You know what we never really talk about, even when we talk about it? Televised awards shows have a built-in power imbalance – and that’s why they work.
The Academies, hosting the shows, know they need talented performers, amusing enough to hold the audience’s attention. And those performers – actors, musicians, comedians, whatever – know they’re needed, which gives them power, which they often use to push back on creative restrictions, wanting freedom to do and say whatever they like.
This should, of course, terrify the Academy/ies, but at the same time, that’s where live television lives and thrives – in that place where anything could happen, and the results are sometimes disastrous and sometimes amazing. This is the collective bargain everyone walks into these shows with – all of which is a long-winded way of saying I’d bet a million dollars nobody in the Academy knew what Maya and Kristen were going to do.
Isn’t that exciting!? Doesn’t it make your heart race a little bit more? Think about how those conversations must play out:
“So, we have Maya and Kristen presenting two awards.”
“Great. When are they meeting with the writers?”
“Oh – they said they’re going to write it themselves”
“Themselves? Sure, but we need it by Friday, because we have to load it into the prompter, and then---”
“Hang on. Arnie, Beth says we need it by Friday, because – what? Oh, okay. I’ll tell him… she says they’re not going to put it in the prompter.”
“What? I don’t know. Is that a good idea?”
“Beth, it’s Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig.”
“I know, but it’s a live show.”
“Yeah, but… Saturday Night Live? I think they’re gonna be okay.”
“I guess we’ll find out…”
Don’t get me wrong – clearly they wrote these bits and rehearsed a lot – particularly the costume design medley that so flummoxed young Billie Eilish. Those harmonies were tight, and taken at a terrifying pace you can’t just land on by accident, but you know for sure Wiig and Rudolph would have wanted to keep it fresh and not overwork it, and even if they did part of it in dress rehearsal, some of it was necessarily going to be new – because these two are operating at a higher level of difficulty, take it or leave it. They’re pirates, taking the ship wherever they decide it should go, and chances are you’ll be happy about it after the fact – but either way, they’re in charge.
‘Take it or leave it’ is also how I would describe each of their dresses. I really liked them both, though Maya’s is automatically my preferred option because ORANGE and SEQUINS and those emerald earrings. I don’t love the low height of the heels, but… do you think she cares what I think?
As for the widespread griping about Kristen Wiig’s dress – what do you people want? She’s Kristen Wiig. She’s offbeat for a living! What could possibly be appealing about seeing her in a nondescript black column or something neutral and ethereal? She’s done that before, when she’s nominated for awards, but to me, this is so so so much better. It’s Valentino Haute Couture – it’s not supposed to look pretty at the prom, and if it did, you’d think Wiig had lost her edge, and wonder why she couldn’t be ‘like the old days’!! Let’s let Wiig be Wiig, and Rudolph be Rudolph, okay?
Not that you have any choice in the matter. They’re driving this ship, we’re all just passengers, and you can take it or leave it.
(PS – every time I get to the end of the second clip, which freezes on Saoirse Ronan, I get a little jolt when I think for a second that her dress has some chartreuse yellow in it. Then I realize it’s the person behind her and fall into a depression – but that’s a conversation for later…)