While some guy was accepting his Oscar for visual effects (for “Life of Pi”) during Sunday night’s medium-warm Academy Awards broadcast, something new and wonderful happened: He went on too long and got the “Jaws” theme from the orchestra, which crept up on him and devoured his words as he kept thanking people.
It’s a brilliant and overdue remedy to Oscar night’s oldest problem, and it should be a fixture of all award shows.
And it worked. The producers only had to use it a few more times – and frankly should have during best supporting actress winner Anne Hathaway’s predictably ooky, near-tears wish that nobody should ever be as poor and desperate as Fantine, her character in “Les Miserables.”
But to be fair, the “Jaws” theme ought to be used when the host’s shtick is dragging on, too. Such as when you have William Shatner don his Capt. Kirk costume and beam in from the 23rd century to tell the host – in a protracted way – that, in real time, his gig is getting bad reviews from critics.
It was a too-long setup for host Seth MacFarlane’s best number, “We Saw Your Boobs,” backed by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.
MacFarlane, the potty-mouth cartoon mogul, did a fairly middle-of-the-road job as host on a fairly middle-of-the-road telecast. He occasionally found the balance between the knifey, pop-savvy humor of his TV shows and his other side as a show-biz sycophant who sings all the standards at the top of his lungs. What you got was a combination of sicko and retro, an Oscar show hosted by someone who waited until Oscar night to discover that he’s only so-so at stand-up comedy.
He was neither comfortable with the easy jokes (“Amour – or as I call it, ‘This is 90’ ”) nor the provocative ones that he was brought on board to tell and perhaps goose the ungoosable youth market for Oscar ratings: “I would argue that the actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth,” he said. (That wasn’t the real joke, though. The real joke came after the swells in Dolby Theatre gasped and groaned. Then it became what it was meant to be in the post-irony age: a “too soon?” joke.)
Worse news: “Tonight, for the time, the Oscars have a theme,” MacFarlane announced in his opening monologue. “We will be celebrating music in film.”
It couldn’t be stopped, as the Academy Awards tried to win a Tony. The show was produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, two guys who have brought us things like NBC’s irreparable Broadway drama “Smash” and the movie musical “Hairspray.” And so, from mite-sized theater imp Kristin Chenoweth’s icky-sweet red-carpet patter for ABC’s pre-show (Adele, you have our permission to sit on her) to the protracted musical medley from “Chicago,” “Dreamgirls” and – I had to leave the room – “Les Miserables,” this was the Oscars by and for show folks.
At its first lull, the telecast honored the 50th anniversary of James Bond movies, something the infotainment industry has been celebrating for what feels like two or three years. The Academy’s tribute was mostly just one more clip job – has anything so reliably mediocre received more pop-culture accolade than the 007 franchise? But it was saved by the rare sighting and true, pre-Beyonce era pipes of Dame Shirley Bassey, who came out to sing “Goldfinger” and was resplendent in all the latest cryogenic technology.
In an unfortunate comparison of how today is never quite like yesterday, the fabulous Adele came out and sang her recent Bond theme song, “Skyfall.” Not a bad song (it won best original song), but sadly, the best we can do nowadays.
There was nothing notably terrible about the show, and nothing particularly enthralling. More than before, this year’s Academy Awards felt like a cruise. Which, when you think about it, is a venue that would perfectly suit MacFarlane’s showmanship.