhett-link.

As always, stay tuned.

E-mail Belinda Acosta at tveye@austinchronicle.com.

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