The Oscars: Boobs and Buffoons

The real boob here was the host, Seth MacFarlane. If “the hook” still existed from its vaudeville days, the first line or two of his “I saw your boobs” song (using the word extremely loosely) would have warranted putting it into play.

The Academy’s membership and its viewing demographic skew upward, into the mature and elderly.  They know they need to reach a younger, more diverse audience.  Instead they seemed to have decided that all they need is to reach teen age boys on testosterone binges, the kids who flock to gross out comedies, horror films and action movies.  MacFarlane gave that group lots to laugh at, but noting the aghast expressions, cut short by the show’s producers who must have realized the reaction shots were of appalled female stars who couldn’t believe their ears, Captain Kirk’s judgments were being born out as he tried to jokingly side step the disaster Kirk warned of.

How to fix it? Apart from banishing MacFarlane back to juvenline TV shows, the Academy should do 3 things:

1. Downplay the host role.  At best the canned humor and ad libs pale compared to solid stand up comedy.

2. Play up the movie role.  Give more time to the films celebrated. Show more clips, but in the spirit of the now ubiquitous but seemingly unknown to the Academy Bonus Material on DVDs.  Add commentary by participants, add interviews and voice-over, add “making of” coverage and behind the scenes moments.  Help viewers appreciate the magic that lies within all great or even really good films.

3. Banish “thank you” from the winners’ vocabulary.  How can anyone hunger to hear winner after winner thank people we have never heard of?  As one winner said this time, “I will be thanking the people who helped win this over the next two weeks,” as well all winners should.  Let winners Thank the Academy. Period.  Let them say a few words about what they did or how they did it, or what working on the film was like, or how it came about, or what was most challenging or rewarding.  Let them share with us something of what brought them to the stage in terms of what they did.  And then let them exit with dignity, not with fanfares of trite music as if they were uninvited party crashers.

These three changes along with banishing buffoonery from the show will make The Oscars the kind of “inside” celebration, which, once shared “outside” the industry in a live television broadcast will linger in our minds as something memorable and not because it’s  a disturbing demonstration of how many boobs it takes to mess up a potentially great show.

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House of Cards: aces high

Netflix is full of surprises.  First the pricing debacle last year when arrogance seemed to triumph over customer relations and now their first self-produced tv series, if I might use that anachronistic term in the age of digital convergence.  House of Cards is a quality production.  It works.  It captures and holds attention and the fact that the entire series is immediately available anytime for viewing is a huge plus for audiences no longer forced to wait a full week for the next episode of a popular show.

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright make the series.  They are omnipresent and their relationship as a married couple whose bond revolves around power and the manipulation of others just gets more and more fascinating. To wait for a moment of complete tenderness is to wait for hell  to turn to lemonade.  They genuinely respect and support each other in their nefarious dealings, they both clearly love power more than anything else and see romantic love, fidedity, monogamy, tenderness, and compassion as the Achilles heels of those they manipulate.

Spacey’s frequent asides to the viewer draw us into their warped view of life even further and the entire series treats government as a cauldron of deceit, betrayal and oneupsmanship.  Spacey is the master these dark skills, save for an amazing moment of melt-down on national tv in the middle of the series.  The chess board in the background of several scenes at the Underwood home is clearly there as metaphor for his ability to plan more moves ahead than anyone else.  We think we see where he’s going and he consistently surprises us by pulling another ace from the hole and gaining the leverage he seeks rather than the outright triumph he appears to want.

It’s a game of delayed gratification as he plots his moves to avenge a slight delivered by the President in the first episode: he seems poised to gloat at bringing someone low only to show us, over and over, that he could care less about gloating now that he has them by a sensitive genital appendage: they will do his bidding as a freshly recruited pawn in a game that unfolds with a deliciously pointed, powerful pace and yet extends hours after hour.  The script shimmers with callous, outrageous double-deaing. Honor, integrity, principle, values, service–the sacred cows of government service are but code words to deploy when necessary and mock whenever possible.  The series doesn’t present a pretty picture of politics, nor, to the extent it bears echoes of the world from which it stems–Hollywood or Neflix–of the entertainment industry. Not surprising, that, but House of Cards pushes its portrayal of the abuse of power with a relentless determination that remains rare.  I haven’t gotten to the end game yet so I’ll have to see if these comments call for revision but as of now, squarely in the thick of the series, it exudes a fascinating bleakness, a captivating, sordid appeal that seems to match perfectly the deeply disillusioned sense of a people tired of a government that postures more than it acts.