As you may have heard, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock during the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night, after the erstwhile Fresh Prince took exception to a joke the comedian made about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, before he presented an award.
The incident drew massive media coverage, some truly insane hot takes, and, eventually, apologies from both men (Rock’s team has denied making any statement) the following day. It actually got people talking about the Oscars, and it was the first time in memory that something happened at the Oscars that both my children and my non-movie-person friends heard about, cared about, and had an opinion on.
The dynamic that was created when Smith slapped Rock, word spread about it, and it soon became clear that Smith was likely to win Best Actor and would be speaking 40 minutes later was like nothing ever seen before. I’m convinced that the rebound in ratings was in part driven by people hearing about the slap and tuning in.
The Slap Heard ‘Round the World also did something else: It completely overshadowed an Oscar telecast that was just an all-around abomination, one plagued by every imaginable wrong choice. But because of the Smith/Rock incident, no one is really talking or thinking about any of that.
A Mess of a Show
How were the Oscars screwed up? Let me count the ways. The pace was sluggish and lacking in flow. The decision to move eight of the presentations to before the show failed at its stated purpose of saving time, the show came in at over three and a half hours anyway. The “Oscar Fan Favorite” and “Cheer Moment” gambits blew up in the producers’ faces, as both were manipulated by Zack Snyder fanboys into wins. And don’t even get me started on the incongruously upbeat presentation of the death montage.
About 95 percent of the show’s attempts at comedy were pure death. The three hosts — Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, and Regina Hall — use wildly different styles of comedy, so naturally, all three were on screen at the same time, most of which they spent talking through punchlines. There were long, terrible bits, including a visit to the Academy Museum and a skit where Hall was asking handsome actors for COVID tests. All of this was a massive waste of time, which could have been better spent handing out those eight awards, or presenting honorary Oscar speeches from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson or Elaine May.
By the time Schumer did that bit about Kirsten Dunst being a seat filler, I was more upset that it arrived past the three-hour mark than the actual content of the bit itself.
About 95 percent of the show’s attempts at comedy were pure death
The good things about the show were mostly the awards themselves, and the speeches that followed. It was a truly fascinating development that CODA came out of nowhere to unearth longtime favorite The Power of the Dog, setting up a Netflix/Apple proxy battle that was surprisingly won by Apple. Troy Kotsur’s acceptance speech was amazing, as was Questlove’s for Best Documentary, even as it arrived about two minutes after “The Incident.”
So where can the Oscars go from here? That moment, sadly, is probably not replicable in future years, although I would honestly be surprised if the show doesn’t reunite Rock and Smith for some type of comedy bit on next year’s Oscars. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Rock ends up hosting the show in 2023.
Hopefully, the producers of the Oscars can learn the right lessons from what happened this year, but more likely they’ll see the ratings increase and bring back everything bad about this year’s show.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.