The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has found the next host of the Academy Awards, once again dipping into the pool of familiar names that have already hosted the show and returning Ellen DeGeneres to the Oscar stage for her second go-round.
A good, but not great host in 2007 – who followed three years of Chris Rock and Jon Stewart, respectively – DeGeneres once again finds herself following what could be considered a more edgy comic, replacing Family Guy creator and Ted auteur Seth MacFarlane as host. The question is: does that make Ellen the safe choice, and if she is, is that a bad thing?
Year after year, the Academy has struggled to find the kind of consistency that the legendary awards show has experienced throughout its history, thanks to the likes of Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal. They’ve come close a few times (to my mind, Whoopi Goldberg is one of the more underrated hosts in Oscar history and both Stewart and Martin had their merits), but they’ve also reached back into the past one too many times (a stale Billy Crystal in 2012 after Eddie Murphy decamped), and simply reached too far out a few times (James Franco and Anne Hathaway, Letterman).
With MacFarlane, it seemed like the Academy was going in a fresher direction, or at least aiming to capture some of the “Will he go there?” buzz that the Golden Globes had with the Ricky Gervais roller coaster ride (He’s brilliant! He’s bland! He loves them! He hates them!). MacFarlane was ultimately a middle ground host, mixing song, dance, and a smidgen of sexism with some bland monologue jokes and an overlong visit from William Shatner.
So, what will DeGeneres bring into the mix this time around? For one thing, a sense of lightness and ease. Sure, she’s got a razor sharp comic mind, but she’s not going to cut anyone too deeply, preferring jabs over haymakers. She’s got more broad appeal than MacFarlane – but is her name on the top of the poster really going to help win buzz and ratings? Kinda… maybe?
A good show and the promise of a good show has some value, and with Ellen, that’s what you get: a good show. Maybe not memorable, certainly not daring, but good and safe. The Academy could have thought outside the box and chased after buzz again – Jimmy Kimmel would have been a valiant stab at that, even if it meant taking his highly entertaining post-show edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live out of the game – but they chose not to for whatever reason.
They could have, once again, tried to recruit a Hollywood luminary like Tom Hanks, but… actually, that would probably be brilliant and a nod to a time when someone like Jack Lemmon, with an easy sense of humor, ample charm, and mountains of goodwill hosted four times. But the Academy didn’t go there, either.
With the choice of Ellen, the Academy deemed all risks not worth taking, putting all their hope in her ability to transcend expectations and give them something to build on for the future, in a way that the last five years haven’t been able to do, and that’s understandable. After all, when you’re reaching in the dark, you try to hold onto something sturdy that won’t let you down.
But then again: In an era where a host like Neil Patrick Harris is opening stage play award shows like THIS, is Ellen going to be able to give the biggest night in Hollywood its proper due?
The 86th Annual Academy Awards will air on Sunday March 2nd, 2014 on ABC.