E.T. came back — and the world feels just a little better today

American Thanksgiving produced another perfect example of advertising’s innate ability to insert itself into the cultural conversation, particularly when it straddles the line between art and commerce.

Nearly four decades after stealing the hearts of moviegoers, E.T. made an unexpected appearance on TVs (during NBC’s broadcast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade) and computer screens across North America on Thursday, reuniting with his old friend Elliott (Henry Thomas) in an ad for Comcast’s Xfinity service that doesn’t waste one iota of its four-minute, 18-second run time.

“The holidays are a special time for family and friends to reconnect,” explained a Comcast release. “This year, we’re sharing a holiday short story of connection by reuniting two beloved characters – E.T. and Elliott. Although the world has changed since they’ve last seen each other, their enduring friendship reminds all of us how important reconnecting is during the holiday season.”

The ad was created by Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, while E.T. director Steven Spielberg is said to have personally overseen the script. Indeed, there’s a legitimate argument to be made that, woefully anodyne title aside—”A holiday reunion”? Really?—this is actually a sequel to a story we thought was over when E.T. bid a tearful farewell to his friend 37 years ago. It’s just that good.

And with more than 2.6 million YouTube views less than a day after appearing on YouTube, the public thinks so too.

On the surface, the ad is designed to show how telecommunications technology has changed since E.T. went home. Yet it also feels like a sorely needed throwback to a kinder, gentler, less cynical era. Even the fact that it’s for a telecom company—not exactly the type of business that engenders the warm fuzzies—can’t dampen our enthusiasm.

It’s basically a love letter to the 1982 Steven Spielberg movie, and it’s filled with references to the original—the instantly familiar music; E.T. bringing the droopy flowers back to life; the kids riding their bikes, silhouetted against an impossibly large moon. All that’s missing is a well-placed “penis breath” rejoinder. Maybe in the 10-minute extended cut.

Chris Powell