Oscars TV Review: Oscarcast Proves Risky Business For Neil Patrick Harris, “Sentimental Hogwash” For Celeb Causes

All those months playing German wannabe rockstar Hedwig on Broadway paid off big time for Neil Patrick Harris, who scooted during the 87th Oscars ceremony from his dressing room to the stage of the Dolby Theatre wearing nothing but his tighty-whities. The bit paid tribute to a similar scene in the night’s big winner, Birdman, with a nod to Tom Cruise’s dancing number in Risky Business. How many actors other than Jennifer Lopez have been as unembarrassedly revealing on the global telecast?

87th Annual Academy Awards - ShowIn a long evening (3 hours, 38 minutes) that featured NPH in more tuxedo changes than I could keep count of, it was one of two high points for the freshman host, the other coming in the show’s opening lines: “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest,” he said, quickly amending, “I mean brightest.” Quite possibly he lost the house right then and there; no subject has been more front-and-center this Oscar season than the issue of Hollywood and race. Or perhaps it was the reference to the “Dependent Spirit awards,” or the dead air that filled the house with a joke about the box office success of nominee American Sniper at Oprah Winfrey’s expense, for which she looked none-too-pleased.

Whether it was the barbed lines or three-plus hours of material that just grew flatter by the minute, Harris was a different figure from the fearless, amiable and funny emcee of multiple Tony Awards and other shows. If he seemed stiff and uncharacteristically uncomfortable in the new role, well at least he looked great, whether in Dolce & Gabbana or Haines. Maybe his nervousness was due to the global audience; no-one watches the Tonys.

Lady Gaga OscarsProduced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, generally expert at these things, the show looked gorgeous but the broadcast sound was terrible, especially for Harris and other presenters, battling an echo and other distancing noise throughout. And the endless round of musical numbers, each goopier than the last, made me wonder if I hadn’t taken a dip in the Hot Tub Time Machine back to some earlier era of TV variety shows. An overblown number from The Lego Movie ranked only just a bit below the 1989 ceremony’s still-unequaled Rob Lowe/Snow White serenade. Lady Gaga — whose song choice was a mystery withheld like odd bait throughout the red carpet preceding the event — sang an irony-free medly of songs from The Sound Of Music, in honor of that film’s 50th anniversary. Coming at least three hours past the bedtime of the number’s key demo, it set up a cameo by Julie Andrews (“I blinked and suddenly here we are”) — minus co-star Christopher Plummer, who has been known to refer unkindly to the film that launched his career as The Sound Of Mucus. I did love seeing the trumpet tattooed on Lady Gaga’s arm as she tooted Rodgers and Hammerstein. But where was Tony Bennett?

Given eight nominees that dealt with noble issues ranging from civil rights for African-Americans and British homosexuals to thus-far unconquerable diseases including Alzheimer’s and ALS, more than a few honorees made pleas for their causes. Some were, to quote Old Man Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life, “sentimental hogwash” (I won’t call out the prime offenders). But some simply spoke for themselves: Tim McGraw singing Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” And others struck an affecting balance between humility and partisanship. Best Foreign Film winner Pawel Pawlikowski, for Ida, struck a blow against the Musical Hook, admitting there was a disconnect between his quiet film, about contemplation, and being in Hollywood, “the center of noise and world attention.” He continued his acceptance speech — a laundry list, of which there were more than the usual number this year — so insistently that the orchestra finally gave up and shut up.

I was grateful, too, for the non-sentimental, non-hogwash moments provided by Partricia Arquette, who did a hairpin turn from her own laundry list to get fiery on the issue of equal pay for women (to rousing applause and high-fives); to CitizenFour director Laura Poitras, who said that the government incursion into the telephone conversations and Internet communications of private citizens “don’t only pose a threat to our privacy, but to our democracy.” To Graham Moore, winner for the screenplay for The Imitation Game, who recalled attempting suicide when he was 16, and exhorted those like him to “stay weird, stay different,” confident that they will eventually find their place — something of course that never happened for Alan Turing, except perhaps by way of a posthumous pardon.

87th Annual Academy Awards - ShowAnd most memorably to best song winners John Legend and Common, who sang the soaring “Glory” from Selma as the cameras focused on David Oyelowo, the film’s un-nominated Martin Luther King Jr., shedding tears. Accepting the award with moving humanity, Common referred to the Edmund Pettus Bridge that is the central site of violence in the film, and to battles for human dignity no less urgent today than in the 1960s: “This bridge was built on hope and welded with compassion.” Legend added that, “we live in the most incarcerated country in the world,” noting that there are “more black men in jail today than slaves in 1850.”

The final words came from Birdman multi-winner Alejandro González Iñárittu, who saluted his fellow Mexicans struggling to create a corruption-free government, and to Mexican immigrants struggling to live legally in the U.S. Harris then signed off, saying “Buenos noches, everyone.”

    1. I was reading blogs and TV bingeing. None of the movies interested me this year. REally, there was nothing exciting or interesting. And from reading messages and twitters, this show was a massive fail, I didn’t miss anything :)

    2. The problem for Harris and his writers were the movies that were nominated. In the past the host could riff on the subject matter of the films being honored, but how do you do jokes about the civil rights movement, or a sniper who shoots people, or a guy in a wheelchair with a crippling disease? The. Movies were somber this year, which leads to a serious evening.

  1. I enjoyed the show overall–except for NPH. Harris was off his mark tonight. He can sing. he can dance. But he can’t do jokes. I swear that every single bit failed–except for the Birdman/underwear routine (though wasn’t Miles Teller on drums during the Spirit Awards homage?). I enjoyed all the speeches and was duly impressed by Lady Gaga (never thought I’d say that). There was no need for Jennifer Hudson to sing AFTER the In Memoriam segment–they could have cut that. I’ve seen a lot worse over the years, but Harris should not be brought back.

    1. I’m thinking the ratings, and not the opinion of David O, will inform the decision whether or not to ask him back.

  2. Couldn’t disagree with this more. NPH was charming, personable, and funny as hell throughout. There’s nothing that untalented people love more than trying to nitpick and tear down those who have actual talent.

  3. Greg Berlanti did a TERRIBLE job with the script as well as Dave Boone. Nell and Craig have no taste. It’s a perfect storm of terrible. Both Craig and Neil are vile at how they conduct their work.

  4. Enough with the snark. It’s the Oscars, every year it’s the same BS with literally everyone on the planet finding something to be offended or let down by. So what? NPH was definitely serviceable, if ultimately forgettable. And yes, artists have causes, which get extremely tired year after year. Why are you acting like any of this is news? At least the LEGO number had a damn heartbeat…

  5. This review is spot-on. Opening musical number was feisty and fun, but then NPH fell cringeworthy flat. Without any snark, I was actually in shock at how poorly he ad-libbed or how bad the writing was. He also failed to follow Carson’s mantra: Give it your best 10 minutes upfront and then fade into the background. He seemed to be trying a new bad wordplay one-liner for every new presenter or segment — and most didn’t work. I did like the final reveal of the predictions box though. But the random Octavia Spencer run-up could have been stronger. P.S. Can Sean Penn not hand out any more awards please? :)

  6. Horrible article! Oprah had a bad attitude during the whole show, but was smiling at the after party. Never downplay anyone’s right for justice. Let’s say YES to women’s rights! NPH was great! Selma should have won movie of the year!

  7. I loved John Legend / Commons performance and acceptance speech. It was heartfelt and filled with compassion and honesty. I think David Oleyowo of Selma was snubbed big time. He played Dr. King with perfection!

  8. The problem — as has been the last three years — is the producers and their ridiculous insistence that the world love movie musicals as much as they do.

    I don’t blame NPH. The writing and pacing of the Oscars don’t serve any hosts well. Hope, Carson and early Crystal were lucky because they weren’t trying to make the show an event because it already was one and that’s what they were allowed to service — not the egos of the producers.

  9. Heaven forbid Mr. Gerard, you would think that the movies could do something better than the theatre! I thought Harris was great. He’s a definite keeper. I didn’t see any nervousness at all! I thought he was relaxed, charming and kept the proceedings moving. He perhaps could have been given a few funnier lines at times, but he did have a zinger about the John Travolta/Idina Menzel incident last year. Why is a theatre critic reviewing the Oscar broadcast anyway? Shouldn’t Pete Hammond be doing this?

  10. I found myself nodding to every critique in this article. I never understood the hype surrounding NPH (now I feel justified). And the Jennifer Hudson segment was blah and totally unnecessary.

  11. I’m not sure why people are always surprised when the Oscars are a snoozfest. The Oscars have always been concerned with controversy, they never want to push the edge, or offend the easily offended. As a result you get a boring 3 hour event of people thanking the Academy

  12. I found it strange that Common said “This bridge was built on hope and welded with compassion” because Edmund Pettus was the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama; it was actually the bravery of the marchers who crossed the Pettus bridge who transformed a bridge built on prejudice and exclusion into hope and courage and compassion

  13. Please dont bring back NPH. He was awful. And the underwear piece was stupid. Boring. I turned it off.

    1. Agreed. Leave it to a wealthy representative of the dominate class to pick a cause that specifically affects her kind and get the biggest applause for it. Everyone wants in on the victimization cause, even the rich.

  14. NPH is a treasure. The Oscars job simply exceeded his grasp. The musical opening was his high point. Yes, the writers let him down, but not being a comedian or capable of improvisation, he seemed one step behind throughout the night. Perhaps if the end jokes from his ‘prediction’ list, had been fed to him through his ear during the show, would have made him seem more in sync. But the truth is: a comedians brain is always working, and stand ups are used to pressure. Very hard for any actor to compete with that particular set of gifts.

  15. NPH was discusting…in his underwear? Really? Why do people have to use this event to air their political grievances?

  16. Been a big fan of the movie awards but the tastless act of. Mr Harris has brought the spector and glitter of the awards to the worst level I have ever seen. The producers should be ashamed of them selves. D W. K

  17. It is fun to watch the Hollywood snobs who eschew commercial success fail with another rating decline and pitiful award ceremony.
    Like most, I didn’t go to the movies much this year, because it was too leftist and self centered. TV is already matching Hollywoods level of quality and finally these pretentious fools are on their way out

    1. The beginning was excellent and well paced. But NPH went into free fall; unfunny remarks; cringeworthy; the predictions and the box and poor Octavia and poor Oprah; joke about Witherspoon?? This host was boring and dull. It may be the Oscar curse!

    1. I agree 100 per cent. 100 countries viewed this ridiculous jock is short skit totly distasteful and offensive to all in the audience how cann anyone follow Ellen’s performance? Impossible huh?

  18. Neil Patrick H is massively talented but is not a stand up , Zadan & MERON are tacky, dusty, derivative re-hashers with absolute NO SENSE OF HUMOR/TASTE/ORIGINALITY …perhaps this will be their last year botching up the beautiful elegant work that Bill Condon did when he produced the Oscars. Alas they only do this “thankless job” so they can gain entrance to the Vanity Fair Party.

    The opening number was magic and this was the best set in years.
    Direction left much to be desired. And interesting how once again
    Zadan & Meron paid homage to themselves again with a tribute to Sound of Music so as to remind the audience of their last piece of
    successful TV work.

    Hey Dawn and Cheryl, start looking for new interesting producers
    for next year!

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