NEW YORK A Depression theme weaved in and out of Sunday's 81st annual Academy Awards broadcast. It worked well for David Rockwell's Art-Deco design for the stage, and for Hugh Jackman's snappy opening number about a downsized opening number.
But no amount of artful design or clever staging will help the Oscar broadcast if Sean Penn's Best Actor acceptance speech comes at a time when everyone's asleep.
The producers vow to do it every year, but they've got to get serious about shaving an hour off the telecast. Otherwise, it's too frustrating to watch, especially if you start early with the pre-game red carpet bloopers, er, presentations. (The show on ABC opened awkwardly with Tim Gunn asking Kate Winslet, "What's most on your mind tonight?" Her answer? "Not tripping." And during a discussion of the recent death of his much beloved dog, Mickey Rourke told an interviewer he'd already had "her tux made" for his pet's big moment with Oscar.) Where do you go from that?
In any event, the ads seemed to match the tone of the evening -- with Slumdog Millionaire winning big and advertisers either recycling old commercials (such as MasterCard's lost doggie) or, in the case of JC Penney, making new ones that focused less on concepts and more on moving merchandise.
Hyundai returned with its extraordinary offer to let buyers return the cars if they lose their jobs. The Korean carmaker also had a message about coming to this country and proving oneself that perfectly fit the Slumdog milieu. A spot with Yo-Yo Ma -- previously hyped for the Super Bowl but never released -- featured beautiful tension between his cello playing and pounding cuts of the racing Genesis, as part of the "edit-your-own" series for the Genesis Coupe.
Zyrtec was also on the money with its offer: "If you don't love it, we'll refund your money." I'm glad they didn't call it the "Zyrtec Challenge." I don't understand what's so challenging about simply buying the product.
Coke offered two disappointing Diet Coke spots -- one with Heidi Klum for women's heart health (Heart Truth's Red Dress Collection), the other featuring Top Chef star Tom Colicchio. Klum poked fun at over-the-top fashion by modeling some doozies, then entering a room where all the women wore red -- which came off a bit too dazzling to seem simple.
The spot with Colicchio criticized over-the-top food, especially "shrimp in nests," which seemed to be a jab at a past show contestant. But alas, the "bad taste" visuals in both cases seemed downright clichéd. Plus, particularly for Chef Tom, the setup led to an unconvincing second half.
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