Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Airship Tom Shales

Tom Shales'' review of the Oscar broadcast is the Post’s move to prove that bloviating gasbags are not just for the Op Ed page. Only in Washington could such drivel appear (all too appropriately) under the heading “Style.” Some of us liked the Oscar show a lot, more than we remember liking all others, and laughed a lot. It seemed to me that for the first time in years it actually seemed to coalesce – mostly around the Daily Show approach. There was actual pointed TV comedy, well-produced skits and bits, and not just rim-shot one-liners.

It was a bit odd, seeing that Jon Stewart’s audience in the Kodak mostly didn’t seem to get the jokes. I’m sure Stewart was a bit discomfited by the very cold room – especially after the adoration he gets on the Daily set. Maybe the bits didn’t play very well on the Kodak’s jumbotrons, or maybe the Hollywood elite includes many narcissistic, clueless dolts, or maybe this crowd was fried from Multiple Awards Season Overload. Still, Jon seemed to carry on pretty well. I hoped then he realized that he was going over better at home than in the room.
But in Shales’ bizarro-world it was all a bomb:

“It's hard to believe that professional entertainers could have put together a show less entertaining than this year's Oscars, hosted with a smug humorlessness by comic Jon Stewart, a sad and pale shadow of great hosts gone by.
The movie "Munich" was represented in one category, musical score, by a clip in which suspense built over a bomb that didn't go off. The Oscar show on ABC, televised live from Los Angeles, was a bomb that did.”

And see, Shales even worked in a “bomb” joke to show us he’s got cred as an arbiter of what’s funny. (Hey, maybe Shales should write the show!) But it’s funny: I’ve seen, or at least tried to watch, a good many Oscar broadcasts and I don’t really remember any “great hosts gone by” who put Stewart in the shade.

I suspect that Shales (and some other reviewers) didn’t really laugh out loud because they weren’t cued to by a laugh track. Or maybe they were just looking for different things out of the show. Shales was put off by all the movie clips. I always assumed that most people watched to get a glimpse of films they mightn’t have seen, but apparently not. “The audience at home does not want to look at clips. It wants to look at big-time movie stars,” Shales thunders. Yeah, that’s why we all turn off after Joan Rivers.

And what did Shales approve of? He loved the parts of the show that the less-fossilized found (as Bart Simpson says) craptacular. He goes all mushy here: “Among the more beguiling acceptance speeches was that given by Reese Witherspoon, who won for playing country singer June Carter in "Walk the Line," the story of Johnny Cash. ‘I never thought I'd be up here in my whole life,’ she said with ingenuous charm. She also quoted June Carter's succinct philosophy of life: ‘I'm just trying to matter.’”

Now Reese Witherspoon is a fine little actress, who’s done some good work (notably in Election and especially Freeway) she also does a lot of fluff and her acceptance speech made her seem mighty close to the airhead she plays in the numerous Legally Blonde vehicles. Maybe airheads and gasbags have their own doglike frequency though, and I just didn’t hear the speech’s secret ‘ingenuousness’. To me its “aw shucks” pose seemed most disingenuous, coming as it did from a veteran actress of steely ambition. Also I wasn’t much charmed by Reese’s self-congratulatory note, telling us all at the end how she now “matters.” Very beguiling indeed.

It was a bit risky and snarky, but I have to agree with Stewart’s quip that Walk the Line was just “Ray with white people.” I imagine that Shales’ reaction to this was much like that of Joachim Phoenix, who looked like he swallowed a bug. Of course Ray was just Coal Miner’s Daughter in blackface, or maybe Sweet Dreams or one of those many other movies about singers that movie stars now do to be serious and try to win Oscars.

Tom Shales must be giving himself props too for pretending to believe this: “The liveliest moment of the night was contributed by the hip-hop ensemble Three 6 Mafia performing a nominated song, ‘It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp,’ from the film ‘Hustle & Flow.’” What a load. A crap “song” (bowdlerized for the network) a crap production number, a juvenile acceptance. But Shales is down wit’ it. Who woulda thunk?

Shales advises Jon Stewart not to quit his Daily Show job. (My god what a wit! He’s wasted here in Washington.) I advise Shales, time to move on. You’ve gotten so hidebound and tone-deaf that you’re not really qualified anymore.


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