Here’s another edition of Five Retro TV Commercials, featuring everything from Bartman to steamed hams:
McDonald’s Cheddar Melt! (1989)
I have a sick fascination with discontinued McDonald’s foods, revering them more as I would extinct species of birds than old sandwiches.
Three things separated the Cheddar Melt from most McDonald’s burgers. First was the rye bun, which created a “rustic” veneer that made going to McDonald’s seem just a tiny bit fancier.
Next were the grilled onions, which according to Wikipedia were sautéed in butter and teriyaki sauce. That sounds almost unfairly good.
Most important was the cheddar cheese sauce, which looked attractive in this ad but I’m betting was iffy in reality. (I’m picturing Tostitos Salsa Con Queso run through a cheesecloth and then served at room temperature over beef. Course, now that I think about it, that sounds frickin’ great.)
First available in the late ‘80s, the Cheddar Melt has returned several times over the years, most recently in 2007.
Fire in the Sky! (1993)
When Fire in the Sky premiered, my obsession with space aliens was at its peak. I don’t remember making any sincere pushes to see it in theaters, but I was the first in line to rent it on video.
My bedroom was downstairs by that point. It was the darkest room in the house, in the darkest corner of the house. I watched Fire in the Sky alone and with the lights dimmed, confident that after spending so many hours with Robert Stack, I could handle it.
For the most part, I could. The bulk of Fire in the Sky — which was based on the allegedly true Travis Walton incident — focuses on the alien abductee’s friends, who spend the movie trying to convince their neighbors that they aren’t secret murderers.
(Those scenes weren’t badly done, but there comes a point where they feel more like an attempt to expand 30 minutes’ worth of movie into something that could sail in theaters.)
But man, when Fire in the Sky finally gets to the good stuff, it does NOT disappoint. The abductee’s generously long flashback is genuinely the most frightening “alien movie thing” I’ve ever seen, and yes I’m counting every moment from Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise.
At the time, it helped that I took Fire in the Sky at face value. (I no longer believe any alien abduction story to be true, and will at best only entertain the notion that certain people believe their stories to be true. Basically, once you hit 35, you stop being any fun at all.)
True Romantic Confessions Hotline! (1989)
Sexy hotlines were all the rage in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. This is just one of at least a dozen similar commercials I’ve found on my tapes, with some demanding no less than five dollars per minute to hear prerecorded moans.
I was naturally curious about those hotlines, but few kids would dare risk to have such calls turn up on their parents’ phone bills. Like maybe I’d dial He-Man or ALF and eat the consequences later, but there was no way I could handle Mom rushing into the room with a bill marked 1-900-NIP-PLES.
These commercials were often more playful than salacious, but I’ve seen a few that were downright dirty. I’d put this particular one somewhere in the middle. It’s vanilla, but they at least hint at tales of threesomes near the end.
(…which signals the overdressed caller to make a face like Kevin McCallister did when he got the pizza.)
Pay close attention and you’ll hear George Michael’s Careless Whisper playing in the background. There’s no way they paid to license that.
FOX Simpsons Promo! (1993)
Bartman was already old news by the time this Simpsons promo aired, as was the episode it promoted: Three Men and a Comic Book, which premiered two years earlier.
That’s become one of my all-time favorite Simpsons episodes, not so much for its humor, but because it was so damn good at capturing the flavor of the early ‘90s comic book boom. Everything from the shitty local convention to the longing for an unaffordable back issue resonated.
(It’s weird to watch these ancient Simpsons episodes with fresh eyes. As a kid, I never appreciated how the show was effectively cataloguing so many pop fads.)
Crocodile Mile! (1988)
Crocodile Mile looked like a blast in this TV commercial, but reviews from those who actually had it are mixed. Some claim that Crocodile Mile was as awesome as advertised, while others submit that diving onto a thin layer of vinyl caused exactly as many injuries as it sounds like it would.
I can’t imagine using this thing without breaking something, but then, I spend five minutes crying whenever I drop something on a wooden floor and have to knee-walk to find it. Kids have softer bones, I guess.
The setup: You dove onto a water-soaked strip of vinyl, slid into an inflated speed bump, and then crashed into a tiny pool. It was pretty much the same as Slip ‘N Slide, save for the vague notion that you were trying to escape crocodiles. (Which wasn’t nothing, for the record.)
Thanks for reading about cheeseburgers and phone sex hotlines.