This awards season proved to be a controversial one for the Oscars. The producers of the 91st Academy Awards announced and then backtracked on a new category, they rescinded a hosting gig after major backlash, and they nearly cut four major awards from the live telecast. In the end, the only change that came to fruition was having the show run without a host, which prompted skepticism from many but ultimately paid off.
Some were right to be doubtful of this choice. The last time the Oscars went hostless was in 1989, and that telecast is widely considered to be the worst in the show’s history. It is best remembered for a mind-boggling opening number in which Rob Lowe danced with Snow White, a performance met with disdain by attendees. The show was disastrous enough to prompt an open letter, signed by likes of Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, deeming the telecast an “embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion-picture industry” — not exactly a glowing review.
In spite of that cautionary tale, this year’s show worked perfectly well without an MC. In fact, it was smooth sailing from the get-go, as the opening monologue was replaced by a rousing performance from Queen and Adam Lambert, followed by three great presenters to kick things off: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph, who charmingly riffed about what they would have said if they were hosting. Just like that, it was off to the races, with the first award presented only a few minutes after the broadcast began.
One of the most compelling parts of watching the Oscars is seeing unlikely presenter duos (e.g. last night’s delightful pairing of Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry, in full The Favourite-spoofing garb) or former co-stars reunited onstage (a la Mike Myers and Dana Carvey). Let’s be honest: don’t most people say, “Let [random presenter pairing] host next year!” after every great category introduction? The ensuing exchange between peers adds a personal touch to the telecast that simply isn’t present in the role of the host, whose interaction with guests is mostly limited to yelling at them from the stage.
It was heartwarming to see Guillermo del Toro present the Best Director award to his close friend Alfonso Cuarón, and exhilarating to watch Spike Lee jump into Samuel L. Jackson’s arms upon winning his first Oscar. These moments of authentic excitement and friendship are nearly always the most memorable.
Too often, the host conversation seems to take up space that would be better spent discussing the nominees. And in the show’s aftermath, divisive jokes dominate the discourse, taking away from the achievements of the winners — think back to Seth MacFarlane’s 2013 monologue, when he sang, to much discomfort, about actresses who’d filmed topless scenes. In retrospect, having a single name dominate a show that is supposed to celebrate collective artistry feels silly.
So should the Oscars ever have a host again? After last night, it’s clear that the role just isn’t necessary. There was no awkward filler, the Academy achieved their desire for a three hour run time, and the absence of an MC was hardly noticeable. As if that weren’t reason enough, many have alleged that the gig just isn’t coveted the way it used to be. As long as the show keeps with a trend of strong presenters, the decision not to have an Oscars host feels refreshing and long overdue.