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The Wonderful World of McCarthy and Annan

Who can forget Dick Wilson's Mr. Whipple squeezing the Charmin? (Talk about polymorphic perverse!) Or the sly little creep (Bob Curtis) who put Dell Computers on the cultural map? Or Geico's evolved Neanderthal whose feelings are hurt—not to mention his political sensibilities -- when an insensitive human remarks, "It's so easy a Caveman can do it"? Actually, the Caveman in question was played by a number of scruffy looking actors decked out to suggest the, uh, urbane Primitive.

Whether it's the wit of the copy or the skill of the actors or the zeitgeist or all of the above, these spots are just terrific. Little universes with self-contained values and codes are evoked. And you actually remember the characters, if not care about them.

Another winning series has been added to the list: Verizon Fios. This batch features Matt McCarthy and Jim Annan playing two rival cable installers eager to engage in one-upmanship as they compare all the services their respective companies provide. Annan has the good fortune to work for Verizon Fios, while the red-haired and slightly round McCarthy is employed by an unnamed, but clearly less worthy brand X (Translation: Time Warner Cable in NYC). He knows he is losing the war—which escalates just slightly in each spot -- and has most recently resorted to pushing all the elevator buttons so his Verizon adversary, about to enter the elevator, is inconvenienced.

"Did you just push all the buttons?" asks Annan.

"No," responds McCarthy, ashamed of his actions, yet so jealous he can't control himself.

"I'll take the stairs."

"They don't work" mutters McCarthy, embroiling himself further in more deceit.

"I saw what you did."

Annan has the lesser role, but shouldn't be underestimated. He is wholly convincing as a smug little weasel who has caught his dim-witted foe in a transparent lie. The interplay between the two actors is, well, layered. Still, my favorite ad in the series finds the two opponents meeting on the landing outside their apartments. As luck would have it, they not only live in the same building, but also on the same floor! It's downright existential. Annan is toting some prestigious award Verizon Fios has just received, while the feckless McCarthy has take-out food in hand. After Annan coolly brags about the trophy, McCarthy holds up his bag. "It's chicken. Chicken from China. It's a delicacy." The comic pauses between each sentence are weighted down with his sense of failure and uselessness. Annan shakes his head deadpan.

Is there a sitcom here? Who knows? It would be a shame if one was launched and it had the same fate as the ill-fated Caveman pilot which came and went quickly. Perhaps these absurdist TV installers can only exist—should only exist -- in the confines of a TV commercial, punctuated with a tag line: "This is Fios. This is big."

-- Simi Horwitz

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