Shannon has two things to cry about: She's broke and she's loose. We know the first fact because she can't get an auto loan; the second, because her friends say so after her new conquest each week. Denise, in contrast, has but one concern: Insolvency. "I spend most of my time either working like a dog," she says, "or lying awake at night afraid that my family is gonna starve. And it's so hard." Later that episode, Shannon roams a used-car lot in search of a serviceable jalopy. One can picture the quick-witted young Harvard grads scheming in Townies' script room: Isn't this how The People live? Within 45 seconds, both women's crises have passed. Shannon is not a slut. Denise, although fiscally challenged, retains her free will. Cut to commercial. Producer's graphic. Encore. Theme song. Credits.

          However sincere such a subplot is (or isn't), one well-crafted commercial can spoil the mood. Consider the spot for the Oldsmobile Aurora that followed Shannon's car-lot woes. Compared to the program itself, the ad's image quality is cleaner; the editing, quicker; the color palette, richer; the depth-of-field, deeper. Sometimes Oldsmobile ads are even letter-boxed in an attempt to lend the cultural cachet of European cinema to the handicraft of Detroit. Cars in particular are filmed with such sensuous detail that one would not be altogether surprised if the driver were to get out of the car, pop the gas cap, drop his trousers, and get really intimate with General Motors. Of course no one fucks the Oldsmobile Aurora, but this curvy sedan does come "fully loaded" at $36,400. Panning to a parking meter above this year's model, the commercial gamely suggests that that sticker translates to only "145,600 quarters!" Start saving your tips, Shannon; every Townie deserves a town car.

          Far more ingenious than an advertisement that whets desire for what one cannot have are those commercials that acknowledge the methods of their machination. Sprite's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign, in which spots satirize the value of advertising, is a crude example of this strategy (see also the Energizer Bunny). Yet neither of these begins to approach the dense strata of contempt and solicitude showcased by TCF banks in their talking gorilla campaign. In these spots, busy working folk complain about thin wallets and life's daily inconveniences... all the while wearing the worst ape suits seen this side of 2001! The simplicity of the approach is gorgeous to behold: TCF's working-class customers are thick-tongued plebes who identify favorably with lower-order primates. From the longevity of the campaign--the spots have aired locally for more than a year--one can only assume that TCF is very much tuned into its troglodyte proles and their banking habits. Television loves the working man all right, but it sometimes picks a funny way of showing it.

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