We've reviewed tons of old commercials over the past few years, but some are certainly "worth more" than others. There's commercials that can inspire lots of memories upon viewing 'em, but there's an elite few that were so enchanting during their initial run that the public, by and large, never really forgot them. That blonde guy from Encyclopedia Britannica, the poor old lady who broke her hip and couldn't get up, eggs symbolizing brains on drugs...in the world of ads, these were powerful warriors capable of burning their jingles and imagery into our permanent memories forever and ever. The commercial we're taking a look at today falls under that category. Yes, you'd have to be a certain age to remember this ad, and its incredible ability to turn up during virtually every commercial break for several weeks in the mid 80's. Some of you will know it, others will probably lose interest and sting my pride with a callous click of the dastardly Upper Right "X." I'm confident that those who do remember will recognize this as a holy day as we finally excavate the legendary smallscreen debut of... Polly-O String Cheese!


Nobody saw it coming. I actually can't say which precise year the ad's from -- figure 1985, 1986...somewhere in that realm. I'm also not entirely sure if string cheese itself was brand new at the time of this commercial. It was news to my classmates and I, and the buzz surrounding the white batons of mozzarella was immense. The turnaround from the point when we saw the commercial to the point where every kid's lunchbox in school contained Polly-O String Cheese was phenomenal, and as interesting as it was to shred naked mozzarella sticks into little strands of silky cheese, the credit for that success has to go to one infamous pizza parlor and the three kids who came in with the boldest food order of all time. Are you ready? Are you ready to hold the crust?

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The best commercials are the ones who manage to grab hold of you without showing their hand. As three children entered the most prototypical pizza parlor you could imagine, viewers had no idea what kind of epic would unfold. Our attention is seized immediately -- some kids were taken with the blonde chick, others found their aversion to the nerdy guy on the left downright addictive...you wanted to look away from the television, but you hated that nerdy guy with far too much intensity to take your attentions elsewhere. More quick eye-catchers prevail: neon lights; leather coats; and a rather inane sign on the wall, reading "NO SCREAMING."

"HAAAAAAAY! HAAAAAAY I WANT A PIIIIIIZZZZARRRRR!" It doesn't happen much, but it's pretty annoying when it does. I don't fault the restaurant staff for their insane level of proactivity.

The kid in the middle -- obviously the leader of this pitiful little group -- kicks off the ordering festivities. "Gimme a pizza with extra cheese!" Oh, if we only knew how impressionable the exchange to come was going to be. Maybe we could've stopped ourselves from months upon months of reciting the ad's devilish script and generally making asses of ourselves. But how could we have known? It's just a pizza parlor, with stupid signs, and three kids who want extra cheese. These weren't the makings of a siren song. You'll see, I swear you'll see. The commercial is alive; it's an entity like that slot machine in the old "Twilight Zone" episode. It's coming, it's coming for you. Start nailing the timpani drums.


Staring from a different view, we now find the chef, "Fred," agreeing to the extra cheese request with a gregarious nod and a simple repeating of the words "extra cheese." Fred has charisma, yes, but nobody could've predicted the iron grip he'd soon command over youth at large. In fact, Fred was so charismatic, few of us ever noticed the additional signs hanging in the back despite the ad being shown countless times. "Be Patient, Meatball!" Pizza's not fast food, it's low rent cuisine. There's a difference, and you're a fucking meatball if you can't see it. "Week Old Pizza: Half Price" is even more obscured, both by Fred and the mysterious old man sulking about in the background. That old man was destined to become a player, and he's about fifteen seconds from making his mark.

I didn't have any idea who Fred was at the time, but now that I've seen him again, doy, it's distinguished actor John Capodice. He's the guy who made sure Nicholas Cage put in a request to leave the state after he was arrested in Hawaii during the point in "Honeymoon In Vegas" where 90% of the audience already feel asleep. You missed some seriously great shit with Peter Boyle, let me tell you.

Anyway, extra cheese? No problem. Fred can do extra cheese. Is there anything Fred can't do? Our hero is about to test the limits with his second request...


"...and hold the tomato sauce!"

Hold the tomato sauce? Hold the tomato sauce? Perhaps he was ordering a white pie, but Fred's shocked response indicates a trek towards something far less orthodox. We're going to outer space with this cheese commercial -- outer space.


"Hold the tomato sauce?!!" Fred seems, shall we say, less than amused. It's not that his restaurant isn't capable of handling special orders; Fred just takes too much pride in his work to create something so decisively inedible. A pizza with no sauce and extra cheese?! That kid's lucky Fred didn't hop over the counter and beat him to death with a rake.

Treading on thin ice, it's hard to believe that our hero would actually make another request. Boys in leather know no rules. They are rebels without a cause, or in this case, crust. Blonde Kid is about to ask for something that doesn't just catch Fred off-guard -- it very well repulses and sickens him to the point that his lips curl up into the rough shape of a giant clam, flapping about like they have no idea they're lips and not a living clam. Right??

Go on, Blonde Kid. Say it. Get your name in the books. Whether your future adventures lead you to fame or the gutter, you will always be remembered for what you said next. Some will love you for it. Others will map out the mechanics of a special device that lets them kill you not once, but two or three times for it. Say it.


"AND HOLD THE CRUST!"

What is he thinking? Fred, emotionally equipped to take offense to nearly everything said to him, shouldn't be on the receiving end of a pizza order like this. Blonde Kid toys with his safety, carelessly, goading Fred into a mindset where he'll either obey in trance or kill with fervor.


What's it going to be, Fred? Obey or kill? Are you going to hold the crust or use it to bludgeon the kids? "Hold the crust?!" Fred can't make sense of the directions, it's the kind of thing that'd make his head explode if he was an evil robot at the climax of a bad cartoon using a really lazy easy-out for their would-be slain hero characters. Ehyeehah. Instead, Fred just mouths along to what he's heard, and yet, it still makes about as much sense as canceling a week-long cruise to get a few thousand bucks for starring in a Polly-O commercial. John Capodice probably didn't even eat string cheese.

In the end, Fred realizes that he can't kill the children. At least, not now, with the cameras rolling. Looks like he'll have no choice but to abide, forced to make lemonade out of lemons that don't make sense and lemons that were handled by the likely filthy hands of grubby jerkfaced ten-year-olds. Can Fred turn water into wine? No, but he might be able to turn a shitty pizza order into a sales leader for Polly-O. Go Fred Go.


Fred turns to his hired help, who was previously obscured from view, kneading away at a mound of dough. Conventional wisdom suggests that he's named "Jimmy," but hearing Fred say it, it's more like "Schjimi." Frustrated with the kids' order, with the day in general, with his life in general, Fred submits and gives his cook the order. They were words that would forever be remembered, lampooned, worshipped and debated. It was the line that solidified Polly-O String Cheese as something that still feels somehow special almost twenty years later. It was...Fred's mandate.

"Hey Schjimi... Gimme a cheese with nuttin."

Timpani drums, you really need the timpani drums. Schjimi meant nothing to us up until this point, but he was about to turn two syllables into his ticket to stardom. Schjimi turns around, revealing himself as little more than a withered troll nearing 400 years of age -- between the wrinkles and the silly hat and the ultimate puss face, Schjimi summons a charm not usually reserved for creatures like himself, opens his mouth, and lets harmony escape and assault the good, clean air...


Nuuuutin??

As an audience, we still hadn't quite grasped the power of what we'd seen. We knew it was something unique, something we probably wouldn't see again...but we didn't realize just how assaulting the exchange would prove after the 50th or 60th viewing. Soon, it was Schjimi Mania. Not a day passed where anybody I knew went through school without quoting Schjimi, Fred or their lousy customers. We would've bought whatever they guys were shilling for; I guess we're lucky it was just string cheese and not...I dunno, pretending car oil was soda.


Fred quickly returned with a pizza box stacked with Polly-O String Cheese, and the rest is history. The snacks have lasted ever since, ultimately becoming popular enough to warrant weird upgrades, like versions where two different types of cheese are romantically entangled into one solid rod of dairy fun. People would argue the proper way to eat string cheese in the years to follow, separated in groups of "strand pullers" and "chunk biters," with the members of one society forever forbidden to date, befriend, or even talk to the other. There were all sorts of arguments, but we all agreed on one thing. Fred and friends weren't lying. This really was the best part of the pizza.

Our heroes snatch their first taste of the godly cheese, and in siphoning some of its magic, actually manage to learn a second language right there on the spot.


"Bellissimo!" "Magnifique!" "C'est si bon!" I wasn't really sure what the words meant at the time, but the delight shown on each of the kids' faces indicated them as complimentary terms. String Cheese was in, baby, in. It'd been endorsed by the wackiest group of mixed nuts ever shown on national television, and as an extra coup, we even saw a sign that called people meatballs. This was magic in the making, and the Polly-O String Cheese commercial is still fondly recalled by most of my friends, who to this day can't help an occasional restatement of its classic script. I don't know who came up with this ad, but they deserve their own planet.

Follow the link below to see it for yourself. The quality of the vid clip isn't great, but the content is too wonderful for that to make a difference. Prepare to see God, in the form of mozzarella.

WATCH THE CHEESE MAGIC!

-- Matt (2/19/04)

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