The Most Excruciating Time of the Year
December 05, 2019

Ranking the sickest, sappiest, all-around worst holiday commercials of 2019

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Try all you like, but you cannot defeat the holidays. They're a tsunami and an avalanche rolled into one. You can elope to Maui, and you won't escape. You can alight to Vermont, and you won't outrun them. They come for all of us, gaining slow and steady until we are engulfed. There's Bing Crosby blaring from every bluetooth speaker as soon as the jack-o'-lanterns start to rot. There's triple peppermint egg nog frappucinos and Salvation Army bells ring-ting-a-linging their way into the marrow of your skull. But most insidious of all are the holiday commercials, a ceaseless barrage of shameless consumerism plucking at our collective heart strings like Eddie Van Halen—trojan cheer horses designed fill your heart and drain your wallet, not necessarily in that order. But don't despair. We can still stand up. We can still fight back, and the revolution starts here with our takedown of the eight sickest, sappiest, all-around worst holiday commercials of 2019. Friends, family, and countrymen, welcome to the resistance.

8. Microsoft - “Lucy and the Reindeer”

What’s the Plot: It’s the holidays and Lucy’s mom is on a conference call with the Japanese buyers, the most time-honored Christmas tradition of them all. But don’t worry, Lucy! Thanks to the power of Microsoft tablet translation software, mom can chat with them in English in real time, increasing call efficiency by exactly 13.7%! Plus, when mom goes to sleep for the first time this Q4, you can borrow her tablet and finally pester the local reindeer with all those questions you’ve been dying ask about the Big Man up north.

What’s It Selling: Windows tablets that will ensure your kids’ kids never have to meet a foreign language requirement ever again.

Why It Sucks: We all know only magical reindeer can talk. Try again next year, Gates.

7. Xfinity - “A Holiday Reunion”

What’s the Plot: An unidentified flying object touches down behind a family home in suburbia. But wait, it turns out the alien is E.T. and the milquetoast cul-de-sac dad who long ago gave up his dreams is Elliott! Over the next few days, Elliott introduces E.T. to his family and the marvels of the modern world—including high-speed Xfinity cable and internet bundles. They watch Holiday Inn! They take long strolls through the snow! But then Elliott discovers E.T. alien-Skyping with his own family, who he inexplicably abandoned during the holidays to come crash on Elliott’s pull-out. So E.T. hijacks the family bikes with the kids, and they all bid farewell to their extra-terrestrial uncle as he blasts off into the vast, unknowable cosmos once more. Mom, it should be noted, takes all of this pretty well.

What’s It Selling: Xfinity cable and internet that can’t download two episodes of The X-Files at once via a creature so technologically advanced he can Facetime with his fingers.

Why It Sucks: A. Because cable companies are the devil and B. Because all we want for Christmas is the swift, merciless eradication of reboots, retreads, remakes, and sequels, especially those shoddily resuscitated with inferior CGI in the sole interest of padding cable company coffers. Did we mention cable companies are the devil?

6. New York Lottery - “Special Delivery”

What’s The Plot: A park ranger receives a scratch-off lotto ticket from her boss as a holiday bonus, but on her way home from work, the ticket blows out a car window, inexplicably open in below-freezing temps. Thankfully for the unwitting ranger, however, nature quickly springs into action as a rabbit transports the lost ticket to a bird who laterals it to a turtle that shuffles it to a deer who hands it off to a raccoon who slips it under the park ranger’s door. The ranger picks up the ticket, opens the door, and smiles upon seeing animal tracks leading across her yard. Was it a winning ticket? We may never know, but as “Believe in the magic of the season” scrolls across the screen, you can't help but bet the house on it . . . no seriously, someone stop us.

What’s It Selling: Seasonal New York Lotto scratch-offs for Uncle Tony’s stocking.

Why It Sucks: You know what’s emotionally manipulative? Cute animals! You know who are easy to manipulate? Degenerate gamblers. P.S. It's no jelly of the month club, but if your boss gives you a $5 scratch-off as an end-of-the-year bonus, just go ahead quit right there on the spot.

5. Chick-Fil-A - “The Time Shop”

What’s the Plot: Sam wants nothing more in the world than to make a snowman with her family, but no one is listening. Family, can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em, amirite? But just as all hope seems lost, Sam discovers two cats—Tick and Tock—in the back of the grandfather clock who open a portal to a place called The Time Shop that is totally, definitely not in Narnia. There she meets an old clock maker who teaches her and her family the value of “Together Time,” giving them a voucher for one free hour to make the best snowman ever, which, of course, they do. This is a commercial for chicken sandwiches.

What’s It Selling: Chicken sandwiches.

Why It Sucks: WHERE ARE THE $%#*&%! CHICKEN SANDWICHES???

4. Macy's - “Santa Girl”

What’s the Plot: Virginia is a little girl who wants to be Santa when she grows up. The only problem (you know, besides the fact that “Santa” is not exactly a viable career path these days)? Virginia’s classmates say she can’t be Santa because she’s a girl. Virginia gets picked on at school for her bearded aspirations, and comes home crushed. Her parents, in a last-ditch effort to revive the holiday cheer within Virginia, wrap their entire truck in holiday lights—definitely a moving violation of some sort, but let's not get bogged down in details—fill the bed with gifts, and drive to door to door handing out gifts to the little brats who just tormented their daughter, all of whom smile because what little brat doesn’t love getting shit?

What’s It Selling: A dying department store propped up on cheap cologne and crock pots that might not live to see another Christmas.

Why It Sucks: Hate to break it to you Virginia, but life is too short to suffer fools. You’re like seven, so we don’t expect you to get it, but why are your parents going out in the cold and risking the safety of fellow drivers just so the neighborhood wedgie factory can get a new game for his Nintendo Switch? If those packages are full of flaming dog feces, this commercial quickly becomes our favorite of the season, but something tells us that's not the point.

3. Oreo - “First Christmas”

What’s the Plot: It’s Christmas Eve, and Santa has to make a milk-and-cookies pit stop. So he pulls over at the next gas station and sends his elf inside to procure some Oreos. The only problem? It’s the elf’s first day on the job (weird start date, but just go with it), and as he approaches the counter with a Big Gulp of orange soda and several packets of Oreos, it becomes clear he has no idea what he’s doing. Thankfully the guy at the register has a milk stash behind the counter and shows the elf the Oreo ropes, because sooner or later an unemployed elf is coming for his job, and he knows it. For his cookie assistance, the poor sap working the pumps on Christmas Eve scores an invite to Santa's infamous XXXmas rager.

What’s It Selling: Delicious, perfect little circles of goodness.

Why it Sucks: Is it just us, or does this whole commercial just reek of creepiness? It’s dimly lit. The elf is wearing way too much blush. The guy behind the counter has a milk stash, a van ‘stache, and when he twists off the top of the Oreo and demonstrates how to properly lick the crème for the elf, a chill runs up the world’s spine. Dear Santa, please give this guy a background check before you let him on the sleigh. For the good of the North Pole, we beg you.

2. Apple - “The Surprise”

What’s the Plot: A family of four crashes at recently widowed grandpa’s for approximately six months leading up to Christmas, despite grandpa clearly not wanting anything to do with them. While distracted mom and doofus dad are off bankrolling their sick Apple product habit from the communal workspaces at the mall, their two daughters run riot over grandpa’s empty house, tormenting the dog and tearing dearly departed grandma’s photo albums limb from limb. But on Christmas morning, grandpa opens his big gift—a new iPad—revealing what the girls have been working on all along: A slideshow of grandma and grandpa over the years. Suddenly grandpa breaks into tears realizing how crappy he’s treated everyone since they invaded his life some interminable number of weeks ago. Everyone lives happily ever after . . . until pop has to reset that damn Face ID, that is.

What’s It Selling: iPads and sadness.

Why It Sucks: Because Apple is using a poor old man’s grief as capital to sell overweight iPhones while simultaneously promoting the widely disproven parenting method of SHOVE YOUR FACE INTO THIS SCREEN AND SHUT THE HELL UP ALREADY.

1. Peloton - “The Gift That Gives Back”

What’s the Plot: A man who can afford floor-to-ceiling windows at his Telluride winter home surprises his emotionally-starved wife with an exercise bike worth more than your soul for Christmas. Already super relatable! Did she ask for it or is it a passive-aggressive jab about the ravages of age upon her figure? Who knows, but she decides to put together a year-long documentary of her love-hate relationship with the wellness machine anyway, possibly for future legal purposes. On the following Christmas, she screens the inadvertent horror film for her beaming husband. Turning to the camera, eyes crying out for help, she says, “A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me.” For good or for bad, she doesn’t say, but the answer is written in the morse code she taps on the wall every night praying someone—ANYONE—will hear her.

What’s It Selling: A WiFi-connected yuppy treadmill with the power to inflict rockin' glutes and untold evil.

Why It Sucks: If you’ve been paying even peripheral attention to the internet lately, you already the know the answer: It’s an ambiguously sexist portrayal of a woman trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship that she may or may not even realize exists at worst and a microcosm of vapid American consumerism at best. That said, much of what has been perceived as sinister tone deafness, can probably be chalked up to a messy script, confused acting, and abysmal editing and directing. Whether or not she asked for the bike could have been settled with a simple “you got it!” up front, better face acting would help to confirm that she is, indeed, not a prisoner in her home, and the whole thing would feel a lot less gross and sticky without those Starbucks-ian music cues. In short, this one sucks not because of any intentional sadism, but because it’s a sloppy, jumbled mess of a commercial that left too much room for the internet to do what it does best: Wildly misinterpret.