Turns out all of Jon Stewart's self-deprecation in the weeks leading up to the Oscars wasn't an act. He was nervous and tentative throughout his monologue, afraid of doing any of the sacred cow-slaying that got Letterman and Rock into so much trouble. It was like he'd read all those articles about how he was too small-time for the gig and tried to live down to that. He got just enough laughs to avoid being called a bomb, but the monologue is the main responsibility of your Oscar host, and he spent the entire thing looking like he'd rather be interviewing John Sununu. The Will Ferrell/Steve Carell makeup gag was funnier than Stewart's entire monologue combined.
And then, having opened with a whimper (even the gay cowboy clip reel wasn't as funny after all those online "Brokeback" parodies), it seemed like he had a great weight lifted off his shoulders. He knew that he wasn't going to be asked back (or, if asked, that he would feel comfortable turning it down), so he turned back into, you know, Jon Stewart, making fun of Scientology (you could hear audible gasps in the room at that one), Russell Crowe, all those godawful and pointless montages, and the relative lack of enthusiasm of the crowd compared to Three Six Mafia. (The "Hard Out Here For a Pimp" win could have been Stewart's version of Jack Palance's one-armed push-ups if it had happened much earlier in the show.)
Like I've said before, the sheer number of awards shows in the months leading up to the Oscars takes all the fun out of the big night. The only big award where I had even a little uncertainty about going in was whether "Crash" 0r "Brokeback" would take Best Picture, and even there I suspected Ang Lee would win Director while "Crash" took Picture. So if all the surprise is gone, the only thing left to keep the night bearable is the host, and it took Stewart much too long to figure out that he didn't need to kiss everyone's ass.
Meanwhile, another day, another "Sopranos" article, this time about those universally-beloved dream sequences. Plus, if you want a chance to win a cast-autographed script and all five seasons on DVD, there's my big daily trivia quiz.
Oh, and Natalie Portman's "SNL" stint over the weekend may have pushed herself into Alec Baldwin/John Goodman territory (or, at least, Ben Affleck territory -- remember, he's always much better on "SNL" than anywhere else). The two highlights: another digital short rap parody, which may actually be funnier than "Lazy Sunday" (if not as catchy), and a surprise appearance by Dennis Haysbert during TV Funhouse.