Garfield's Bobbies

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Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the fifth annual Bobby Awards, brought to you in living color from the fabulous Ad Review Viewing Lab on glittering Burke Pond Lane.

You could cut the tension with a tension-cutting device, if one were available, but, of course, one isn't because this kind of tension isn't cuttable, in a literal sense, as it is a state of mind, not a concrete object that can be physically severed. Isn't that right, Steve Kmetko?

Steve? Steve, are you there?

We'll try to connect with Steve later. He seems to be rooting through the Bobby Awards crowd looking for his career. So we'll just go right to the best actor category. There were four finalists this year. Ed Wheeler is the bigshot manager in the Computer Associates spot from Y&R Advertising, New York, who reacts with hilarious stoicism as his two subordinates are knocked unconscious on the way to a big presentation. Acting isn't all line delivery, or even expression. It can be the lack of expression, and less here is much, much more.

Marlon Young is the car salesman in the Richards Group, Dallas, spot for Hyundai. An enthusiastic shopper keeps hitting him and saying "Shut up!" as he delights her with Hyundai's low prices. Finally, he blocks her blow and says, with virtuosic control, "Please don't hit me."

James Andrew Dolan is the extremely satisfied customer in an Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, spot for Sears Tool Territory. He decides to buy a belt sander after an in-store test, but when the salesman offers to get him a new one in a box, he hugs the test model. "I want this one," he says. Because he has bonded. Wonderful.

But the coveted Bobby goes to ... a little kid. Josh Flitter is the 7-going-on-47 white collar stiff in the Office Depot spot from BBDO Worldwide, New York. We see him as a burned-out employee killing time by the water cooler, disappointed by work and life. "It's my weekend with the kids," he grumbles. Bravo.

There are five nominees in the best actress category.

Kara McNamara has little to say in a spot from Grey Worldwide, Los Angeles, for the California Department of Consumer Affairs Energy Conservation. She plays a pregnant woman on the way to the hospital, and her role is to be anxious but reserved and under control. "I'm OK," she says, and she's wrong. Because she's not just OK; in the briefest of moments, she's fabulous. So is Jenny Lamia, as the ditzy sales clerk in the BBDO, New York, spot for the Visa Check Card. Her eyes shift back and forth between identical-twin football stars Tiki and Ronde Barber. "This looks like you ... but it could be him," she says, stealing the scene, the spot, the game and the entire football season. Lauren Birkell is the customer in the aforementioned Hyundai spot, and her slaphappy "Shut up!"s are simultaneously hilarious and charming.

For pure charm, nobody in 2002 topped Janie Porche, the college girl who "saved Christmas" by plugging her dad's digital camera into her Mac. She isn't even an actress, but her retelling of this family anecdote is not just vivid, or sweet, or animated. It is incandescent.

The Bobby, however, goes once again to an actress with hardly any dialogue. But Amy Hargreaves is the master of every facial expression, every body movement and every breath as she shops for a Valentine's Day card in a DDB Worldwide, Chicago, spot for Bud Light. She is romantic innocence, in love with a total slob.

And now what you've all been waiting for: the celebrity category. We begin with a tribute to Carrot Top, that human herpes lesion who has been inflaming the nation's nerve roots for a year in those insufferable ads from Y&R Advertising, New York, for AT&T collect calling. He does, however, also appear in a very funny Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., spot for ESPN's SportsCenter in which he essentially acknowledges his own malignant inanity. The nomination is for courage in a self-deprecatory role.

Another brave nominee is Philadephia Eagles running back Duce Staley, who is magnificent in a NFL/United Way spot from Y&R Advertising, New York -a spot which, bizarrely, recasts a very old racist joke in a benign setting. The gag is that Duce is in a second-grade spelling bee, and his word is "chrysanthemum." He's terrific as the kid who thinks he's been unfairly treated.

New York Mets star Mike Piazza also proves that the material doesn't necessarily the actor make. The writing and concept in his spots for 10-10-220 are dreadful, but he is clearly a talented guy. His performances are the only bright spots in the entire obnoxious campaign.

Nonetheless, the Bobby for best performance by a celebrity in a commercial goes to a young woman who in all other respects makes our flesh crawl. Britney Spears-adolescent sex goddess-was the highlight of the Super Bowl with her delightful video recreation of Pepsi themes through TV history. It's not just that the BBDO, New York, period pieces are catchy; Britney herself actually demonstrates wit-understanding and projecting each period role with a combination of seriousness and camp. And that wink!

From pop tart to Belgian waffle, with a big dollop of whipped cream. The delicious surprise ... you could cut it with a knife.

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