Asking whether it was a long night at the Oscars is like asking if it was a whiny night on Twitter.
Of course it was, and if you watched the spectacle from the pre-shows all the way to the end of the night, you were probably ready to audition for one of the title roles in “The Walking Dead.” The apportionment of Oscar time was just so very wrong, as the songs and clips and dumb bits just kept stomping on what was left of our patience. Can you assign a life coach to a TV event, or give it a prescription for Adderall?
Maybe it’s a coast thing. They are three hours earlier and three hours more awake in Hollywood, plus, well, there’s all that hot air.
As host, Seth MacFarlane was no savior or infusion of life. He was an ineffectual leader. For months, Oscar watchers were wondering: Would MacFarlane be the lively, racy maker of “Family Guy” in a brazen pitch for young viewers? Or would he be the elegant old-school song-and-dance man of his 2011 album, to keep the graying demo from having a collective plotz?
He was a little of both, and not much of either. MacFarlane managed to be both immature and gentlemanly, a zany master of voices and a crooner, a little Howard Stern and a little Frank Sinatra. During the opening, William Shatner appeared from the future to coach him, a feeble conceit that allowed us to see what MacFarlane did do, including a dance to “High Hopes” with Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and what he decided not to do, including the song “We Saw Your Boobs” listing topless scenes by women including Meryl Streep.
So glad he didn’t do “We Saw Your Boobs.” Oh, wait.
MacFarlane was not, as Shatner initially foresaw, the media’s “worst Oscar host ever,” but he was thin and quite forgettable. He got through the night with a series of gags that were unremarkable, passingly amusing, and at times flat. Jokes about Mel Gibson and George Clooney’s girlfriends were just dusty late-night talk-show material. Someday, somehow, the Oscars will find a new host ready to capture the time, the moment, and Hollywood, and it won’t be MacFarlane. That’s not because he made his name in TV comedy; it’s because, no matter how talented he is, he doesn’t have the presence or the confidence that the Oscars need.
There were endurance-testing performances all night long. Did we really need to see Jennifer Hudson sing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” again, even while it was a strong performance? Why bother with the endless bit between Mark Wahlberg and the animated Ted, voiced by MacFarlane? Did some saboteur tell the producers that animated presenters actually go over big? When Norah Jones came to the microphone to sing the song from “Ted” at 11:15, some of us may have started to feel like Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour.”
I wonder how many viewers jumped off the Oscar train before Daniel Day-Lewis’s totally charming acceptance speech at the tail end of the night, as he joked about having wanted to play Margaret Thatcher and thanked his wife for having “lived with some very strange men” during their relationship. Those sensible people also missed the return of Jack Nicholson, who presented the best picture award with Michelle Obama, who appeared via satellite.
And of course, they missed our own overwhelmed Ben Affleck accepting for best picture and thanking his wife, Jennifer Garner: “It is work,” he said about their relationship, “but it’s the best kind of work.” Of course, those wise people who checked out of the Oscarcast have probably also heard of those things they call YouTube and Hulu.
Did Jane Fonda steal the red carpet in her not-so-mellow yellow dress? At 75, she has everything — the body, the face, the grace — that younger actresses crave. She was a fleeting but bright presence on the preshows, like a goldfinch. Or was the reigning queen of the carpet little Quvenzhané Wallis, who told Ryan Seacrest, in adorably universal language, that she chose her dress because “it was sparkly and fluffy.” I wish Nicole Kidman, ravishing in a shimmery sequined gown, had simply exclaimed, “It’s so sparkly!”
My choice: Jennifer Lawrence, who, towering above Seacrest, has the most likable let’s-laugh-till-doomsday attitude. She is everyone’s little sister.
There was outrageous scandal on the carpet, when Anne Hathaway showed up not in the Valentino we were promised, but in a Prada with an oddly nipple-centric look. Fans are still shaken.
And there was some poignancy on the ABC carpet, as Robin Roberts returned to the Oscars after a year of medical issues. Most awkward interviewer: ABC’s Kristin Chenoweth, who obsessed about her tiny size, comparing herself to Adele and to Bradley Cooper’s mother, which resulted in an incident that required Cooper to help her put her foot back into her shoe.
Piers Morgan took a uniquely negative approach to his red carpet interviews on CNN, rather than just gushing interminably. He asked many of the nominees he spoke to, including Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams, and Christoph Waltz, to show us their “loser face” — what they would look like when they didn’t get the prize. Waltz, at least, didn’t have to use his.
Like the later part of the night, the red carpet festivities dragged on. OK, we know that, at this point in celebrity culture, the pomp is the point, as much if not more than the prizes. But seriously, folks, let’s get to the gold so the night won’t turn to lead before it has even started.
@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.