Now that it's all said and done, let's put aside the minuscule controversies (Crash won! Rap songs are now guaranteed Oscar material!) and look at the actual show. How was the “78th Annual Academy Awards” telecast? In a word (OK, two): rather dull.
For a year in which smalltime indie nominees all but guaranteed low viewership (down 8 percent from last year, the second-smallest viewership in the last two decades), producers didn't exactly go out of their way to lure people with a gripping show.
The red carpet arrivals were an indication of things to come. Everyone was dressed nicely in nearly interchangeable evening wear. There was virtually nothing to say, good or bad. Charlize Theron's bow was probably a little big. Jessica Alba looked pretty good. Brown was the new black. Joan Rivers all but popped a facelift staple yawning into her microphone.
The show started out OK. The movie palace-inspired set design looked classy. The opening montage (featuring past Oscar hosts turning down the gig) was cheeky. First statue winner George Clooney gave a funny, well-aimed acceptance speech. (“Well, I guess this means I don't get Best Director.”)
But, aside from a few good improvised quips (“Martin Scorsese: Zero Oscars, Three 6 Mafia: One Oscar.”), host Jon Stewart seemed like he was operating under a gag order. Where were the pointed jabs of “Daily Show” infamy? The writing was, for the most part, safe and middle-of-the-road. In fact, a sort of anesthetized pallor hovered over the entire evening. Diana Ossana's laudanum-induced acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay seemed to set the tone. Winners arrived on stage with their exit music already blaring. Thank-yous were issued in curt fashion. Nobody seemed particularly happy or disappointed or anything. In any other year, Reese Witherspoon's damp-eyed speech would have been minor. This year, it was the emotional highlight. Nobody kissed the presenters. Nobody screamed, “You like me!” Nobody climbed over the chairs. There was, in short, not much to talk about.
At least the evening's schizophrenic musical offerings added some surreal element to the night. Dolly Parton looked lonely standing on stage all by herself without so much as a guitar for company. Kathleen “Bird” York looked out of place warbling her tender ballad amid some sort of post-apocalyptic set. Three 6 Mafia at least looked happy to be there singing their surprise winner “It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp”--although their cheesy Oklahoma-meets-Oakland interpretive dancers left a lot to be desired.
Last month, the Grammys had its smallest audience on record and the Golden Globes its second lowest viewership in 10 years. If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn't want to follow in that path, it had better stop worrying about getting the Oscars wrapped up in time for the evening news and start worrying about injecting a little energy into its awards presentation. ... So, is Johnny Carson still dead?