On a recent day trip to the beautiful (and beautifully underpopulated) village of Cherry Valley, I spotted this poster for Mighty Flame, a brand of propane tanks.

Initial Observations
We’ve got two figures gleefully running over the Windows XP field to get to a giant propane tank.

It’s totally the XP field.

So in this weird Alice-in-Wonderland-style alternate universe, people don’t wait in line at a gray cement gas station to fill a propane tank. Instead, they run through a technicolor meadow. And they’re so darned happy that they don’t just run, they skip. This includes not only the pigtailed girl but ALSO the awkward 30-year-old dude in a black tee shirt. Can you imagine the photo shoot for this? I sure like to.

Mighty Flame, Mighty Fears
As a vegetarian who sunburns in 15 minutes, I’m probably the wrong demographic for ads related to backyard grilling. Propane tanks also terrify me because one time a loose arsonist nearly blew up the front yard of our old apartment, tanks included (true story). So, at least for me, “Mighty Flame” is the worst possible brand name. “Mighty” put in front of “flame” evokes exploding propane tanks, house fires, brush fires, kitchen fires, and other nightmare fodder. “Tiny Flame”, “Safe Flame”, “Can’t Blow Up” — all would have been better, less alarming, choices.

Run out and Get One
Marketing loves commanding words like “Get.” “Get out there,” says Ford. “Get Your Own,” says Subway. This always feels a little pushy. “Run out and get one” implores us to do not one but TWO things. Jeez, man. I’ll do what I want, when I feel like it.

Overall Rating
Quaint and awkward. I’ll take that over slick and brainwashy any day.

The best bad television occurs between the hours of 11AM and 4PM. Unfortunately, I’m usually otherwise engaged during this un-prime TV time. Thanks to this week’s holiday, I was able to hit The Hallmark Channel mid-day to catch a true modern classic: A Royal Christmas.*

*No, you’re not stroking out — it’s still July. The Hallmark Channel believes that summer is sorely lacking in the winter holiday department, and they’ve remedied that with their summer movie theme: “Christmas in July.” My theory is that the Hallmark Channel is actually a four-year-old who can’t accept that Christmas is really over.

A Royal Christmas stars Lacey Chabert, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because (no exaggeration) she is in all Hallmark Movies. Seriously. There were previews for two OTHER Lacey Chabert Christmas movies during this one. The only person who is in more Hallmark movies is Charisma Carpenter, and I imagine she lives her entire life on the Hallmark lot nibbling on leftovers from that show about the lady who solves crimes and bakes cakes.

Ahem. Back to the plot. Lacey Chabert plays the plucky daughter of a working class tailor who’s got a sassy female friend, a job at her dad’s shop, and a dashing English boyfriend. But hold up! English Boyfriend reveals he’s actually a secret Prince (!) of a made-up country called Cordinia and they both should go there to meet his mom (AKA the queen) in their family castle. Yes, this exposition makes Hannah Montana seem like gritty realism.

The big reveal, really.

So they go to Cordinia. Queen Mom is played by Jane Seymour, and they don’t even pretend for ONE MINUTE that this isn’t the biggest rip-off of Julie Andrews’ performance in The Princess Diaries.

Queen Mom is bitchy and prim and wants her son to marry another royal, not a lowly commoner. Hallmark doesn’t really know how to depict uppity rich people, so they play string quartet music whenever she’s in a scene. I knew I had to write this review when they showed her listening to a classical music arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” over breakfast. Because that’s what FANCY people do.

Lacey’s lovable Americanism doesn’t immediately win over Queen Mom, but Cordinian Boyfriend thinks she just needs time. Then there’s a wacky scene where Lacey and Cordinian Boyfriend are fooling around (goofy fooling around, not sex fooling around) in a room with a bunch of antique swords and artwork. Lacey throws a sword into a painting and Cordinian Boyfriend thinks this is adorable because he is just a boyfriend-bot with no emotions or opinions.

Then they start spontaneously dancing in a ballroom that looks exactly like a VFW hall banquet facility.

Queen Mom arranges a dinner party with a bunch of young royals. It should be noted that the score alternates between Time Life library classical music and wacky incidental faux-bo straight out of Keeping up with the Kardashians. At the dinner, Lacey drinks out of the finger bowl and puts her foot in her mouth with one of the royals (who happens to be infertile). Everyone gasps but Queen Mom’s all smiles because she’s sneakily trying to get Cordinian Boyfriend back with his childhood love, Bitchy Natasha, who’s some kind of Duchess.

Cordinian Boyfriend Basics
Cordinian Boyfriend has no personality. He only exists to be a perfect boyfriend.
Sample Dialogue:
Boyfriend busts in while Lacey is wearing a bathrobe/mud mask
Lacey: “I look hideous”
Boyfriend: “I like your hideous look” (no sarcasm, he is supportive of everything)

Lacey is invited to accompany Cordinian Boyfriend to the big fancy ball at the castle. Queen Mom gives her an old ugly dress and says since she’s a seamstress she should be able to alter it to fit. So now gaining in-law approval is a Project Runway challenge? Meanwhile, nice butler Victor (Lacey is tight with all the household help) helps her learn how to dance the waltz and act like a lady, Pygmalion style. This exact montage might have happened in Beauty and the Beast. Or maybe it’s just that Lacey Chabert has the voice of a straight-up Disney Princess.

Lacey turns the ugly dress into a big poofy Strawberry Shortcake dress and everyone oohs and aahs.

The ball is a success until Cordinian Boyfriend has to dance with Bitchy Natasha (because it’s a royal tradition and she’s pushy). Lacey runs away to hang with her servant pals but she finds out Queen Mom fired them for being too friendly with Lacey. It’s all Lacey’s fault so she runs back home to the States and breaks things off with Cordinian Boyfriend.

30 seconds pass and Queen Mom realizes she was being a huge bitch. She decides that Cordinian Boyfriend should follow his true love and tells him to run after Lacey. There’s a gooey proposal scene and then we cut to their wedding which appears to be happening at a Medieval Times.

Our four course meal will satisfy even the hungriest of knights!

Then it starts snowing and it’s already Christmas again because I guess it takes a year to plan a big dumb wedding. The end!

Also Queen Mom ends up with the butler.

Overall Rating: Soft and conflict-free, this movie is like watching a slightly less abstract laser light show. Don’t think too hard, just enjoy relaxing while your eyes glaze upon some pretty visuals. (I mistyped that but I like it and I’m leaving it.)

Mr. Max has always had a special talent for memorizing stupid TV commercials and re-contextualizing the dumb tag lines for unrelated in-jokes. (Example: There was an early 2000s ad for bottled water that featured a woman in an office barking at an underling to “get me a Dasani.” Fifteen years later we still yell “Get me a Dasani” from the living room when the other person is in the kitchen.)

I’ve always been a little worse at this game, partly because I fiddle with my phone or laptop as soon as a commercial break starts. Exceptionally idiotic commercials, however, break right through the wall of disinterest to lodge themselves permanently in my psyche. And GlaxoSmithKline did just that with it’s you-are-dumb themed ads for Flonase.

This ad plays no less than 5 times during the half hour of Good Morning America I watch in the morning, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to analyze it. It starts with a toddler-level explanation of how “6 key inflammatory substances” are responsible for most allergies, and they show us a bunch of Powerpoint smart chart graphics bursting out of the Flonase bottle. They don’t tell us what those six substances are because it would make our tiny brains explode. Then they explain that most allergy medications only work on ONE of these substances. But FLONASE works on all six, so those other allergy brands can suck it.

Then… then they pat us on the head and remind us that “six is greater than one.” And that becomes the tagline, complete with a snazzy graphic using the greater than symbol.

Yes, this smug nonsense is a real ad. Proof:


There must have been a bit of disagreement in the marketing strategy meetings, because there are three – count ‘em, three! – different taglines in this ad.

  • The aforementioned “Six is greater than one”
  • Inhale life. Are we supposed to stick our faces in a pile of spores or something?
  • This changes everything. Because we now know how numbers work? Because our nostrils are now filled with ‘life’? WHY?

Not content with pseudonymous blog rants, some people have taken to facebook to confront Flonase directly.

Because they “just thought you should know.”


In honor of tonight’s Mad Men finale, I’m reblogging my original Season 5 premiere post. Will my dream finally prove prophetic?

Originally posted on The Lower Crust:

“In dreams begin responsibilities,” or so they say. In my case it’s more like, “My responsibilities begin in dreams.” Despite being a kinda-sorta creative person during my waking hours, my sleeping mind has the personality of an accountant. Or a to do list.

Other people, at least some of the time, get to spend their evening hours riding atop unicorns or evading vampires. I get this:

So imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago I dreamed the season 5 premiere of Mad Men.

Let me clarify — I didn’t dream that the show was on, or that we were watching it. I dreamed the episode itself.

It opened with a slow, steady shot of 1980s (yes — 80s) New York City, closing in on a sign reading “Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.” Inside the building, young ad execs flitted around in snappy Reagan-era suits. The camera slowly moved towards…

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This week’s installment of Marketing Mayhem covers all things epicurean (or at least edible).

Exhibit A: Marketing, Minus the Sense

I’m not usually the flavored coffee type, but I was forced into this caramel blend when the coffee place ran out of regular dark roast. To my surprise, it was actually subtle and tasty — a solid four stars. The marketing copy, however…

Huh? First off, “Minus the apple” is a super awkward way to start a sentence. The lack of a comma makes it even more confusing – I think the first time I read it I wondered what they meant by “apple this coffee.” Are commas not cool anymore? Are we in a no comma trend? They’re handy, people. Use them.

The tone is also strange, and almost apologetic… like this was meant to be a country fair themed flavor, but they ran out of weird apple flavor chemical or something. It’s not like caramel is ONLY eaten at fairs, like cotton candy or funnel cakes. Why can’t they just describe the flavor using generic adjectives like “rich” or “smooth” like every other coffee brand?

Exhibit B: You’ve got Spunkmeyer

Simply put, spunk is not a word you want associated with your baked good.

Exhibit C: Napkin Ads: Not a Thing

I was tickled to spy this super odd innovation in restaurant advertising at a local cafe. An ad on the little paper thing that holds your cloth napkin — wonders never cease! And what does this little piece of promotional paper have to tell us?

That our CD rate might suck! Bon Appetit, old man.

It’s April in New England, which means the solid crust of exhaust stained ice/snow has finally given way to brown grass. And, like good northeasterners, we pull out our sandals and rejoice.

Me, especially. This year’s winter — with its months of below-zero temperatures and comical snowfall totals — wreaked havoc on my usually-manageable seasonal depression. What started out as a normal case of the winter blues segued into a deep, relentless fog that stretched on for months. It was Bad.

I didn’t feel like doing any of my usual hobbies (or much of anything). At some point, I developed a trace of interest in baking a cake. Then I laid on my couch for a few weeks. Then I bought some butter. Another few weeks went by. You get the idea.

Eventually I made the cake. Something about the distraction of following directions, or the smell of sweets baking… whatever it was, it got me off the couch. So i went with the flow, stocked up on flour, and baked through the tears.

Co-author Lena Webb had a similar relationship with crossword puzzles during a recent rough spell, and her essay describes it far better than I could so I’ll just link to it here. Go read it.

Some photos from my winter of baking:

One of many loaves of crusty peasant bread.

A classic apple bundt.

My home State cookie. I dropped the first batch in the oven and they burst into flames spectacularly, but I stayed the course (read: and also cried) and started over. I’m glad I did.

Lemon custard cakes.

Bavarian Pretzel.

Lastly, vanilla cream filled dark chocolates made with my (new) antique mold.

(Sorry these are mostly crummy iPhone pictures. My DSLR camera was in a closet and I didn’t have the energy to take it out for a few months. People who get depressed will understand this.)

The other thing I did this winter was watch a ton of stuff on Hallmark. Yeah, I’m admitting it. The Hallmark Channel is great for mildly depressed people because everything they air is harmless and therefore Safe For All Moods. While Lifetime movies can occasionally go dark and rape-y, Hallmark movies are both 1) watchable and 2) completely free of conflict. Even when it’s a romance and the protagonist has to choose between two men, she always breaks up with the loser guy in a totally amicable way where everyone hugs and learns from the experience.

Speaking of watchable corniness, you should probably start watching Younger. It airs on the sounds-like-it’s-made-up TV Land network and stars the actress who was in that ballet show by the Gilmore Girls writer that didn’t last very long. It follows a woman who’s 40 and recently divorced, but pretends to be in her mid-twenties to get a job. People believe it because she’s got long hair and highlights. She has all kinds of inoffensive adventures and starts dating this young tattoo artist dude and it’s all very silly and forgettable (and therefore depression-approved!).

Hillary Duff is also in it which will remind you that she exists.

P.S. My mood has improved significantly, lest you worry.

P.P.S Antique chocolate molds are amazing, and you should buy one here.


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