Tennis racket ad tests the forehand and patience of God

September 09, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

Among the words I was pretty sure I'd never hear on TV were these: "As you might expect, God has an awesome tennis game."

An awesome golf game, sure.

You'd figure God, who is as old as the hills (actually, even older), to be a golfer, not a tennis player.

But there He was, on my TV set, in his tennis whites. The set didn't blow up, which I took as a good sign. He's got a racket in hand, mandatory shorts under the obligatory robe, and he's ready to hit a few.

This is absolutely true -- as seen on the USA network during the U.S. Open tennis tournament -- and maybe slightly blasphemous.

You decide.

We're talking about a commercial, of course. (What, you thought the Lord had his own sitcom on Fox?) The surprising thing is that it's not a light beer commercial involving a limousine.

Limo driver: "Are you Him?"

God: "Yes, I am."

It's a tennis commercial, which opens with a guy stretching in anticipation of a match, when in walks the Big Guy, who, by the way, can get court time whenever He wants. He's got a white beard, white mustache, flowing white hair, an even more flowing white robe. As pictured here, God is an albino. Johnny Winter could play Him in the movie.

If the ad writer had wanted to be truly subversive, he -- or, yes, she -- could have made God a black woman. That'll have to wait for the Benetton commercial.

Anyway, the voice-over begins. "As you might expect, God has an awesome tennis game. Perfect form, with unlimited power. That is why God needs only this racket."

Here, you see God pull out his racket (country-club white, of course) with an extremely small head, about half the size of a Ping-Pong paddle.

The voice continues.

"You, on the other hand, would do much better with the extended sweet spot of the Prince Extender Thunder."

The other guy -- how do you get a tennis date with God? -- pulls out his Prince, with a head the size of Wisconsin. They begin to play. God serves a beauty, but the other guy, using that extended sweet spot, hits a booming return and a rally ensues.

God does have a good game -- are you going to question one of His line calls? -- but still the other guy smashes a forehand winner past a diving Lord, who hits the deck. That's when the other guys makes his mistake.

"Oooh," he says, in that nasty tone anyone who has played tennis instantly recognizes, "nice try."

(I'm thinking, he should say, "God, that was a great shot." To which God says, "Thanks.")

As it turns out, this is the Old Testament version of the Lord. He says, "Lucky shot," but what He means is that vengeance is His. Because when He sweeps His arm toward the other guy, the other guys falls over dead. No mention of who gets his racket.

Admit it. If you were the Supreme Being, you'd have zapped the guy, too. That's one of the perks of the job, isn't it? If you had the chance, you'd be turning offending folk into pillars of salt. Turn, say, Rush Limbaugh into a pillar and you've got enough salt to de-ice your city's roads for the entire winter season.

Is the commercial funny? Blasphemy? Both?

It is apparently not ready for major-network viewers. CBS, which is also televising the U.S. Open, turned it down.

"CBS didn't feel it was in good taste," Prince spokesman Todd Woodward said. "They wanted us to make some significant changes, like changing God to an angel or to St. Peter."

On cable, though, the folks are a little more willing to experiment. Woodward says he's received only three complaints so far.

"It's done tongue in cheek," Woodward said. "We knew a few people might be offended, but we wanted to have some fun, some excitement. Most tennis commercials are very staid.

"As a company, we're trying to show tennis as something that's cool and hip."

It's hard to get hipper than You Know Who, whose next cable gig, I understand, will be on MTV.

Look for this show: The Lord, Unplugged.

Let's face it. God, who has been compared to Clapton, doesn't need an amplifier.

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