Last year, the story leading up to the Oscars was the Oscars—specifically the lack of people of color nominated for major awards. But Chris Rock was the perfect host for that moment. While he would ultimately undo much of his good work with an extended Asian joke, Rock’s monologue was fire. For ten minutes, Rock hit Hollywood again and again for its worthless self-adulation and its undeniable racism, which was also indicative of a broader racism. “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist,” Rock said. Addressing the criticism that there weren’t #OscarsSoWhite protests in the 1960s, Rock joked, “We were too busy being raped and lynched to worry about who won best cinematographer.” It was an uncomfortable monologue, but it was also a funny one. More than anything, it was the right one.
The host of the 2017 Oscars is Jimmy Kimmel, but the story surrounding the 2017 Oscars is not the racism of the Oscars, but the racism (and misogyny and general lack of mental stability) of the president. Kimmel, both in his monologue and in his between-award banter, acknowledged Trump plenty. He insisted that the crowd applaud Meryl Streep, who was attacked by Donald Trump after bodying him during the Golden Globes. He winked at a Trump tweet when he said, “If you work for CNN, the New York or LA Times ... please get out. We have no use for fake news.” And, in his most revealing joke, he said: “I want to say thank you to President Trump. Remember last year when we thought the Oscars were racist?”
But his heart doesn’t really seem in it. Kimmel wants to make jokes about Mel Gibson—and his Gibson jokes have been most pretty good! Kimmel is a roast guy, in other words, and his few good moments have almost exclusively been his mean ones, like when he ripped on O.J. This only makes his anemic Trump material even stranger. Kimmel seems to simultaneously desperately want Trump to tweet about him without actually saying anything that would be worth tweeting about.
The main problem with Kimmel hosting the Oscars isn’t that he doesn’t seem to have a point of view on Trump, even though he is probably the only person in the country who doesn’t. It’s that Kimmel is hosting the Oscars like it was just a bigger, live version of his late night show, which is just as forgettable.