"I'VE switched over to watching 'My 600-lb Life!'"

That's an e-mail I received at the almost half-way point of Sunday night's (as usual) interminable Oscar telecast.

WHAT IS there to legitimately critique every year, when a whole lot of privileged people gather for three hours in a lot of borrowed finery and massive jewelry to congratulate themselves? I feel I must annually remind irritated observers that it has always been thus. The stars were different ("better," for people of a different generation) and controversial issues were rarely broached. But the all-around numbing vibe has generally been the same -- with always a few show-stopping moments to compensate.

THIS YEAR, those moments were not provided until Lady Gaga's tribute to "The Sound of Music" which culminated with the onstage appearance of a still-radiant, and clearly moved Julie Andrews. Everybody seems so surprised Gaga has a great voice. I've said so many times she can really sing and is a real musician! (Is this the beginning of the 28-year-old Gaga's transition from a girl who wore meat dresses to a brilliant chanteuse? Actually, that transition has begun, what with her Grammy-winning collaboration with Tony Bennett.)

John Legend and Common pulled out all the stops performing "Glory." It was electrifying, but why did the tumultuous standing ovation seem more like an expression of guilt; a compensation for shutting out the director and leading man of "Selma"?

I was amused by Oscar winner Patricia Arquette's call for equal pay for women. It's a serious subject, for sure. But perhaps not one to broach on Oscar Night, amongst many of the highest paid women in the world. (And if their salaries are less than their male counterparts, it is still likely to be more money than most of the television audience will see in a lifetime.) Even more amusing were Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez cheering and fist-pumping Patricia's remarks from their seats. Did they suddenly realize they were underpaid? (Lopez could have hidden an entire impoverished nation under that voluminous organza/tulle ball gown that she picked up on the bargain rack.)

There were the long emotional speeches, the short emotional speeches (Graham Moore, accepting his Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Imitation Game.")

There were the musical numbers. The above-mentioned Gaga was divine, the opening number good, until Jack Black jumped in. Glenn Campbell's song, written before he succumbed totally to Alzheimer's needed a stronger singer, I didn't understand the "Everything Is Awesome" number, which looked to me like a high school effort, and why, after a touching memorial segment, beautifully introduced by Meryl Streep, was Jennifer Hudson brought on to sing a sad song?

And speaking of the memorial, I was surprised to see Joan Rivers left out, and totally shocked at the omission of the great Elaine Stritch, several others, too. I know every year one or two people go unremembered but -- who does this segment?! Planning, research, is it really that difficult? Disgraceful. And what was with the "artistic" drawings? Glamorous black-and-white portraits, please. Also, I do think great stars that have passed on deserve maybe a bit more than a few seconds.

AS FOR Neil Patrick Harris, who has covered himself with glory hosting the Tonys and the Emmys, he seemed off-kilter Sunday night. Jokes fell flat, again and again. (Why joke at all, just be charming and introduce people?) He did look good in his jockey shorts tribute to "Birdman" so perhaps for him it wasn't a loss. The camera seemed to catch him looking uncertain time and again. Was he attempting to be winsome or was he simply uncertain? He was very lightweight for this important role that serves to gently -- sometimes not so gently! -- mock the industry.

The Kanye West Moment of the night goes to perennially surly Sean Penn. Was that "Green Card" remark supposed to be funny? What amusing thing would he have said if "American Sniper" had taken Best Picture?

OH, the awards. Surprised by "Birdman"; disappointed that its star, Michael Keaton missed out. (He chewed gum all during the show, but was charming at the end, onstage with the entire "Birdman" crew. He remarked, "Look, let's face it. I'm glad just to be here!') ... So very pleased for Julianne Moore (who got it right, gown-wise. The lovely Moore, not much into fashion, usually goes astray) ... I was rooting for everybody in the Best Supporting Actor category, so J.K. Simmons was fine with me. (Although I must say, "Whiplash" is a very odd film. It's "Full Metal Jacket Takes a Jazz Course.")

It is pointless to post-mortem the choices too much. I have to agree with Julianne Moore when she said, "There is no such thing as the 'best actress.' Or best actor, either. Unless everybody plays the same role. And even then, it would be a subjective opinion based on a preferred style. But everybody loves competition. Nowadays more than ever.

Still, who could resist Eddie Redmayne's boyish, innocent enthusiasm accepting his best actor award?

I THINK the most interesting things about Oscar Night came after the telecast. Watching the stars standing uncomfortably in the rain waiting to get into the Governors Ball (Only Jared Leto, working that unattractive "Duck Dynasty" look, seemed cheerfully unconcerned) ... and Jimmy Kimmel's very funny show, in which he had some of the biggest stars in the world being abused in his "acting class."

Jennifer Aniston might have wanted an Oscar nomination for "Cake" but alas, she didn't need one, standing there onstage, simple, simple, simple -- and flawless. Kudos also to Lupita Nyong'o. Not many women could get away wearing a dress consisting of 6,000 pearls. She made it look easy. I would not have wanted to be her backside all night, however!

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)