Friday, August 2, 2013

Ellen DeGeneres is Hosting the Oscars, but is She Capable of Being Great?

Ellen DeGeneres
Attention everyone, we have found our next Oscar host. Let us welcome back to the stage... Ellen DeGeneres.

My initial reaction to this news was a groan. While I don't have vitriol towards her, I do not tend to like her style. I don't watch Ellen and she was the weakest part of Finding Nemo. What are we going to do with someone whose body of work seems overly reliant on making you find cute optimism in everything and getting light laughs? It is my fault that I don't remember too well how she performed at the previous ceremony, though that's largely because I can't tell you too many highlights of any year. It is an AWARDS show, not a performance piece. If there is laughter, there's a good chance it was happenstance. However, as I began to groan at the thought of DeGeneres' return, I remembered how I felt last year with Seth MacFarlane.

I am not someone who nitpicks the performance side of the Academy Awards. As I stated, we are at a show that hands out awards. It is an infallible formula, and a rather rude one, for a host to be the show's ultimate highlight. I am all for witty banter by those involved, but in the long run, there are those that do their job well, and those that are unfortunate victims to the demands pressed against them. People are still annoyed that James Franco and Anne Hathaway "ruined" the ceremony by trying to be hip (though the irony of attracting a young demographic should more be seen as irony when The King's Speech won). There is no good way to do things, which is why I give the hosts the benefit of the doubt.

As most of the readers should know, I dislike most of what MacFarlane did outside of the show. I am not a Family Guy fan, but I admitted that it was a bold approach to hire a song and dance man with a penchant for songs like "We Saw Your Boobs." It was wild, to some offensive, and probably the liveliest and most successful the show had been in years. While the eventual structure itself was a shoddy dedication to musicals, it did end up having plenty of memorable moments, save for the lack of killer speeches. I consider MacFarlane's turn as host a success. He may not be my style of humor and some jokes were too lowbrow, but he did have an inspired opening monologue that if not memorable, could be considered ambitious and different from the year before's Billy Crystal.

With that said, I tried to piece together a realistic vision of DeGeneres. Not remembering any of the bits, I consulted numerous lists to decipher whether she was a great or a bad host. According to Ranker, she is the #9 Best Host. She ranks higher on's list at #5 with the comment: 
"Between her snazzy suits and her ease in interacting with the star-studded audience, Ellen made hosting look like a breeze."
Then there was the other side from admittedly more legitimate websites. The kindest was Moviefone,  who in ranking the then 59 hosts, placed her at #55 with the comment:
"DeGeneres had shone as the host of other awards shows (particularly the 2001 Emmys, postponed twice after 9/11). But she was out of her depth here. "Since the Oscars have decided to go green," she said, "I've been told to recycle some of my old jokes." She seemed to have taken that literally, as her performance was a pale, lackluster retread of her previous awards gigs."
The most scathing came from, who listed the best and worst hosts. Placing her among the five under Worst, the reason was:
"It pains me a little to include my fave funny lady in this list, but her “I’m goofy! Watch me dance!” shtick simply didn’t work at the Oscars. Her audience interactions were awkward (here I’m recalling a bewildered-looking Clint Eastwood and Marty Scorsese) but mostly I think DeGeneres was just too nicey-nice and too close of friends with folks in the audience to deliver the wry wit needed to keep the show mildly edgy. Best to stick with daytime, toots."
There were other posts that I explored detailing the best and worst, but she appeared on neither, possibly proving that she was adequate. But what does all of this say about how I think DeGeneres will do? Upon revisiting videos from the broadcast, I find myself among the more positive side. While she does seem a little too clean and nice, I feel like there's an element there that may unfortunately make her the young, hip Billy Crystal. She knows how to work the crowd without stepping on toes. She even interacts with the audience quite effectively. Let us look at the referenced bit between her and Eastwood:

Say what you will about the bit being a little self-gratifying, but this single moment captures what the Oscars have been trying to do. They have been trying to make the show hip. While it is all reliant on their nominees, which usually skew to an older crowd, I feel like DeGeneres is at very least comfortable setting people up for bits in ways that may be a little distracting from the ceremony, but add this vibe that it isn't just a person on a stage introducing people. In fact, to make things even more "hip," notice how she makes icons Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood almost down to earth despite referencing dated social media like MySpace. 

In a sense, it is hard to not consider this as a milestone in trying to appeal to a younger crowd. True, people like Hugh Jackman or Steve Martin may be more versatile, but DeGeneres' ability to work a crowd seems to make an insult of the Franco/Hathaway debacle. She did what they did, but more effectively and with more ease. In fact, this is what made Billy Crystal so lovable in his run and made his appearance at the 2010 ceremony a moment of standing room applause. However, as most people will gripe, he did feel dated and the jokes, not so fresh. While I attest that it was very much an expected Crystal performance, it did reflect that there was a need of new blood. I get the choice for MacFarlane, but in ways, DeGeneres is more appropriate.

Think about it. Both Crystal and her share this sense of audience and playing to them. It could all be for naught, but she is probably going to take Crystal's throne for go-to host if this upcoming ceremony goes according to plan. Not being too familiar with most of DeGeneres' career outside of the Oscar videos I watched, I am at least hoping that she has gotten better and is even better at working a crowd. Even if she doesn't produce anything as profoundly bizarre as the Sound of Music gag from last year, she will not leave a bad impression either, save for those few critics who I referenced.

Am I excited for DeGeneres' return? After doing some research, I am a little bit. Right now, I am more on the intrigued side of things. While there is still the normal complaints about who is writing the show and they may result in lame material, I feel that a host who can appeal to the widest audience does better than niche hosts such as MacFarlane, who even trying to appeal to the room results in some backlash. It just isn't in their bones to be funny without being edgy. Chris Rock infamously annoyed Sean Penn and David Letterman created a lifelong feud with Oprah Winfrey. It is a tough balance, but if the video above is any expectations, I feel like we may be looking at one great show.

How do you think Ellen DeGeneres will do?

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