That’s why edgy comics don’t work well as hosts. Edgy is about puncturing pretense. Remember Chris Rock’s 2005 turn as host? His “edgy” needling of stars deflated plenty of deserving, oversized Hollywood egos — and in the process let some air out of the show’s Nielsen ratings, which dropped 3 percent from the preceding year. The Oscars are about stars stroking each other’s outsized egos, not seeing them cut down to size.
The Oscars are annual rites. There’s a sense of security and continuity in a spectacle so fundamentally stable over the decades. They’re not supposed to be a challenge to complacency. They’re supposed to yield the collective satisfaction of knowing that a time-honored ritual has, once more, been performed correctly.
What’s the alternative? The politically correct exercise intimated by one critic — a solemn evening whose winners would be chosen by a statistically balanced academy that’s less white, male and old? Is that really what Oscar viewers are craving — an academy electorate whose members would vote not as individual film lovers and professional peers but as representatives of demographic blocs, as redressers of yet more ethnic, racial and gender grievances?
Another option: “cutting-edge,” “audacious” and “outrageous” celebrity roasts hosted by put-down artists whose metier is to puncture illusions, and anything-goes late-night sketch comics. The women of “Bridesmaids,” for instance, were hysterical on film when making jokes about male private parts. But plying the same humor in the context of Hollywood’s most formal event? They hit cringe-worthy levels of tacky. It was like watching someone at a state dinner eat spaghetti with his fingers.
The media-savvy hipster elite were bored by this year’s Oscar telecast. Why? Because they worship iconoclasm, novelty and boundary-pushing above all else.
Oscar viewers, it seems, do not.