Before Will Smith slapping Chris Rock defined the 94th Academy Awards ceremony, "the night was a repeated demonstration of underwhelming, misfire comedy" from the hosting trio of Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "It’d be completely reasonable to look at this ceremony as a whole and declare that it would have been better without any jokes at all," says VanArendonk. "But the opposite response is just as true: There needed to be many more jokes. Not everywhere, and not in every segment — at their best, awards ceremonies are about sincere emotion and heartfelt goodwill for remarkable artistic achievements. Puncturing or eliminating that would be tantamount to undermining the whole shebang. Still, the 2022 ceremony proved that an absence of jokes can be just as bad, and can do just as much to undermine the sincere celebration of well-deserved wins. Rock’s joke and Smith’s uncontrolled response to it were the worst things about the Oscars. The second-worst thing was that no one had the courage, the decision-making power, or the presence of mind to make the follow-up jokes that might have put things back on track." VanArendonk adds that in the aftermath of Smith slapping Rock, "everyone had just seen an upsetting, confusing, totally unexpected thing happen. The next moments were aching for someone to open a release valve, and absent the immediate arrival of a trained conflict mediator, it could only happen through jokes. They didn’t need to be thoughtful responses or offer some witty way to twist what had just happened into a source of humor. They just needed to be an opportunity for everyone to get on the same page about the fact that, yes, something utterly unpredictable and unnerving had taken place."
The Oscar ceremony was weird and chaotic -- and fun to watch: "What’s a prestigious awards show to do when it seems as though no one cares about its existence anymore?" says Michael Blackmon. "Well, I don’t really have an answer for that, but I’ll tell you what last night’s show did well. It leaned into absurdity, which seemed to work in its favor — for the most part." He adds: "For every amazing speech, like Jessica Chastain’s poignant moment while accepting her much-deserved win for Best Actress to talk about how suicide disproportionately affects LGBTQ youth, there was a strange moment that made you question what the hell you were watching, like the peculiar “In Memoriam” segment, which featured a dance break. The Oscars are clearly still figuring out what it should be at this moment in history, but the 94th showing was its most memorable since maybe the Moonlight Best Picture snafu. It was simultaneously offbeat and familiar while still being engrossing. he Oscars may be confused about how to make itself relevant again, but it was really fun watching the show try to figure it out."
Even the best moments of the Oscars came across as too calculated: Beyoncé opened the show in typical Beyoncé fashion. "But because Beyoncé wasn’t actually onstage inside the Dolby Theatre, the segment felt divorced from the Oscars," says Jen Chaney. "Unlike the rendition of 'We Don’t Talk About Bruno' that came later in the night, 'Be Alive' didn’t amp up the excitement or engage the VIPs in the auditorium. The energy was unfolding somewhere else." Chaney adds: "As much as Oscar organizers say they want to embrace live television and create an event that’s exciting and spontaneous, that’s not actually what they want. They want to stage an event that seems spontaneous but is as carefully choreographed as a Beyoncé performance or Godfather clip package. Chaos is fine, as long as it’s planned, controllable chaos. When unanticipated events transpired on Sunday night, the illusion fell apart."
The Oscars tried to please everybody but ended up pleasing nobody: "I would really like to meet the TV viewer who wasn’t planning to watch Sunday’s Oscars telecast on ABC but changed their mind when they learned skateboarder Tony Hawk, surfer Kelly Slater and snowboarder Shaun White would be presenting a montage about James Bond. ABC executives and the show’s producers seem to think this person exists," says Marina Fang, adding: "By engineering bits for some notional 'average viewer' who may or may not actually watch the ceremony, as opposed to trying to keep those who really are likely to tune in, the Oscars producers seemed to forget something fundamental about the ceremony and live television: People want to watch human moments. They don’t want soulless gimmicks and stunts."
How to fix the Oscars: Have only one host, let the Oscars be long and cut the best song performances: "I am not an Amy Schumer fan by nature, but the best hosting moments of the night came when she was alone on stage cracking jokes," says Olivia Craighead. "That is what a host’s job should be. I do not need to see her dangling from the ceiling dressed as Spider-Man; I need to see her making a good joke every 45 minutes or so, ushering the show along at a smooth pace." As for the song performances, "they take up time and it’s rare that anyone has heard the song before. The songs are rarely ever in the movie anyway; they’re credits songs that are reverse engineered to be Oscar contenders. Get ‘em out."
Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli's tender moment should be what the 94th Oscars are remembered for: "It was an utterly tender moment, sans fanfare, drowned out by the sensationalism of the Oscar Slap discourse that had already overtaken the evening," says Alison Lanier, adding: "But Gaga and Minnelli’s moment is the one that stuck with me. It felt private and sincere, versus the chivalric showmanship that dominated the rest of the Oscar coverage. Gaga’s simple, direct moment of support was not only wholesome; it felt like a real moment of care and tenderness in the face of the huge artifice that is the Oscars. Amid so many other moments of surface-level care, like that limp moment of silence for Ukraine followed immediately by a Crypto.com donation link/advertisement, Gaga’s moment felt worthwhile and uncalculated."
ABC alternative programming boss Robert Mills was glad to see the Oscars have hosts for the first time in four years: "I thought they were fantastic," Mills says of Schumer, Hall and Sykes. "Having no host for the last three years is not something we set out to do. A lot of people now think hosting the Oscars is just not worth it because two minutes in, you will get lambasted on social media. You can’t please everybody, and sometimes it’s impossible to please anybody. I thought all three of them, they delivered what a classic Oscars host should which is, it was really fun. They took some jabs but nothing that was too egregious, that were really upset people. What was great is that they all had different things to bring and they complemented each other. It was really the case of the sum being greater than the parts. I think each of them could’ve hosted the show individually, but together they were great, they could play off each other, they knew that, and I just can’t say enough how great it was to have a host again."
Oscars production designer David Korins explains his "Hollywood Portal" set: "The last couple years have been horribly challenging. I know this palpably because I work in live events," he says. "We got decimated—the entire Broadway community. And I have two kids in school, they were at home. There’s a version of the last two years that’s devastating–incomprehensible. Yet there’s also a version of the last two years that is incredibly hopeful, in which we’ve collected a bunch of silver linings. I never would have spent as much time with my children as I got to. A lot of people I know did a lot of really substantive work on themselves. So to me, this portal is one that is a transitional moment. it’s responding to this visceral inflection point. I’m showing a version that is hopeful. Yes, we are in a transition. But we are showing 5000 linear feeds of LED technology literally imbedded into every single piece of technology, so we can change the color of EVERYTHING. But every single thing glows from the inside. It’s buoyant and alive and sizzling with light emitting technology. And a lot of Swarovski crystals!"