Field Notes from a Universe Where the Oscars are Fun

A report from a parallel universe where the Oscars are actually entertaining.

Oscars Alternative Universe

This article was co-authored with Meg Shields.

Hope y’all bought stock in the “Oscars are Broken” take because boy oh boy has it been a boom year. They’re everywhere. Like stray Legos. And the Academy has only encouraged things by having less tact than a bull in a “not televising the Best Cinematography award” shop.

But listen, here’s the thing about making the Academy Awards more interesting (dare we say, watchable): they are not bad because they’re too long. Don’t you dare sit there smugly and tell us that you are a paragon of virtue who didn’t marathon all four hours of Russian Doll in one sitting. You abso-fucking-lutely did. We all did. The human body is a natural binge-watching machine. We’re all garbage people with calloused butts and long-suffering couches. Length ain’t no thing.

The problem with the Oscars is not runtime, it’s content. See, the Oscars ceremony is intentionally designed to minimize conflict and drama. Every effort is put into making sure everything runs as friction-free as a maglev train. They put more time and energy into strategizing those seating arrangements than your type A cousin did for her wedding reception. Exes and big-name enemies are carefully separated, nominees from the same film are seated along trajectories curated for maximum back-patting. The Moonlight / La La Land whoopsie doodle was a system shock because mistakes that big just don’t happen at the Oscars. Every goof, gag, and gaffe is scripted. Notice how Jennifer Lawrence tripped charmingly on her way up the stairs and not the exponentially messier situation that would have been falling on the way down. Coincidence? Hardly! We’re dealing with a well-oiled machine here.    

In other words, it’s boooor-ing. Conflict equals drama and drama equals good television, which is what we want to watch. Survivor has been on the air since the year 2000 for a reason. So tl;dr—award shows in general, but especially the Oscars (a.k.a. the awardiest award show) are meticulously designed to be as dull and uneventful as possible. ZZzzzzzz.

So, sure, we can debate potential hosts that might liven things up a little, but ultimately, even hiring Steve Martin for the fourth time would be like putting Sriracha on a saltine cracker. The foundations are boring no matter how you spin it.

Fortunately, we live in a multiverse and anyone who says otherwise is a coward. So, without further ado, we come to you with the following report from our far more fun and colorful counterpart — the Sex on the Beach to our Rum and Coke — where the Oscars actually prioritize viewer entertainment.

The Red Carpet

It all starts here, with Ryan Seacrest pestering A-listers with inane small talk for like an hour and a half. What are you wearing? The answer for 98% of the male population is “this boring-ass tux and bowtie combo.” It’s like someone figured out how to televise Ambien. Here’s how our better half keeps things lively:

  • Carpet is actually a giant conveyor belt. Ryan Seacrest only has as long as people are in earshot.
  • Anyone who asks the question “What are you wearing?” is attacked by a swarm of trained pigeons. The point is not to get them to stop asking the question. The point is to have them ask and then watch a re-enactment of The Birds.
  • Men who wear boring black suits are subject to modification by a battalion of eighth graders armed with paintball guns, spray paint, glitter bombs, and bags of Holi powder.

The Audience

Congrats, you made it inside! Remember how we mentioned all that meticulous seat strategizing that makes the Traveling Salesman Problem look like 2+2? Yeah, that’s not a thing in this universe. Instead:

  • Seating arrangements are assigned by random ballot. Last year, Frances McDormand (5’5”) was seated behind Daniel Day-Lewis (6’2”). There was nothing anyone could do about it. A GIF of her glaring at the back of his head took off as a meme on Twitter, it was great.
  • Booing is an actively encouraged and enthusiastically practiced tradition.
  • Seat fillers are recruited from Waffle Houses at 2 AM. Once inside, they are provided with more waffles. And an open bar.

The Host

Ah yes, the host. In our universe: a Virgil to guide us through weak comedy bits and 20-minute montages of “Some Scenes From Some Movies, Remember Movies? That Thing We All Love? Did You Know Movies Are Good?” But you may have noticed that the Academy has been having a time finding a squeaky Oscar host this year. So much of a time in fact that they outright threw in the towel. In this alternate universe, the Academy has fully accepted that such decision-making is beyond them:

  • Hosts are determined via a live game of Plinko. Last year’s host dramatically returns to the stage to drop the chip. The candidates for 2019 include:
      • The ghost of Bob Hope
      • The dads from Mamma Mia, in character
      • Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland
      • Tiffany Haddish
      • Sister Michael from Derry Girls
      • Olivia, the dog from Widows and Game Night
      • Phoenix Buchanan
      • Nic Cage, in a medley of all six roles he played this year
      • a spider found in the Dolby Theatre parking lot
  • Hosts are sworn in with two complimentary shots of bottom shelf tequila. In the event of her victory, Olivia the dog will be awarded five minutes of uninterrupted belly rubs from the outgoing host. The spider will be gifted one fly.

The Ceremony

You gotta have something to break up the drumrolls and passing of tiny gold effigies. That’s just basic showbiz math, baby. But bits cannot exist for bit’s sake. They must have purpose — move things forward rather than guck up the engine (jet ski gags are strictly verboten):

  • The ceremony commences when white smoke from Leo’s vape emerges from the roof of the Dolby. Historically, this tends to take place around 17:30 ET.
  • Clip montages are strictly forbidden. With the exception of a blooper reel, which always plays at the halfway point.
  • The Sound Mixing and Sound Editing awards are prefaced with an educational video of an incensed Martin Scorsese breaking down the difference between the two. Well, voiced by Martin Scorsese. As is the case with many informational videos, it’s animated. Scorsese is a chipmunk. His fluffy tail is surprisingly adorable. The animation is done in the style of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
  • Before the winners are announced for the “Big Five,” all nominees have 15 seconds to plead their case as to why they deserve to win.

Acceptance Speeches

Oh, the acceptance speeches. They may only be 45 seconds long, but collectively that adds up to like half an hour of listening to “I’d like to thank the Academy” on a loop. We geddit. You have manners or whatever. Yawn. Here’s how things work in a far more entertaining world:

  • Instead of being played off, winners who go over the time limit are pelted with rotten tomatoes, courtesy of a potato gun manned by snubbed contenders. Bradley Cooper’s aim is notorious, and the American Sniper jokes persist to this day. (Alfonso Cuarón won’t admit it, but he timed his speech to two seconds shorter than necessary this year as a precautionary measure.)
  • The stage features a Prestige-style trap door in cases of emergency (e.g. Sam Smith). This is manned by someone with Common Sense. This someone has historically proven incredibly hard to track down.
  • Winners who give boring speeches are ejected Graham Norton “Red Chair” style. (This is for you, Gary Oldman). Ditto winners who use the phrases “I didn’t prepare anything” or “this is unexpected.”
  • Married winners who forget to thank their spouses are put in “The Doghouse” for 24 hours, so that they may be publicly shamed (and sequestered for their own safety). The Doghouse is live-streamed. Drinks are provided. And by “drinks” we mean gin. The only drink is gin. Gin and regret.
  • As in our universe, trophy plaques are preemptively engraved for all nominees in all categories and the losers’ plaques are then melted down. Unlike in our universe, this process is included in the festivities. The winner of each category is presented with all the losing plaques when they come on stage so that they can ceremoniously throw them into the fiery mouth of a fake volcano before returning to their seats. It’s a cruel world out there. This tradition was actually adopted before The Return of the King won 11 Oscars, but admittedly that has added a deliciously serendipitous flair to the whole thing.

Human being who writes about movies and other things. Sometimes I try to be funny on Twitter.