TV with a side of Cadillac: Co-opting my pleasure
This week's episode of Damages, the legal thriller on FX, broke with a sledgehammer the fourth wall between show and viewers with its product endorsement for the Cadillac Escalade, right in the heart of the story.
In one of two blatant scenes, a side-character is in a car showroom being sold on the amazing features of the particular SUV, including stats on its gas mileage. The "buyer" asks if it has GPS (which turns out to be an important plot point in a later scene), and the salesguy assures him it does. In another drama, say, like The Sopranos, the conversation between any two characters (major cast or day players) would give insight to the show's themes or be in some way ironic or deliver iconic views of the world in which the show's full range of characters exist.
But not in this episode of Damages. Instead, the buyer says, "I'll take it. Full sticker price. It's worth it."
When I heard this line, my attention was yanked from its immersion in the narrative of the drama. The dialogue, "It's worth it," strains credibility and wrenches from the story any greater meaning. Imagine if Mad Men or The Sopranos or Deadwood did this. It would be harder for them because they are period-pieces. But should contemporary dramas and comedies be subject? Hard-hitting product endorsement erodes from the edges of the story and diminishes its impact as art.
30 Rock, last night, did the same thing with McDonalds McFlurries, though they tried to be funny about it. But the gimmick was blatant and intrusive.
The economic realities instigated by DVRs with commercial-skipping are obviously at play, and I don't have an easy answer. But there has to be another way to give advertisers a nod without ruining the credibility of the narrative. Otherwise, purists will flock to subscription television and everyone else will be left with what will essentially be fictive infomercials.