David Zurawik

Oscar telecast: This one with Billy Crystal was actually painful to watch

There is a reason more people watched the Grammys this year than did the Oscars last year: The Oscar telecast has truly come to suck.

Sunday night's 84th Annual Academy Awards was actually painful to watch. I cannot think of any major TV franchise that has become so disconnected from cultural relevancy as the Oscar telecast has in recent years. And this one with Billy Crystal was truly pathetic.

As I listened to Crystal doing schtick from Las Vegas circa 1960, I wondered if in 1917 Russia the czar had a comedian like Crystal working the palace in St. Petersburg, telling tired jokes from the 19th Century to keep those inside the crumbling walls of privilege distracted from the Bolsheviks in the streets who were about the change the world.

It is hard to guess which tired, recycled part of the 3 hour and 40 minute telecast was more unbearable.

Was it the 10,000th montage of movie clips that featured the deli scene from "When Harry Met Sally"  with Meg Ryan faking an orgasm? Or maybe it was the 20,000th interview cycle of stars sharing their first memories of the going to the movies. Talk about fillers and padding an already uninspired broadcast to create more space for commercials until the show is laid out flat on the stage and gasping for life.

No wait, I forgot that fabulous comedic piece that featured the camera settling on the faces of various stars in the audience and Crystal telling us what unspoken thoughts were running through the stars' minds. Latenight hosts use this same bit with the faces of non-star audience members -- when their writers are on strike and they don't have any real comedic material with which to work.

As for Crystal wearing blackface to impersonate Sammy Davis a sketch, I can only wonder why he or anyone else connected with the show thought it was a good idea. It was such a bad choice, I suspect some will find it offensive.

I used to like Crystal. I really did. But by the time he made a empty joke about J. Edgar Hoover "in heels" that drew no laughs and then said how funny the band thought it was in rehearsals, I wondered if this wasn't some sort of cosmic time-warp punishment throwing us back to a Las Vegas lounge act 50 years ago - God's way of telling us how vapid, lifeless and non-creative Hollywood and our popular culture had become in the dark years of 2011 and 2012.

Typical of the disconnect between the telecast and American life today was Crystal introducing Michael Douglas as a presenter saying, "He was occupying Wall Street before it was cool."

Of course, I get the movie reference. But I don't think anyone camping out in the cold and wet on a New York winter's night because they couldn't find jobs thought it was "cool," Billy. But maybe it looked that way from your aging Baby Boomer Beverly Hills bubble.

Not to beat up on Crystal, because the problems with this telecast and the way it has lost touch with where America is at run deeper than any host. (Though I will say, you could feel the room come to life with an adrenaline-like rush of energy when Chris Rock stepped onstage as a presenter. But then, Rock talked about how cool it was to be paid a million dollars for hardly working as a voiceover performer, and I forgot that sometimes when Rock opens his mouth stupid instead of brilliant stuff comes out.)

And, man, am I tired at these awards shows of seeing endless shots of stars like George Clooney and the old-Hollywood skits and jokes they traffick in. The opening skit with Clooney and Crystal seemed a lot funnier to them than it did me. No one does fake, phony, show-biz laughter like Crystal -- except maybe George Hamilton. Hey, maybe we can get Hamilton to host next year.

(I know, in Baltimore, we are only supposed to say nice things about Clooney because of the way he has raised the "lovely and talented" hometown Stacy Keibler to red-carpet star status. But let's be honest, it is about 10 years past time for the producers to find a new way of doing this kind of awards show without pointing the camera at Clooney, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie every five minutes. And by the way, I need to make note of the rather unusual way she stood  onstage while presenting. But I don't want to offend any Jolie fans by commenting on her appearance. So, let me just ask an innocent question: "Is this woman crazy?" But the telecast was so dead at that point, even Jolie could not bring any energy to it.)

The telecast became so unbearable that about halfway through I started looking forward to the JC Penney commercials featuring Ellen time traveling.

Can't you say something nice, Zurawik?

Yes, some folks on Twitter seemed to like the performance of Cirque du Soleil. There you go, nice enough?

But if you are one of them, let me ask you this: Was seeing it worth spending 3 hours and 40 minutes of your life Sunday night with Crystal and the rest of this sorry ABC telecast?