The Arrow Awards: The Best in British Television Commercials

The British make great television and have a great comedy tradition. But does that mean you should pay to see their television commercials?

C Collection of television commercials

If you’re like me, you probably mute or fast-forward through TV commercials. So why on earth would you go to a movie theater and buy a ticket to watch an hour’s worth of advertising intended for the "telly?"

One reason is that these are, at least in theory, the best–the commercials that have won the elite British Arrow Awards. For another reason, they’re British. Whatever we think of English dentistry and cooking, every PBS fan knows that they make great television. And the British tradition of off-the-wall humor stretches back from Gilbert and Sullivan through Beyond the Fringe and Monty Python to Wallace and Gromit. (Am I hitting enough stereotypes here?)

British Arrow Awards 2011 will screen Thursday through next Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. I did not screen these in time for last week’s newsletter.

Unfortunately, surprisingly few of these commercials are funny–intentionally or otherwise. To get to the laughs, you have to sit through a lot of technical whiz-bang, supposedly heart-warming slices of life, and two poetic odes to Macdonalds.

But the funny ones are excellent. What starts as a romantic war epic turns into a heroic tale of bakery delivery trucks. Two commercials introduce us to the small arrowawardsvillage where everyone seems exceptionally devoted to making wonderful cider. Impressive computer animation show us an exceptionally bad-ass way to manufacture a car, and creates a whimsical fantasy world that was so impressive I can’t recall what it was selling.

But the funniest commercial was probably one of the cheapest–a lesson in how to make your own low-budget Doritos commercial. A man addresses the camera as he explains the importance of such elements as conflict, suspense, and rolling your R’s. The lesson cuts frequently to variations of a pathetically bad little film that only gets worse with each "improvement."

I even liked a couple of non-funny commercials. One was an inspirational tale about a paraplegic athlete–which turned out to be hawking Johnny Walker. Another, which was a true public service announcement, warned of the dangers of Christmas tree fires.

One smartphone ad tried to be funny with three offensively stereotypical dumb blondes. Perhaps I found it particularly offensive because one blonde was named Maya and another one Brittany–the names of my youngest daughter and future daughter-in-law.

The program starts with the Bronze award winners, followed by those who took home the Silver, and ending with the "Best Commercial of the Year," which was not the best one on the program. Oddly, the Bronze collection contained most of the truly entertaining commercials. Perhaps the Arrow judges don’t use my criteria.

All told, I’d estimate that you’ll find about 20 minutes of great entertainment in this hour-long collection. For the rest, you may long for the fast-forward button.