Just What the Dr. Ordered

1980s-1990s Dr. Pepper logo

If I were to say “Dr. Pepper commercial,” your first thought would probably be of David Naughton (star of American Werewolf in London and the horribly underrated Midnight Madness) singing “Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?”  And that’s understandable because that ad campaign is right up there with the Big Mac ingredients commercial as one of the most memorable of the last 40 years.

But in the early 1990s, Dr. Pepper decided to revamp its image and by creating a sequel of sorts to its iconic “Be a Pepper” campaign.  I guess in an age of MTV, the old commercial was too friendly and not aggressive or cool enough, maybe even hokey.  So, we got “Just What the Dr. Ordered,” a series of commercials that like most sequels, pales in comparison to the original and has more or less been forgotten by everyone in my generation (except me, of course).

This was in an era where the soda being advertised in commercials seemed to bring about unbridled awesomeness and happiness, and the people who developed “Just What the Dr. Ordered” decided to find someone cool and awesome to lead us to the caffeinated promised land.  The guy they hired was some random dude wearing a white T-shirt and jeans who sang about the ills of the world and how Dr. Pepper cures them.  He was basic, he had common sense, and he knew exactly what to do. His name is Terry Gatens (thanks to Patty, who commented below and is Terry’s sister), and over the course of four commercials from about 1990-1992, Dr. Pepper made him go out of his way to get more cool points than Fonzie ever dreamed of having.  If I had to name the guy he’s playing in the commercials, it would be Nick (because Nick’s a real name. Nick’s your buddy. Nick’s the kind of guy you can trust, the kind of guy you can drink a beer with, the kind of guy who doesn’t mind if you puke in his car, Nick! … Oh, vomit. I’m sorry. Vomit.) but I don’t want to confuse the two people reading this, so I’ll call him Dr. Pepper Guy II, or DPII (out of respect for David Naughton, the original recipe Dr. Pepper Guy).  I don’t know the order in which these commercials aired, either, so I’m listing them in rank of DPII’s awesome effect on the world.

1. School’s In!

Ah, school.  Where it can just be so dull.  DPII jumps down a flight of steps and tells us to “Listen up!” and I have to tell you, I’m at his command, especially when he wanrs us of the dangers that occur in Driver Education.  And while everyone else is stressed out to the max (oh yeah, to the MAX, dude), he’s just got what — wait for it — the Dr. ordered.  It’s a nice, frosty can of Dr. Pepper to drink, which he cracks open while he lounges on the steps in his white T-shirt and Scott Bakula in Necessary Roughness haircut.  He’s even inspired the kids in the school to be as cool as him and they bring the awesomeness of a Dr. Pepper machine down the hall.

I don’t know, by the way, if they’re trying to tell me that Dr. Pepper can make me leap tall buildings, but one guy in the commercial simply appears in a second-floor window while a schoolmarm lectures her class on “Voodoo Economics”.  And even if it can’t give you superhuman abilities, you’re definitely going to have fun!

2. Life’s a Beach!

All right, now the problem is that it’s really hard to keep up with all the trends out there and DPII illustrates this by saying that if you don’t know what’s in and what’s out, well, where on earth have you been?  And if you don’t get what he’s talking about, there’s some spacemen to illustrate the point.

Suddenly, we’re on the beach from Huey Lewis and the News’s “This Is It” and his mass distribution of Dr. Pepper is causing everyone to act KOOKY (come to think of it, this whole commercial is very Huey Lewis and the News … not that there’s anything wrong with that because I own Sports on vinyl)!  Whereas they were kind of melting in the sun, now they’re all having a great time in the sand!  People dance and wear life jackets and snorkeling equipment!  (That’s KOOKY!)  They claw at beach babes with giant plastic lobster claws! (That’s KOOKY!)  Even the lifeguards get into it!

But the best part of this madcap beach party is that DPII gets to show off some of his most excellent dance moves, which we didn’t see when he was dismantling our public education system.  He jumps, he points, he pounds the air.  It’s just so awesome that he gave us Dr. Pepper to begin with, but now we know a little bit more of how to act as cool as him.  Truly, this man is saving the world.  And helping others destroy sandcastles.

3. The Daily Grind.

Now, here we have a situation in need of some serious Dr. Pepper excitement.  It’s your daily commute, which is usually filled with miserable people slogging home after a day of being beaten to death by the corporatocracy that runs their lives and has claimed their souls.  They shuffle mindlessly onto a platform that to the LIRR-trained looks like Kew Gardens, Queens but is actually in Rye, NY (thanks again to Patty, Terry Gatens’ sister, who commented below), and contemplate suicide (that is, if they’re not halfway through their second tall boy of Bud in a paper bag).

DPII is on the train as well, but after he spills out onto the platform to say that “the daily grind gives a boy the blues” in a wanna be Uh-Huh-era John Cougar Mellencamp twang, he runs against the human traffic because he’s not like them.  Then, he busts out the Dr. Pepper.

What ensues is an orgy of caffeinated excellence.  Commuters run from the other platform and rush DPII.  They dance (doing, appropriately, the loco-motion)!  They party!  Suddenly, a 45-minute delay due to track problems is nothing!  And again, we see the dance moves that put DPII’s cool points in the stratosphere.  My wife and I spent the better part of five years commuting by train and I can tell you that if someone showed up at the Metro station with Dr. Pepper and such blatant coolness, we’d run up that broken escalator just to get some of it.

4. Dating Sure is Tough.

I saved my favorite for last, which is DPII’s treatise on dating and relationships.  Now he’s chillin’ at the local carnival, shootin’ some skee with his buds when he sees a couple arguing.  “Check this out,” he says to his crew (oh, they’re a crew) and they all watch the people argue while DPII laments that he’s sick of dating because you have to fake it (fake what, exactly?   Any insights, ladies?).

Everyone’s arguing at the carnival and this just BUGS him to no end.  But don’t worry, DPII knows exactly what everyone needs, which is Dr. Pepper.  Suddenly, everyone’s hooking up, including DPII, who is instantly seated next to a girl with a black shirt, jeans, and a Demi-Moore-in-Ghost haircut.  He even wins her a tiger and they take it on a roller coaster (during which his vocals get wobbly, which is really a nice touch).  I mean, if you can turn a night where everyone’s miserable into Janet Jackson’s “Escapade” video in 30 seconds, you are definitely working some sort of magic and I definitely want some.

At 13, I actually kinda wanted some, to be honest.  I didn’t seriously think that doling out cans of Dr. Pepper would instantly make everyone dance through my junior high school commons area, but I remember that this was at a point in my adolescence where I had horrible self-esteem, mainly due to the fact that I was a complete geek.  I’ve since accepted the fact that I was never really cool so I shouldn’t try to be (and if I hadn’t accepted that, this blog wouldn’t exist, of course), but at the time–watching Dr. Pepper commercials in my grandma’s living room while drinking cocoa and eating Stella D’oro cookies–I wanted so badly to be cool enough for a girl to like me.

I didn’t think that was much for a 13-year-old boy to ask, but apparently the cosmos had other ideas because I wouldn’t even kiss a girl until I was 17.  Then again, I never did sack up, put on a white T-shirt, grow hockey hair, and pass out Dr. Pepper (I’m sure that if I had the result wouldn’t have been coolness but an appointment with the school psychologist).  But it would have been awesome to have had at least a little of DPII’s swagger and dance moves.  Instead, I had to settle for being high-strung and socially awkward with dance moves that looked like a quadriplegic attempting the running man.

Soda commercials are fantasy, and I knew that in junior high, especially when I would lie awake at night thinking about how cool things would be if I were the center of some teen comedy or drama show, or at least making out with Caitlin on Degrassi High.  So this simply fed into it, it was a way to escape on the days in the eighth grade when putting up with people’s crap had become almost overbearing.   And funny enough, the commercials never actually made me want to drink Dr. Pepper.  I don’t even like it that much, mainly because I don’t like the heaviness of regular soda, but I will drink Diet Dr. Pepper whenever I get the chance, even though I still find it a little disappointing that it doesn’t make the world instantly awesome.

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10 comments

      1. Yeah, quite a few, but he’s a soccer dad in commercials now In fact, I just saw him in a Toyota commercial where he’s teaching his daughter to drive. I got such a kick out of your blog that I just sent him the link. I know he will too.

  1. By the way, I was at the train station one and it was in Rye. My biggest thrill was seeing Meredith Viera (?) picking up her friend from the train….and the Craft Service table.

  2. Too funny!! It was so interesting to find this article when I searched for Terry’s old Pepper commercials to show a friend. Terry was my teammate, roommate and friend of mine while in college. In fact I just had a great visit with him a few days ago while visiting LA. Great guy, great memories.

      1. Hey Tim! This is Patty, Terry’s sister.

        I was surprised to see this thread pop up in my email. Three years ago! Wow! I had forgotten all about this connection. I’m the #3 Friar in the family. What a small freakin’ world!

        I haven’t been out to LA in a long time, but I understand from family members that T and K are awesome hosts. Sure you had a good time. The older I get, the more I love these “six degrees of separation.” Very cool.

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