Stewart gets mixed reviews: What the hell were they expecting?
So that's why I'm perplexed at the mixed reviews Jon Stewart is getting for his hosting gig. While Robert Bianco of USA Today seemed to like his performance, others weren't so kind. Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times, for instance, said he looked "a little nervous", while Cintra Wilson in Salon rhetorically asked, "How.. HOW did Jon Stewart suck so hard?", using words like "tanking", "manic-depressive", and "glum" in her disjointed assesment of his performance. Tom Shales of the Washington Post, who always seems to write about TV as if his job is a chore, said that Stewart "began the show drearily, loping through a monologue that lacked a single hilarious joke," and that even Dave Letterman's much-criticized hosting stint in 1995 was better. Even the AP got into the act, saying Stewart was "too deferential, too nice and too obvious in his targets."
I don't get it; I just don't understand what people expect form an Oscar host from year to year. What was Jon supposed to do when he came out there? Sit behind a desk and do a replica of The Daily Show? That's what I think some critics, especially Wilson, who seems to be a big fan of Stewart's, expected out of him. They expected him to take pot shots at the Bush administration or make fun of Bill O'Reilly and CNN, like he does on Comedy Central every night.
But these critics forget one salient fact: this isn't a fake news show, this is THE OSCARS, a show about entertainment and the movies. It's not about politics or the media or race relations (to address the critics of Chris Rock). There's only so much a host can do in that venue, especially a host that's known for his edginess: if they make safe, funny entertainment-related jokes, they're perceived as "tanking" (Stewart, Rock), but if they make edgy jokes that don't land with the crowd in the theater, they're also perceived as "tanking" (Letterman). It's a no-win situation.
Overall, I think Stewart did a fine job. He ad-libbed well, and used his signature brand of self-deprecation to good effect, especially when deferring to the bright stars that were in his presence. The monologue, while not particluarly ground-breaking, had a lot of jokes that seemed to land more with viewers than with the audience in the theater, which, frankly, is what a host should try to do (Hollywood types seem to be a bit on the jaded side, from what I can see). Like I said earlier, there was nothing -- nothing! -- Stewart could have done to keep things moving along; for years, critics have been telling producers to pick up the pace by cuting the montages and the technical categories, but the producers seem to be ignoring them.
I'm starting to get the feeling that the perfect host for the Oscar broadcast is someone like Jay Leno, who is inoffensive, middle-of-the-road, and safe. He can make a couple of lame jokes and no one's going to slam him for not going for the jugular. Any other comedian, even if his or her act is even slightly edgy, is just asking for a critical drubbing the minute he or she accepts the gig.
[Photo: Gary Hershorn/Reuters]