Even before Will Smith’s grandstanding slap boomeranged to earn Smith more jeers than cheers, the 2022 Oscar telecast was destined to be remembered as the worst, in not only Oscar, but in award ceremony history.
What a travesty! What a disgrace! An industry devoted to an art form and capable of soaring entertainment potential, displays no standards at all as ABC mounts a juvenile, sophomoric, classless, misjudged, witless, inept mélange of poor writing, idiotic skits – Regina Hall frisking two presenters? – and a disservice to Hollywood and the movies.
Despicable as he is, Will Smith is not the worst villain of Sunday’s hot mess. A different Will, program producer Will Packer is for presiding over and greenlighting such a tasteless, unsavory affair.
Failures in Packer’s production are so numerous, his team’s choices so estranged from the glamor, style, and class Hollywood once represented, my head is still shaking in disbelief from the gaffes, goofs, and gaucheness I saw unfold.
Thank goodness some stars, who deserve that glittery accolade, salvaged a random moment or two. Stars such as Youn Yuh-jung, last year’s Best Supporting Actress for “Minari,” looking so lovingly and respectfully at CODA’s Troy Katsur as he accepted this year’s award for Best Supporting Actor; such as Lady Gaga graciously assisting a confused Liza Minnelli and showing her respect Packer and company couldn’t muster; such as Kenneth Branagh’s speech as Best Writer for “Belfast;” such as Reba McEntire and Billie Eilish as they sung nominated songs, Eilish providing a second high note as she and her brother, Finneas, accepted the award for Best Song.
In general, the show looked as if it was assembled by amateurs attempting to prove competitive mettle. It strove for surprise and modernity when all it achieved was false alarms and 21st century nonsense that can’t stand up to the days when accomplished stars like Greer Garson or Gregory Peck came on stage looking regal, reflecting Hollywood elegance and Oscar artistry.
Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, and Regina Hall were the Moe, Larry, and Curly of hosts, consistently crass and lacking in humor. Why, when Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Jackman, and Jimmy Kimmel have shown their ability to move and leaven award ceremonies were they overlooked in favor of this sad trio? Any of them could even sing an opening number.
One of my biggest “whys” is how Uma Thurman, John Travolta, and Samuel L. Jackson were selected to present the Best Actor award in Frances McDormand’s absence when none of them has earned an Oscar, and historic Oscar recipient Halle Berry is in the room, as are Judi Dench, Rita Moreno, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro. Nicole Kidman, J.K. Simmons, Liv Ullmann, and Olivia Colman, any of whom could have been called into service. (Ullmann also has no Oscar, but she’s Liv Ullmann!)
Someone told me the point was to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Pulp Fiction,” for which Thurman, Travolta, and Jackson were all nominated, but in another example of Packer and crew’s ineptitude that anniversary doesn’t take place until 2024.
By all means, let the “Pulp Fiction” co-stars present, but assign them to Best Animated Film to free Berry for Best Actor duties.
And how about the three abominable dance instances? If Beyoncé is to appear to do the song she wrote for “King Richard,” let her do it live on stage instead of in some taped atrocity with a cadre of synchronized robots – well, that’s what they looked like – marching in step behind her.
If while appropriately borrowing from “Encanto” and including dancers with Sebastián Yatra’s charming rendition of “Dos Oruguitas” (Two Caterpillars), why not choose a couple that can dance, choreograph them to advantage, and keep them and Yatra in focus simultaneously? (Television directors are notorious for not knowing how to frame dance. This was one of the worst cases yet.)
Saving the most egregious dance horror for last, what could Packer and company have been thinking, assuming thought entered into their decision, when they sabotaged the Memoriam segment with upbeat music and choreography?
Don’t tell me. Celebration of life?
Desecration of honor and respect are more like it.
And where were Ed Asner and Bob Saget among others?
Now to the slap.
I have to admit I found Chris Rock’s routine refreshing. It was irreverent in a way that reminded of Oscar humor from a bygone day. It poked gentle, not pointed or personal fun at celebrities who, one would think, could take it.
If you saw the shot right after Rock quipped about Jada Pinkett Smith starring in “G.I Jane 2,” a reference to her short hair, and delivered quick enough that no one was thinking or worrying about alopecia, Will Smith was laughing.
Jada Smith was not. She shot Will a glare that I think catapulted him into action.
It was action he should have had the maturity and restraint to subdue. He could settle with Jada at home and Rock after the show. With words, not fists or showing off.
Frankly, I don’t think Smith acted impulsively. I think he weighed his move and went in for the publicity with the idea he was defending his family the way Richard Williams defended his in “King Richard.” He figured he was exhibiting manliness with touches of chivalry and drama.
I think Smith expected praise, as if he was Gary Cooper slugging a galoot who insulted a lady in a ‘50s Western.
No, he was just a jerk whose behavior is inexcusable, especially because one of the better traits of the 21st century, a proscription about assaulting people.
Smith attempted to defend his chosen rashness is his acceptance speech for Best Actor, a rambling, tedious diatribe I muted in the middle.
It didn’t fly. He was not a knight in shining armor. He was fortune’s fool.
He ruined his own triumphant night by overshadowing the culmination of an obvious long-term ambition, receiving an Oscar, by being consecutively a boor and a bore.
Smith has resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Good riddance. Don’t let the door hit, and all that.
Many think Smith should have been escorted out of the ceremony and left to hear about his Oscar in the parking lot.
I am told he was asked to leave and refused. I would agree with the decision to let him stay rather than invite him to stage another puerile scene. I am told discipline is to come despite Smith’s resignation.
Who cares? Too late.
Instead of elegance and glamor, Hollywood wrapped its most important annual night in stupidity and fisticuffs.
Next year, Academy and ABC, how about Jimmy Kimmel, tradition, and decorum? Instead of not inviting Rachel Zegler, keep Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall, and Will and Jada Smith at home.
Didinger’s ‘Tommy and Me’ sticks around
When the stage was struck after the last performance of “Tommy and Me” in 2016, playwright Ray Didinger, also a character in the show, thought with pride of how well his piece was received, was satisfied with both the critical and audience response, and figured the end of that run would be the last time his play would be seen.
Don’t be so hasty, Ray.
Since that first go-round, “Tommy and Me” has been produced somewhere in the Delaware Valley in every year except 2020 because of the pandemic. Its next engagement starts Friday and runs for two weekends at New Hope’s Bucks County Playhouse.
“I never expected anything beyond that first run,” Didinger, one of the top football analysts in the nation, heard frequently on WIP (94.1 FM), said by telephone. “I never imagined ‘Tommy and Me’ would have this kind of longevity or stability.
“I was grateful when Theatre Exile first did it that it would play for two weeks, and Tommy (Eagles Hall of Famer and star of the 1960 championship team Tommy McDonald) got to see it. The experience was great, and if was going to be all, that was fine with me.
“Crowds loved it, and it was decided it would be done again the next year. We’ve had productions in Media and Wilmington, and now we’re going to New Hope.”
Didinger says he’s made a few edits over the years but added only one full scene, a conversation between Tommy and his brother when Tommy gets word he is to be inducted to the NFL Hall of Fame.
“That call was quite emotional. Tommy talked about choking up during it. As I thought about it, I thought it needed to be in the show. Tommy’s character is presented as being zany and happy-go-lucky. It seemed right to have a scene in which he calmed down a little and showed how moved he was by getting elected to the Hall.”
Despite the years, Theatre Exile’s Joe Canuso continues to direct, Tom Teti plays the retired Tommy McDonald, and Matt Pfeiffer plays Ray Didinger.
“Simon Kiley, who played Young Ray grew too big for the part, so that part is being done by Ben Snyder. Young Tom has been played by Frank Nardi, Jr. the last few productions. ‘Tommy and Me’ was for Tommy. His family has come to every production. Since Tommy passed, the play has become important to them as a memory. For me, the show has become more solemn. Joe and I talked about how the show feels more profound now that Tommy’s gone.”
“Tommy and Me” begins with a young Ray Didinger meeting Tommy McDonald at Eagles training camp and being treated as if he’s as important a star player. Later, Didinger, a respected reporter, leads the campaign to elect McDonald to the Hall of Fame.
“One of the reasons I think the play resonates, even with people who have never seen an Eagles game, is because it is not only about a player being inducted in the Hall but about a relationship, first with a young boy and his hero and then, between two adults who work together to reach a goal.”
After New Hope, “Tommy and Me” will be given a production in Hershey.
“Going to Hershey is so rewarding. It’s where the fateful first meeting between Tommy and me took place. And how’s this for irony? The theater, an arts center that usually plays Broadway shows like ‘Wicked’ and ‘Chicago,’ is located on the sight of the dorms where the players stayed when the Eagles trained in Hershey. The play goes home to its roots, to the exact spot where Tommy McDonald and I have our first encounter.”
Didinger will conduct talkback’s after each Bucks County Playhouse show with a new guest each performance, including Dom Giordano, Harold Carmichael, Lou Tilley, Valerie Knight, Glen Macnow, Rob Charry, and Joe Conklin.
Burns’ take on Ben Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was the first internationally famous American, known for his inventions, editorials, and satires. He is easily one of the most important figures of the 18th century.
In his usual thorough and straightforward fashion, Ken Burns chronicles Franklin’s life in a two-part documentary airing tonight and tomorrow on PBS (Channel 12).
Franklin’s greatness and accomplishments, including as a diplomat and lover, are made clear and put into perspective in that the man may not be perfect, but he involved in so much that is crucial, long-lasting, and new whether it’s harnessing electricity or creating a library, fire department, and university.
My three favorite Franklin biographers are part of Burns’s piece – Walter Isaacson, H.W. Brands, and Franklin himself via passages from his famous autobiography (my most recent copy of which was purchased at the Philadelphia Visitor’s Center at 6th and Market).
Neal Zoren’s television column appears every Monday.
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