Every year, the marketplace of ideas (and products) gets more crowded with music, books, films, and TV. Every year, companies send us free stuff in a frantic bid to bribe us into paying attention to their specific ideas and products for just a few measly seconds. And every year, we boast here about all the fantastic items we receive, from ugly novelty T-shirts to Jackass-branded toilet paper to Marmaduke dog-poop baggies. But unlike last year, when we bragged about feeling recession-proof because of all the luxurious crap we were receiving, this year, The A.V. Club is feeling the financial pinch a little, and we’re wondering if this is the year we can all save a bundle on holiday presents by passing the freebies along to unsuspecting friends and family members. Here’s our annual look at the companies successfully buying our love with promo items, along with some musings on how we can use those same items to buy other people’s love.
Item: A stuffed shark with a chunky gold necklace
Promoting: SyFy’s parody Jersey Shore Shark Attack
Relevance: Sharks + Guidos = Guido shark. Sadly, the Guidoing of this shark only extends to adding a big, cheap-looking chain; it doesn’t have well-defined abs, an orange tan, or an exposed bra. Wait, that’s not sad at all.
Item quality on a scale from 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (worth keeping unironically): 5. This is an adorable stuffed animal, and the chain is a nice touch. Have you seen the trailer for Jersey Shore Shark Attack? This toy shark probably cost more to make than the movie did.
Re-giftability: Hands off, re-giftees. This one’s going on the shelf right next to last year’s Sharktopus stuffed toy. New life goal: Collect 10 different shark-related SyFy toys promoting 10 different terrible SyFy shark movies by 2021.
Items: A Duck Commander brand “Duck Picker” and a Chia Willie Robertson
Promoting: The A&E series Duck Dynasty
Relevance: Duck Dynasty is a reality show about a Louisiana “redneck millionaire” family that made its fortune manufacturing and selling duck calls. The extravagantly bearded Willie Robertson is their CEO. The show’s tagline is “Money. Family. Ducks.” “Duck” doesn’t look like a real world anymore at this point, does it? Duck duck duck.
Item quality: 5. While there aren’t any ducks to call in The A.V. Club’s offices, and we don’t get out hunting much, the Duck Picker is still an impressively generous gift. It took some digging to find a retail price online because so many outlets are sold out, but A&E is selling this same duck call for $27. And the Chia Willie, while ridiculous, is one of the most creative interactive promo items we’ve ever gotten.
Re-giftability: Major. It’d definitely be best to re-gift the duck call to an actual duck hunter who’d have a use for it, but given that it’s an official Duck Commander product still in the original packaging, it’d certainly pass for a purchased gift. The Chia Willie Robertson would take more explaining, and does have the show’s title and the network’s name on it, but it’s so whimsical that it’d still make a fun gift, promo item or no. A&E sent at least five of these to our office, to various editors, and no lie, we passed one on to the children’s hospital that gets a lot of our unwanted toys, books, and DVDs.
Item: Backward wall clock
Promoting: Family Guy’s 200th episode, “Yug Ylimaf”
Relevance: The plot of “Yug Ylimaf” concerns football-headed baby Stewie and martini-swilling dog Brian traveling back through time, reliving several of Family Guy’s past noteworthy gags in the process. There’s also a big fat Stewie head and the words “Family Guy 200 Episodes” right in the middle of the thing, because subtlety has no place in Family Guy swag. Or in Family Guy, for that matter.
Item quality: 2. It’s a cheap plastic clock that wouldn’t survive being smashed over a giant chicken’s head in a brawl, but it does tell time. Well, sort of: The hands turn clockwise, but the numbers run counter-clockwise—get it? Because time travel?—thus rendering the simple process of telling time infuriatingly confusing.
Re-giftability: Low. Aside from being ugly, confusing, and promoting an episode of television that aired in November, it’s loud as hell. This thing’s tick-tock is audible from across the room, making it the only thing more obnoxious than the average Family Guy episode.
Item: A Punkin Chunkin Viking helmet
Promoting: The Science Channel’s Punkin Chunkin special, an annual document of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin competition
Relevance: We can only imagine a group of unthawed Vikings figure prominently in punkin-chunkin competitions. Also, participants in this pumpkin-flinging contest are competing for the title of “Lord Of The Gourd,” as the Viking-helmeted competition logo attests.
Item quality: 2. This cheap plastic helmet feels like it could snap in two without much effort, especially if hit with a flying punkin.
Re-giftability: Poor, unless the gift recipient is really into Vikings, weird specials, pumpkins, or re-gifting.
Item: A mason jar containing a moonshine recipe
Promoting: The DVD/Blu-ray release of Lawless
Relevance: John Hillcoat’s Lawless is about a band of brothers who run afoul of the law while bootlegging moonshine—not because it’s illegal, but because the lawmen want a cut. Naturally, the conflict goes to dark and violent places. Apparently the PR people who sent us this wish us ill and want us to get shot by corrupt, money-grubbing Depression-era deputies, too.
Item quality: 1. C’mon, you send the recipe rather than the moonshine? And a recipe for moonshine on an industrial scale, at that? (Ingredients: 1 bushel wheat, 25-100 pounds cane sugar, 45 gallons water…) If you’re going to go that route, at least send us the 55 gallon drum the recipe calls for, rather than one measly jar.
Re-giftability: Someone who enjoys canning might welcome a spare container, but this isn’t going to be the holiday gift everyone’s clawing and biting over at the white-elephant exchange party.
Item: A railroad spike
Promoting: The Sci-Fi Romance album The Ghost Of John Henry
Relevance: John Henry was a steel-drivin’ man. He died with a hammer in his han’. Specifically, he used that hammer to drive railroad spikes like this one.
Item quality: 2. It’s a big, solid hunk of real iron, so it’s high-quality as far as railroad spikes go. And it has no small, swallowable parts that might make it a choking hazard for babies, so that’s a plus, right?
Re-giftability: If we gave this to someone and they say, “Psshht, I need that like I need a hole in the head,” we could use this to re-gift them a pretty impressive hole in the head. So it may not be an enviable present, but at least it’s dual-purpose.
Item: A metal tin resembling a 16mm film can, containing a T-shirt featuring a stylized drain with blood running into it on the front, and a shower curtain and showerhead on the back
Promoting: The theatrical release of the biographical film Hitchcock
Relevance: Unquestionable. Both images evoke the shocking shower-murder from Psycho, while the film tin reminds the recipient that Psycho is a movie and Hitchcock is a movie about the making of Psycho. It’s all kind of meta, really.
Item quality: 4. This is a pretty stylishly designed, heavyweight shirt, especially for a promo item. It has a really funky chemical smell, though. Is that supposed to evoke the heavy-duty cleansers necessary to scrub a shower clean after a good classic shower-murder?
Re-giftability: The back of the shirt does feature the film’s title and release date, so film-critic recipients won’t entirely be able to get away with passing this off to a friend and denying its origins. That said, Psycho is a classic and Hitchcock is one of the most famous and recognizable directors of all time, so this would be a good gift for any film buff who doesn’t mind being used as a walking ad.
Item: A Beardo—a knit hat with knit beard attached
Promoting: The second season of Whisker Wars, an IFC reality show about competitive facial-hair growing
Relevance: High. The Beardo we got featured a red-orange beard that, while markedly shorter, looks a lot like the beard of Jack Passion, who acts as Whisker Wars’ hero and villain.
Item quality: 5. While it’s a little tight on our fat heads, the Beardo does an excellent job at keeping our heads and faces (and babies) warm around the office.
Re-giftability: Very high. Take off the Whisker Wars tag, and it becomes the perfect novelty gift for any beard-loving-but-beard-lacking pal.
Item: A red William McKinley High School graduation cap
Promoting: Glee season three, when half the cast graduated
Relevance: Graduation cap to celebrate character graduation? We aren’t quite seeing the link. Can someone help us out here? Possibly via an energetic, Auto-Tuned musical mash-up of some kind?
Item quality: 2. It’s a nicely made graduation cap (pointedly labeled inside as being from Elegant Graduation Products), but short of graduation festishists, we don’t see many people really wanting one of these.
Re-giftability: Nil. It’s a novelty item stamped with the name of the show it’s promoting. It has no intrinsic use. And it’s promoting Glee. Even Glee fans are hardly watching Glee these days.
Item: A “dragon flagon,” USB bracelet, “dragon blood elixir,” and more
Promoting: The animated film Dragon Age: Dawn Of The Seeker, a spin-off of the Dragon Age videogame/book/comic/RPG franchise
Relevance: Someone went to a lot of trouble to make everything in this elaborate kit appropriate to the Dragon Age theme, no matter how generic the actual item on offer. For instance, a standard pillar candle in a glass holder has a label proclaiming it’s a “white wyvern candle,” an “arcane beacon… composed from organic wax integrated with the finely ground bones and of [sic] the elusive white wyvern.” A mini-bottle of some energy drink is labeled as “dragon blood elixir,” and includes a warning that a rare side effect is telepathy with dragons. Below that, in smaller print: “Please don’t abuse your telepathic powers.” Oh, and the totally badass T-shirt features an icon that looks like a bloody dragon footprint or a roaring dragon head, depending on how you look at it.
Item quality: This one goes to 11. Or at least 6. Particularly worth keeping: The leather wristlet with a clasp that doubles as a 2 gig USB drive (packed with Dragon Age art, trailers, and PR info, natch), and the heavy pottery dragon-head mug, although the latter is a bit odd, in that it’s designed to rest on its side, so it can only safely contain about half a dragon head’s worth of fluid.
Re-giftability: At the very least, the dragon flagon would make a great gift for any buddy who likes to hang around Ren Faires or RPG tabletop sessions.
Item: A string of faux pearls
Promoting: The DVD release of The Iron Lady
Relevance: In the 2011 biopic, Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher as the kind of stiff-upper-lipped British patrician who’d never be caught dead in public without a tasteful coif, a tasteful dress, and her tasteful signature pearls.
Item quality: 3. This will pass as a quite posh necklace from 10 feet away. Though much as with the film itself, anyone getting into intimate contact with the thing will probably be fairly disappointed.
Re-giftability: There have been more thoughtless presents in the history of the world. At least the individual plastic pearls aren’t stamped with letters to spell out the name of the film. And anyone cosplaying as Thatcher for all the local Thatcher-fan conventions will certainly need one of these.
Item: A shark lunchbox containing a set of portable USB speakers and other goodies
Promoting: The 25th anniversary of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week
Relevance: The lunchbox has a shark on it. The T-shirt inside has a shark on it. There’s a USB faux-mixtape inside containing shark facts, shark photos, Shark Week highlights, and much more; the mixtape has ballpoint-pen drawings of sharks on it. The lunchbox itself plays scary Jaws-esque music when it’s opened. We’re sensing some sort of theme here.
Item quality: 5. The lunchbox alone is a solid metal item capable of protecting lunches from smaller sharks, and the included USB speakers, while not very sharky, are a very nice gift for media fans. The shirt appears to be distressed around the collar, cuffs, and hem, as if to suggest that something chewed on it.
Re-giftability: Anyone who follows the motto “Live every week like it’s Shark Week” is going to need a Shark Week lunchbox every week, right?
Item: A box of tissues masquerading as a box of popcorn
Promoting: The Hallmark movie channel
Relevance: Presumably Hallmark movie channel films are weepies, so it’s advisable to keep the cry-rags just as close as the popcorn.
Item quality: 1. This is a chintzy, fragile little cardboard box, and it’s poorly designed as a tissue dispenser; it tends to bunch them up and shred them. Anyone weeping over a Hallmark movie is going to be weeping even more over their ineffectual, humiliating efforts to free up a tissue so they can blow their damn nose already.
Re-giftability: Family members who get this as a gift are going to be crying, all right. Problem caused and solved!
Item: A message in a bottle, a CD attached to a balloon
Promoting: The Animal Kingdom album The Looking Away
Relevance: The bottle message says, “It only comes in waves and then it goes away Well it must be chemical Love, Your Strange Attractor.” The first two unpunctuated sentences are lyrics from the album’s song “Strange Attractor.” The now-deflated balloon, also signed “Love, Your Strange Attractor,” also featured a lyric from the song printed on the surface.
Item quality: 2. Nice bottle, weird message, so the overall package is intriguing, though it isn’t exactly clear why a bottle-message is appropriate to the emotions being delivered.
Re-giftability: The lyrics are fairly opaque, so it wouldn’t be immediately obvious that we were handing the recipient an ad. On the other hand, they’d wonder why we were handing them a message in a bottle, since the traditional distribution method for those involves throwing them into the ocean. (cf. “Message In A Bottle,” The Police, 1979) Maybe this should only be re-gifted to lonely castaways on desert islands.
Item: A “doom grab kit” and an afterlife kit
Promoting: The Coffee Table Book Of Doom and Economics In The Afterlife, respectively
Relevance: It’s right there in the title in both cases.
Item quality: 2. The doom kit, a handful of things one might need in a crisis, includes cute little printed descriptions of everything: It includes an “eye protector” (actually a black opaque headband), a fishhook (“useful if fish are not extinct”), a bit of thread ostensibly to hang yourself with “if all else fails,” a couple of matches, a single folded sheet of toilet paper (“You know you’re going to need it”), a “gamma radiation detector” button that supposedly changes color around gamma rays, a “map of futile escape routes” that shows paths into flames or a tsunami or messages like “no chance” and “forget it,” and a couple of “placebo suicide pills.” There’s also a postcard for a last will and testament (“In the event of doom I leave all my worldly goods to _______”) and a tiny “human cookbook” whose five cartoon illustrations of comic cannibalism fall vastly short of the promised “101 ways to eat your friends.” The afterlife kit includes things that various cultures felt they needed to take along in the afterlife: a coin for Charon, paper money to bribe government officials in hell, etc. Both kits amount to a bunch of cheap flotsam, though the doom grab kit comes with a hefty sense of humor, which would be nearly as valuable during the apocalypse as a good hanging-thread and one square of toilet paper.
Re-giftability: Even in the event of apocalypse or death, no one is really going to want this stuff, though it might be worth slipping the afterlife kit into the coffin of a loved one. Can’t hurt, might help.
Item: An audio/video recorder disguised as a pen
Promoting: The DVD release of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Relevance: Er, spies… secret plans… secret messages… something something. Look, it’s a pen that supposedly can record audio or video, and then it opens up into a USB drive so the user can download those secret recordings. Does it really need a close connection to an action movie to find that cool?
Item quality: 2. Actually, it isn’t as cool as it sounds. It’s cheap, lightweight, and hard to open. And we aren’t positive it works, given that the instructions are in such mangled English: “Looks like the pen operating instructions to record. 1. In closes down and under the readiness for action, presses the button short, according to the pattern switch, enters the corresponding condition (photograph pattern or video recording pattern). 2. In photographs under the pattern, the blue lamp is bright, presses the button short, carries on the photograph, the yellow light dodges one time; Long according to button close-down. This time allocates move set clock for the pattern selection switch the video recording pattern, carries on the video recording immediately.” Your mission, should you chose to accept it: Translate that into operating instructions and figure out how to change the battery on this thing, since the blue lamp is not bright and the yellow light is not dodging one time, or any times. And there doesn’t seem to be a battery compartment. Figure it out quickly… this website will self-destruct in 30 seconds.
Re-giftability: Maybe a puzzle addict would find it fun to figure this out, but most other people aren’t going to want a non-working spy pen. Also, it’s a non-working pen pen to boot. Double useless!
Item: Burger press
Promoting: The second season of the Fox animated comedy Bob’s Burgers
Relevance: It’s a burger press promoting a show about a burger joint. Outside of an actual burger, which would be problematic to ship to media outlets, it couldn’t be more relevant. Though an accompanying dirty apron like the one the show’s title character wears would have been a nice touch.
Item quality: 3. It’s made of sturdy, dishwasher-safe plastic with a lift-off plate for easy burger-patty-extraction, but it’s still made of plastic, meaning a little elbow grease will be required to churn out a chain of perfectly uniform beef patties. Then again, a sticker on the side of the box warns, “This burger press is digitally watermarked to identify it. Do not loan, rent, sell, give away, or otherwise transfer this burger press to any third party for any reason. If you do, we will find you and press you into burgers.” So apparently this burger press contains some sort of valuable-yet-invisible copyrighted material locked inside its plastic ridges.
Re-giftability: Moderate. A burger press is a pretty useless gadget for the home cook, and the type of foodie who would be enthused by such a gift would probably be capable of recognizing this one as a very cheap model with a Bob’s Burger sticker slapped atop it. But it would be a fun tchotchke to bestow upon a fan of the show who wants to take his or her backyard-grill game to the next level. Just make sure to obscure that warning label on the side first.
Item: Vinyl adhesive stickers
Promoting: The second season of the SyFy special-effects-makeup reality-competition series Face Off
Relevance: Moderate. The stickers—which allow recipients to transform the face of host McKenzie Westmore into either a reptilian Medusa figure or a giant green bird—capture the transformative effect well enough. But the effort-free act of placing the stickers distills the time and creativity involved in special-effects makeup down to a very simple jigsaw puzzle.
Item quality: 2. The stickers are vivid and the cardboard book they come in is sturdy, but offering only two types of stickers limits the options for fun hybrid creations to either bird-Medusa or Medusa-bird. Though the stickers are repositionable and removable, this is strictly a one-time-use item.
Re-giftability: Very low. The fragmented-face stickers have no use outside the context of creatively obscuring Westmore’s face, and even the most easily amused children will quickly grow bored with that.
Item: Plastic shot glasses with recipes
Promoting: ABC’s Tuesday-night comedy block of Happy Endings and Don’t Trust The B— In Apt. 23
Relevance: High enough. The shot glasses each have an appropriately debauched quote from their respective show on the side, and they come with recipes named for gags from the show: Happy Endings’ “Whore’s Bath” (1 ounce gin, 1/2 ounce Benedictine, 1/2 ounce Cointreau, 1 ounce grapefruit juice, 2 ounces club soda) and Apt. 23’s “Hooker’s Toothbrush” (1.5 ounce peppermint schnapps, 2.5 ounces orange juice). Why they came packaged with Mardi Gras beads, however, remains a mystery.
Item quality: 1. The shot glasses are cheap plastic dealies, and are far too small to hold the measurements described in the recipes (which appear to be cocktails, not shots). The “Whore’s Bath” recipe sounds reasonably tasty, though overly complicated, while a “Hooker’s Toothbrush” sounds as appealing as the object for which it’s named.
Re-giftability: Low, though increasingly high with each Whore’s Bath dumped down the recipient’s throat.
Item: A pill bottle full of Red Hots with prescription card
Promoting: Hallmark Movie Channel’s The Seven Year Hitch
Relevance: Puzzling. Neither of the main characters in The Seven Year Hitch—originally titled Common Law—appears to be a doctor or have reason to go to one. Based on the prescription card that came stapled to the prescription bag, which calls for “A full dose of Hallmark Movie Channel,” this swag is postulating a strict regimen of goopy TV movies as a generalized cure for what ails us, with The Seven Year Hitch as the specific peg. Unfortunately, we can’t know whether the bottle of Red Hots has more specific relevance, because we chose to ignore these doctor’s orders.
Item quality: 2. The bottle is full of genuine Red Hots, which reside somewhere in the lower 10th percentile of the candy desirability spectrum. The pill bottle is clear, mid-grade plastic with a non-child-proof screw top, making it fine for storing cheap candy or perhaps breath mints, but nothing stronger or more fun.
Re-giftability: Depends on the recipient’s enjoyment of Red Hots and/or Hallmark original movies. Either way, still pretty damn low.
Item: “Half-Christmas” Party Kit
Relevance: High. As established in the season one episode “The Strike,” the trio of dudes at the center of Workaholics celebrates June 25 as “Half-Christmas” (sorry, “#HalfXmas”), that magical summer day that’s the halfway point until Christmas. The show didn’t have a Half-Christmas episode this year, but it has become the unofficial holiday of Workaholics fans.
Item quality: Varying, because the box has a lot of stuff: a Tinkerbell Christmas sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off (low); a red-and-white beer bong (high); red and green Solo cups (N/A); a Santa hat (medium); mustard and ketchup bottles (low); spatula (high); a strand of white Christmas lights (high); beer-pong balls (N/A); water balloons (low); sunglasses (low); two Workaholics and Comedy Central-branded keychain bottle openers (low); and a green glass Christmas ornament (low). Taken altogether, though, it’s an impressive haul.
Re-giftability: None of this is particularly gift-worthy, though it covers several barbecue necessities for when the weather warms up around Half-Christmas.
Item: Backpack full of camping/outdoor gear
Promoting: Brickleberry, the dreadful Comedy Central animated series produced by the equally dreadful Daniel Tosh
Relevance: The show takes its name from its setting, Brickleberry National Park, home to a coterie of rangers (and a bear cub with a filthy mouth) who say and do gross things.
Item quality: Mostly low. Like the #HalfXmas Party Kit, the Brickleberry backpack contains several items, almost all of them cheap: toy binoculars, a toy compass, a roll of toilet paper, a Brickleberry National Park T-shirt which super-fans can wear with the Brickleberry National Park ranger hat. The metal canteen is pretty sturdy, though, and the Axe-branded “Detailer” (a.k.a. macho shower puff) is nice enough. (A bottle of Axe SportBlast two-in-one shower gel and shampoo is also included, boasting “THE CLEANER YOU ARE, THE DIRTIER YOU GET” on the back, above male and female silhouettes. Just in case that’s too subtle, it says “UNLIMITED FEMALE ATTENTION” underneath the graphic, subtitle style.) In the backpack’s front pocket is a collection of four Brickleberry “De-Merit Badges”: Blood Donor (with a mosquito on it), Wildlife Population Control (with a roadkill graphic), Third Degree Chef (with a flaming hot dog), and Certified Tick Checker (with a woman baring her breasts—see, “tick” sounds like “tit”).
Re-giftability: Low. Most of this is junk, though the backpack could be useful and easily unbranded—just remove the Brickleberry National Park button.
Item: Tube of disinfecting wipes, measuring cup
Promoting: Gordon Ramsay’s Hotel Hell and MasterChef, respectively
Relevance: High. MasterChef is a cooking show, and, um, chefs need measuring cups. Because Ramsay is apparently also an expert on hotels, he appropriates his Kitchen Nightmares approach to lodging by going in and telling innkeepers what they’re doing wrong. As with Kitchen Nightmares, that involves grossing everyone out, though instead of unveiling food rotting in industrial refrigerators, he uses a high-powered black light to show stains on mattresses.
Item quality: 3. Disinfecting wipes don’t have much quality variance. It’s a standard tube of wipes with a Hotel Hell wraparound. (“He’s checking in to WIPE out the bugs.” Thanks for the capital letters, Fox—the message was too subtle otherwise.) The measuring cup is legitimate Pyrex—the only branding is a MasterChef wraparound—that retails for about $10 on Amazon. It will come in handy in the kitchen of an A.V. Club staffer, perhaps sharing cabinet space with our Ladykillers-branded waffle iron.
Re-giftability: High, at least for the measuring cup. The disinfecting wipes could make a passive-aggressive stocking stuffer.
Item: A backpack filled with supplies for luxury camping
Promoting: The theatrical release of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom
Relevance: Almost perfect. In the film, a young Scout convinces his girlfriend to run away with him, and their tryst takes place in the woods. He’s prepared, and this fully stocked backpack—not a replica of the one in the movie, but close enough—contains a cutting board, a cheese knife, a canteen, a T-shirt, a copy of the Moonrise soundtrack (not on vinyl, though that would have been movie-appropriate), and some Scout patches. The backpack is insulated to keep wine (or soda) cool. The only thing missing is a young-adult novel that Anderson wrote specifically for the film.
Item quality: 4. It’s a nice metal canteen, and a perfectly useable cutting board and knife. The branding on the bag is even subtle enough that few people in the wild would realize it came from a cheap pop-culture journalist.
Re-giftability: High, especially if done piecemeal. The cutting board and knife aren’t even branded. Everything else would mostly be suitable for Wes Anderson junkies who love his attention to detail. But there’s one of those on everybody’s list, right?
Item: Stack of billion-dollar bills
Promoting: Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie
Relevance: High. The movie is about a pair of guys who blow a billion dollars trying to make a movie, then try to get it back. In a perfect world, they would’ve sent us 1,000 million-dollar bills, rather than approximately 200 billion-dollar bills. Still, we’re going to try and spend them, or at least give them as grants to aspiring filmmakers. Don’t tell the Secret Service, okay?
Item quality: 2. These bills are nicely designed, with photos of Tim and Eric where the president should be, and all the relevant information about the movie’s release on the back. But they are just paper, after all.
Re-giftability: Very low, barring easily fooled nieces and nephews. But they’re just going to be pissed once they realize this currency is mostly of value to comedy geeks, not store clerks.
Item: A flash drive disguised as dog tags
Promoting: The Hallmark Movie Channel’s Duke
Relevance: Kinda gross. Duke is a movie about a homeless, PTSD-afflicted Iraq War vet (played by Steven Weber). As we all know, war vets with mental-health issues always wear their dog tags, in case they need to prove their vet status. Regulation dog tags, though, presumably do not contain flash drives.
Item quality: 3. Anyone who needs a 1-gig flash drive could do better… or worse. It’s a little bulky—big enough for the DUKE logo on one side and the Hallmark Movie Channel logo on the other—but also comes with a chain for wearability. The new owner might want to erase the Duke publicity stills from it before using it.
Re-giftability: Low. A flash drive doesn’t really say “happy holidays,” though it might be useful for some people. It did come in a metal tin, also featuring the Hallmark logo, that would make a decent cigarette case.
Item: Porcelain travel cup with rubber lid
Promoting: Fox’s The Mindy Project
Relevance: Questionable, but not unreasonable. In The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling plays a busy OB-GYN whose love life is filled with folly. Such a person would probably want a classy porcelain coffee cup, complete with sassy purple travel lid. On the other hand, Kaling’s character does seem like the type of person who might spend a bit more on an item like this.
Item quality: 3. It’s a solid cup, designed to keep hot liquids hot, and on those rare occasions when someone might want to travel with a cool liquid—well, it’ll keep those cool. At 11 ounces, it’s a little small for today’s Big Gulp generation, and it’s tough to say whether the form-fitting lid will survive the high impact of public transportation.
Re-giftability: Low-ish. Since it’s so clearly a promotional item, no one will be fooled into thinking we paid for it. Still, though, we could pass it off as a store-bought item from our favorite new popular show that the giftee just hasn’t heard of yet. It’s a long shot, but dammit, we have to try!
Item: A gavel pen, bandanna, cowboy-boot-shaped stress ball, Old West judge’s badge, and another popcorn-shaped box of tissues
Promoting: The Luke Perry vehicle Goodnight For Justice: The Measure Of A Man, which aired in January 2012 on the Hallmark Movie Channel
Relevance: Decent enough, in that Perry’s Circuit Judge John Goodnight probably used a gavel and wore boots in the movie, though likely not tissues.
Item quality: 2. While it’s nice to have a few extra tissues or a bandanna lying around to clean up messes, no one really needs another pen, stress ball, or dumb pin.
Re-giftability: Pretty low. Who wants an already-opened box of tissues?
Item: The Stig soap on a rope
Promoting: The 18th season of Top Gear, which premièred on BBC America this April.
Relevance: Decent. Test driver The Stig features prominently in both the U.K. and U.S. versions of Top Gear, but it’s unclear why exactly he appears in soap form here. An action figure would have been cooler.
Item quality: 3. The Stig soap on a rope is, indeed, both soap and on a rope, though it feels like that cheap, oily soap they make kids’ novelties out of that disintegrates in the shower really quickly.
Re-giftability: Very high. This kind of dumb, basically unusuable item would make a great stocking stuffer for any car-loving relative or Top Gear fan.
Item: An insulated six-pack cooler emblazoned with the words “human organ for transplant”
Promoting: A&E’s four-hour Coma miniseries
Relevance: Good in theory, though not sinister enough. Given that Coma is an exceedingly dark miniseries about a medical student who figures out that other doctors are harvesting organs from otherwise healthy patients, the cooler’s crisp whiteness is almost off-putting.
Item quality: 5. This insulated tote can keep anything ice cold, from a human kidney to a kidney-bean salad.
Re-giftability: High. Though it’s a little macabre, any slightly morbid office worker would be tickled pink to bring their sandwich to work in this.
Item: A baseball hat featuring the words “Gone Squatchin” and Animal Planet’s logo
Promoting: The Animal Planet program Finding Bigfoot
Relevance: This functional trucker’s hat captures the wacky irreverence of Finding Bigfoot, a show about the dogged search for you-know-who. The implication is clearly that anyone who spends a lot of time contemplating the existence of Bigfoot probably sees adjustable hats as basic wardrobe staples.
Item quality: 3. It’s sturdy enough, albeit cheap enough to feel like one of those complimentary baseball hats they give out at games.
Re-giftability: The Animal Planet logo gives the game away, though anyone excited about receiving a trucker hat commemorating a Bigfoot reality show probably isn’t going to feel too insulted at receiving a gift that didn’t cost money.
Item: A grey fedora with a black brim
Promoting: The final season of Fringe
Relevance: This is a close replica of the signature hat worn by a mysterious figure known as “The Observer,” played by Michael Cerveris.
Item quality: 5. This is the rare item of television swag an A.V. Club writer could wear without cringing in shame. (Then again, the A.V. Club writer penning this particular entry still uses his Patch Adams clipboard and Hot Tub Time Machine backpack, so “shame” might be a relative conceit where he’s concerned.)
Re-giftability: High. Remove the telltale Fringe button, and it becomes a snappy fedora someone could have actually paid money for.
Item: A set of multicolored refrigerator magnets in the shapes of letters and numbers
Promoting: The third season of Raising Hope
Relevance: With Hope Chance moving toward toddlerdom, she could use the lesson in arithmetic and the alphabet afforded by these fridge decorations—especially because no one (save her future stepmother, Sabrina) in her colorfully dimwitted family is going to tutor her. Then again, given the thread of upward mobility that’s been running through the show’s most recent episodes, such kitschy accoutrements could one day be Hope’s only reminder of the years she spent (technically) squatting in her great-great-grandma’s bungalow. That and inherited malapropisms like “real-estate mongrel” that wouldn’t be half as funny if Hope’s grandmother were played by anyone other than Martha Plimpton.
Item quality: 2. There’s no telling how strong the magnets are—re-gifting also means not opening the plastic packaging—but the letters’ retina-scorching shades and the sturdiness of the material indicate they won’t fall off the fridge door and into the mouth of dementia-addled seniors.
Re-giftability: As with most products from Fox’s incredibly active promotions department, the name of the show is right on the packaging. But the show’s audience is so (undeservedly) small that if not for the prominently displayed première date, we’d take a crack at convincing the young parents in our lives that “Raising Hope” is actually an up-and-coming brand of eco-friendly kids’ products.
Item: Personalized towel set
Promoting: The return of Fox’s New Girl
Relevance: Over the course of New Girl’s first season, the single-camera sitcom developed from The Zooey Deschanel Show into a true ensemble piece that thrives on the sparkling chemistry between Deschanel, Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson, Lamorne Morris, and Hannah Simone. (Deschanel and Greenfield earned Emmy nominations for their efforts—Johnson is working his way toward award-season consideration for the show’s second season.) To highlight this renewed collaborative spirit, ads for season two of New Girl hinged on a gag about Greenfield and Johnson’s characters unknowingly sharing the same towel for, presumably, several weeks. “New Season. Same Towels.” goes the tagline—which humorously plays into the “Jess” and “Schmidt Nick Winston” bath items Fox sent to members of the television press.
Item quality: 3. Though the print side of the towel is a cushy velour, the inside of each towel is a rougher, thinner terrycloth, better suited for use at the beach than in the type of fastidious cleaning ritual preferred by Greenfield’s Schmidt.
Re-giftability: We do have friends named Jess. Alas, we don’t know anyone with the less-plausible, undeniably debonair name Schmidt Nick Winston. Maybe we’ll hang onto his for our next DIY car wash.
Item: Four spring-mounted cookie cutters
Promoting: Star Trek: The Next Generation season two on Blu-ray
Relevance: High and low. The shapes are all legit Trek universe shit: the Enterprise, a Vulcan salute, the Federation logo, and the Klingon logo. On the other hand, nobody on any of the Enterprise’s various incarnations has ever baked cookies, and if they did, they probably wouldn’t make Klingon logos. If somebody in space wanted cookies, they’d just go to Ten Forward and use that sweet machine that makes whatever they want to eat.
Item quality: 4. More complex than basic cookie cutters, these cut the shapes and—via some technology surely stolen from some futuristic society, perhaps the Borg—apply detail to the cookies via spring-mounted impressions.
Re-giftability: Very high, especially since these are commercially available via ThinkGeek. Somebody might actually think we spent $20 on ’em, instead of just pushing them listlessly off the swag shelves and into a gift bag.
Item: Bullet-shaped chocolates in a novelty prescription bottle
Promoting: The Mob Doctor
Relevance: No macabre juxtaposition went unused by Fox or Sony Pictures Television in the effort to promote the crime-story/medical-drama hybrid The Mob Doctor. Branded, faux-syringe pens were distributed at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour; screener DVDs were accompanied by stress balls that resembled human hearts. However, nothing fit the show’s ludicrously oil-and-water premise like this clever snack, which mimics two materials viewers shouldn’t gulp by the handful: prescription drugs and 35mm slugs. The real treat, however, is the bottle’s label, which pairs some on-the-nose instructions worthy of protagonist Dr. Grace Devlin (see what they did there?) with a presumptuous “REFILLS: Indefinitely.” Not with the kind of Nielsen ratings this show pulled down; it’s already been cancelled.
Item quality: 4. As a further testament to the show’s love of an ironic twist, the bullets are made of a surprisingly tasty milk chocolate.
Re-giftability: Could make a fun, delicious stocking stuffer for any medical professional, true-crime aficionado, or any combination of the two—assuming some TV critic with compromised morals hasn’t pilfered the bullets one by one.
Item: Prop X-ray in commemorative acrylic plaque
Promoting: House’s series finale
Relevance: If the label is to be believed, this is an authentic square from a fake X-ray that aided one of Dr. Gregory House’s 177 trial-and-error diagnoses. Since the procedural nature of House’s mysteries was as much of a draw for the series as the loveable prickliness of Hugh Laurie’s lead performance, the enigma surrounding this piece of X-ray film is perfectly in line with the series it commemorates. It appears to be a portion of a head CT scan, but the only real certainty is that it’s not lupus.
Item quality: 5. The X-ray’s lack of context aside, the item resembles a one-of-a-kind collector’s item—or something that could be acquired for $300 in an eBay auction.
Re-giftability: Maybe we’ll skip the cost of a House: The Complete Series DVD set by providing a loved one with the chance to play Dr. House. Alternately, we could crack the magnetic plaque open and give the X-ray clipping as the first clue in an elaborate scavenger hunt. This initial puzzle is so cryptic, the rest of the scavenger hunt isn’t even necessary.
Item: A dispenser bottle of Yardley English Lavender “luxurious hand soap”
Promoting: The Blu-ray release of the 2011 Oscar-bait film My Week With Marilyn
Relevance: Admirably high. The film—a highly romanticized adaptation of Colin Clark’s memoir about his time with Marilyn Monroe on the set of the 1957 comedy The Prince And The Showgirl—features a scene with Monroe (played by Michelle Williams) arriving in England and being interviewed by the press. Asked whether it’s true she wears nothing in bed but perfume, she coyly shoots back, “Darling, as I’m in England, let’s say I sleep in nothing but Yardley’s lavender.” It’s a real quote from the real Marilyn; Yardley’s, a British scented-cosmetics company, is still selling products under the claim that they were Marilyn’s favorite.
Item quality: 4. It’s real, functional hand soap, suitable for washing the grime and accumulated dust of many other long-shelved swag items of our hands. On the other hand, the scent is pretty heavy and cloying.
Re-giftability: Tremendous. Unlike most swag items, this one isn’t branded in any way with the name of the product it’s promoting. And fancy soap—in this case, imported fancy soap from a fancy brand—is high on the list of acceptable generic presents. We sent it to Aunt Mabel the second we were done with the Year In Swag photo shoot.
Item: A metal tin filled with cheese, caramel, and butter-flavored popcorn
Promoting: The theatrical release of DreamWorks’ CGI holiday movie Rise Of The Guardians
Relevance: Acceptable, but not exceptional. The movie doesn’t feature any kind of dramatic popcorn-related climax. But this tri-flavored popcorn thing is a tried-and-true holiday concept, and the film is about the personifications of holidays teaming up to battle evil, so there’s sort of a connection there. And the tin is covered with images of those personifications, so there’s no missing what it’s promoting.
Item quality: 4. It’s entirely fine as far as tinned popcorn goes.
Re-giftability: We re-gifted it straight to the office kitchen for mass consumption, so clearly its re-giftability was through the roof. Then it was just an empty tin, which was much less likely to please that difficult-to-buy-for relative. Then someone threw it away before we could get a photo, which lowered the re-giftability a tiny scootch.
Item: Flip-up sunglasses and Ends Of The Earth Bar T-shirt
Promoting: Fox’s short-lived Bones spin-off, The Finder
Relevance: Not that enough viewers tuned in to know, but this is the official uniform of Walter Sherman, the unorthodox investigator and Iraq War veteran at the center of The Finder. The shirt is a faux-souvenir from Walter’s base of operations—an out-of-the-way Key West hole in the wall—while the Dwayne Wayne-like eyewear was the production’s solution for portraying lantern-jawed star Geoff Stults as an always-lands-his-prey eccentric. Had the show enjoyed a more distinguished run, this would be a pre-made cosplay kit for the wannabe Walters flooding fan conventions. Instead, it’s a reminder of the late Michael Clarke Duncan, who provided the brawn to Walter’s cracked brain.
Item quality: 4. Bag it up and slap Stults’ face on the package, and this two-piece set could’ve been a premium costume at a Halloween store specializing in getups from one-season-wonder TV series. (Biggest seller at this hypothetical store: reproductions of Linda Cardellini’s Freaks And Geeks army jacket.)
Re-giftability: The Finder was a fleetingly fun Monday-night diversion—but it also felt like a show aimed squarely at viewers with more than one Hawaiian shirt in their wardrobe and a well-worn copy of Jimmy Buffett’s Songs You Know By Heart on their car dashboard. Such “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” types would surely get a kick out of sunglasses that also function as run-of-the-mill spectacles, and the network logos on the T-shirt’s right sleeve are the only giveaway that this piece of clothing isn’t from a real-life tropical hideaway.
Item: A sundae kit, featuring an ice-cream scoop that says “Animation Domination” and various toppings
Promoting: Fox’s Sunday-night (Get it? Sundae night?) animated lineup: The Cleveland Show, The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, and American Dad
Relevance: Tasty, though slightly off-color. Each of the five toppings is labeled in a way that connects to one of the shows: There’s Cleveland’s Caramel Sauce, Springfield Sprinkles, Bob’s Hot Fudge (whoops, alliteration broke down there), Stan’s Heath Bar Crunch, and… sigh… Peter’s Nuts. And each container features the appropriate cartoon cast enjoying a sundae in their own characteristic ways.
Item quality: 5. Variety, freshness, deliciousness, recognized national brands (the bottled toppings are Smuckers), and a lot of thought and attention to little details. The only way this could be better is if Fox execs came to our offices, churned us up some fresh ice cream to complete our sundae experiences, and apologized for their news channel.
Re-giftability: These are clearly labeled promo items, so the re-gifting would be obvious. Also, they’ve been slightly munched-on by office snackers, so it’d be pretty hard to pass them off as new, thoughtfully purchased products. On the other hand, kids don’t much care where their sugar comes from or what it looks like, so this whole kit could be palmed off onto the younger set.
Item: A press kit designed to look and feel like a book that’s been split in two
Promoting: The smash-hit History Channel miniseries Hatfields & McCoys
Relevance: Extremely high. The famously acrimonious split between these feuding families is reflected by pages that are similarly divided: The top half is devoted to the actors playing Hatfields, while the bottom half chronicles the McCoys.
Item quality: 4. A lot of care, thought, and planning was clearly put into this promo item, though it’s still of limited utility to anyone not planning to write about the series, or watch it with book-shaped scorecard in hand.
Re-giftability: They’ll be fighting like the Hatfields and McCoys to receive this re-gifted gem! Nah, labored wordplay aside, this has no re-gifting value whatsoever.
Item: A plastic block containing a screener
Promoting: The Alec Baldwin-narrated BBC/Discovery Channel series Frozen Planet
Relevance: The series is dedicated to exploring life in the arctic. What says Arctic more directly than a fake block of ice?
Item quality: 4. This is a surprisingly solid block of faux ice made of hard, durable plastic that could totally be used to repeatedly smash someone in the head. (Sorry about that, we don’t know why our minds automatically go to that dark place.)
Re-giftability: Low. The words “Frozen Planet” inscribed on the top are a giveaway, but for shits and giggles, we might try dropping this fake block of ice into a comically oversized alcoholic beverage at the office Christmas party. We’ll be the life of that party for sure!