Linus Karlsson returns to comedy with Web series 'Frank and Marty'

To promote new sunglasses for fishermen, Karlsson's Ming Utility follows two hapless purists who refuse to wear them

Frank and Marty, two old fishing buddies and business partners, are not opposed to technology. Marty made an outboard motor out of a hand drill and some PVC tubing. And Frank stacked three air conditioners on his boat to create a mostly silent propulsion system. ("The last thing you want is for the fish to hear you coming.")

But they draw the line at Smith Optics’ new sunglasses with ChromaPop technology, which makes it so easy to see fish underwater, it might as well be cheating. "People just don’t care about the rules anymore," complains Marty.

The fictional duo are stars of a new web series from Ming Utility and Entertainment, in a campaign for Smith Optics co-directed by Linus Karlsson, creative chairman at Commonwealth/McCann.

In multiple online videos, including a 5-minute anthem spot, the pair’s absurdist endeavors go gleefully awry as they try to prove they can catch fish without resorting to Smith’s ChromaPop lenses.

The idea for the series stemmed from the brand’s research — though not in the usual way. When Karlsson heard that the data shows eight out of 10 anglers preferred the new sunglasses, he became curious about the dissenters. "I was like, that is great, but who are the other two guys?" Karlsson said. "It was so clear to me that we should do a campaign about those two guys. That is kind of when we made up Frank and Marty."

Karlsson calls the campaign "inverted," since it doesn’t feature the product at all. Instead he focused on creating believable characters who are relatable, even in failure. "Even though they are two guys who didn't like Smith the brand, it was really important for me to make them likable," he said. "It would have been so easy to make them unlikable, like two rednecks or something. I think that adds a layer of complexity to the storyline, that you go, ‘I really like these guys, but they don't like the brand, and therefore I like the brand even more because the brand is so confident.’ "

Much of the likability depends on the two men who play Frank and Marty, neither of whom are actors. "Frank" is a licensed Everglades tour guide, and "Marty" had "never been in front of the camera before at all, so they are real," Karlsson said. The spots were filmed an hour and a half north of Tampa, in the swamp. "It was basically a lot of fishermen and a lot of gun owners."

With its deadpan humor and scenes that linger to the edges of awkwardness, "Frank and Marty" is a throwback to the work that put Karlsson in the spotlight nearly two decades ago: Cannes Lion-winning Diesel work at Paradiset DDB, the "Dick" campaign for Miller Lite and The Jukka Bros. for MTV at Fallon.

Fans of Karlsson’s previous work will recognize the low-concept sensibilities, but "Frank and Marty" is less brash and moves at a slower pace thanks to its longer format.

"I haven't really done anything funny in 15 years," Karlsson said. "I have actually avoided it, to be honest. I think I did feel a little pigeonholed after Miller Light and Jukka Brothers. We were the funny guys."

But a chance encounter nine months ago changed his mind. "I met someone who showed me something and said, ‘This is really funny,’ and I didn't think it was funny at all. So then I was thinking, ‘Oh I want to write something funny again.’ "

Getting back into comedic work took some practice. The original scripts for "Frank and Marty" featured plenty of jokes. It wasn’t until after filming everything, during post-production, that Karlsson says he figured it out. "I cut out all of the jokes, and then it became funny," he said.

While there are no plans yet for more spots featuring Frank and Marty, they are fully realized online entities, with multiple social media accounts, a YouTube channel, a Facebook business page and Yelp reviews. "If they become something great, I would love to continue following them and writing for them and directing them, exploring their lives," Karlsson said. "I love those guys, you know?"

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