Seth MacFarlane Brought The Best Of The Old And The Worst Of The New To The Oscars
I’m getting a little tired of the annual post-Academy Awards gripe fest. Smart criticism and thoughtful suggestions on how to improve the Oscar telecast are always welcome, but the knee-jerk moaning and groaning has got to stop. Especially annoying is the automatic complaining about every host -- which seems to stem from the fact that nobody can replace the late Bob Hope or Johnny Carson in the role, or Billy Crystal when he was at the top of his game. It negates whatever impact critics may have and makes so many of their remarks seem pointlessly generic. In other words, they should save the scathing condemnations for those who truly deserve it and take it easy on those who sincerely tried to liven up the program, like the current object of so much disdain, Seth MacFarlane.
MacFarlane was hardly a perfect host. To whatever degree the responsibility was his, much of his material, especially during the crucial first 15 minutes of the telecast, was in dire need of editing. The whole William Shatner thing, which was very funny at the top, went on entirely too long. MacFarlane’s joke about the assassination of President Lincoln was truly in terrible taste, especially during the increasingly feverish debate about guns and gun violence. The “We Saw Your Boobs” song was also problematic. Given the legendary exploitation of women in the movie business, the inclusion of this song was, at best, indelicate and, at worst, just plain stupid. One could argue that it was inexcusably offensive as a showpiece production number featured in the industry’s most important event of the year. That said I have to admit it kind of worked as a mindless, infectiously bouncy show-tune. (It also inspired a video follow-up, “We Saw Your Junk.”) “Boobs” would probably have worked better on Jimmy Kimmel’s post-Oscar show.
One cannot un-see or otherwise eliminate from memory the questionable lapses in judgment cited above, but if they could somehow he extracted from MacFarlane’s overall performance I think the hindsight response to it might be much kinder -- because MacFarlane was otherwise a perfectly charming and debonair host for much of the night. He’s a master impersonator and a hugely talented vocal performer, so I cannot say whether the polished charm-dog on stage was the real MacFarlane or a happy act. He certainly looked the part, and when he wasn’t being cloddishly offensive in the very profitable way that amuses his young fan base, he was as fine a host as we have seen on that stage in many years. (Notably, one of his funniest and least-naughty lines came near the very end of the show when he introduced Meryl Streep. “This next presenter needs no introduction,” he declared. Then he walked off the stage without saying another word.)
If the true goal of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, not to mention ABC, is to bring a younger audience to their annual telecast, then I think MacFarlane is as good a choice as they can make, even if he isn’t very well known beyond the borders of Hollywood or the young demographic groups that have made “Family Guy” an unstoppable success and “Ted” one of the biggest box-office successes of this still-young decade. I’d like to see him try it again, but I guess that horse has left the barn.
The choice of MacFarlane as host reflected the overall tone of the Awards this year, which I would describe as a merging of the old and the new. MacFarlane represented the scrappy young audience, but he dressed up and acted in classic old-school, Oscar-host fashion. (He truly is a man of the times, in that he seems to typify the current cultural mash-up of the very old and the very young, which isn’t always appealing to either extreme.) Similarly, the presentation was a high-tech marvel, as live big-budget broadcast television events tend to be these days, but the look of it all, especially the classy stage design, recalled the long-gone glory days of Hollywood. Further, the show-stopping performances by Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand stirred profound memories of yesteryear, while those of Jennifer Hudson and Adele brought renewed hope for the future of grown-up entertainment.
To look at this another way, the show offered something for everyone, and what’s wrong with that?
This is as good a point as any to note that 2013 has been an unusually strong year for award show hosts. In addition to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler kicking it as co-hosts of the Golden Globe Awards, Stephen Fry was his usual sublime self as host of the BAFTA Awards (seen here on BBC America) and Andy Samberg offered great R-rated fun commandeering the Film Independent Spirit Awards (telecast uncensored on IFC). I’m not suggesting Samberg host the Oscars. (I think he’d be a good fit for the Emmys, perhaps co-hosting with Joel McHale or Justin Timberlake.) But I’d love to see Fry take a shot at it.