It is normal for reality shows to inundate viewers with images of beverages, new products and diet-friendly foods, but product placement is creeping into fictional shows as well. "30 Rock" does it with a wink and a nod while some CW programs, including "90210," awkwardly feature banking options or the latest cell phone in painfully unentertaining scenes. "The Middle" recently featured a new product with mixed results.
"Hecking It Up"
In "Hecking It Up," Frankie secretly borrows the neighbors' new Volkswagen Passat while they are out of town and it gives her amazing confidence. This story fits because her job at a car dealership and luxury-free lifestyle make her more apt to appreciate anything new, fancy or, perhaps, clean.
The episode fizzles a bit as each member of the Heck family falls in love with the precious Passat. Axl drives it, Sue uses it to study for her driver's license exam, Brick plays with the GPS and uses the roomy trunk to store books and Mike naps in the driver seat. Eventually, they begin using the car together. Sue's boyfriend, Matt, traps her in the car so they can resolve an argument and he says he loves her for the first time.
Neil Flynn, who plays Mike, explained to Xfinity, "Considering it was fairly obvious that it was a product placement, I thought it was handled very well. There are ways it could have been less believable, like if we suddenly owned a brand-new car or something, it wouldn't make any sense. So I thought for something that appears to be something along the lines of a necessary evil in television, I thought it was handled very well and subtlely."
For the most part, it was handled well and the writers worked the Passat into the Heck world in a realistic way. The half-hour episode did not feel like a commercial or awkward endorsement, but it was not subtle--especially when Sue's boyfriend comandeered the car. The Passat was annoyingly prominent and seemed to alter some characters' well-established personalities.
Why would Brick care that the trunk can hold his entire library? He usually likes to keep his precious books all around so he always has reading material handy. Mike would not have been so cavalier about the family using the neighbors' expensive new car. At minimum, he would have grumbled about the audacity of two teens helping themselves to such a perk.
Paid product placements are better than obnoxious crawler bars and plots driven by budget cuts, but the writers need to stay true the show's characters and limit the product's screen presence to a reasonable portion of the running time.