Host Seth MacFarlane stumbles by turning Oscars into live-action Family Guy episode
What do you get when you hand a guy known for pushing buttons on TV the keys to Hollywood’s most prestigious awards show?
In the case of Seth MacFarlane and Sunday’s Oscars telecast, you got an uneven jumble of one-liners and production numbers which felt like bits of inspired satire swimming in borderline sexism and gross out jokes – kinda like MacFarlane’s animated hit Family Guy.
Jokes referencing Chris Brown beating Rhianna, blaming the n-words in Django Unchained on material from Mel Gibson’s voice mails, a production number about actresses going topless in films called “We Saw Your Boobs,” and a bit where MacFarlane makes out with nominee Sally Field all went over to varying degrees. Not quite bad, but not quite great, either.
Bringing Star Trek icon William Shatner in as a concerned Captain Kirk trying to save the present Oscars from the future made it all feel even more like a live-action version of Family Guy (didn’t help to see how many hoops they jumped through – including having Channing Tatum waltz with Charlize Theron – to keep MacFarlane from having to actually dance himself.)
What I hate most about MacFarlane’s shtick, though, is the thin pretense that he is satirizing sexism and prejudice instead of just referencing it naughtily. Songs like “We Saw Your Boobs” or having his stuffed bear Ted do a shtick on pretending to be Jewish to succeed in show business doesn’t really satirize those attitudes as much as reference them; giving audiences permission to laugh at attitudes they would condemn if said in a serious way.
(That said, the prize for most awful Oscar joke goes to satirical newspaper The Onion’s Twitter feed, which called 9-year-old nominee Quvenzhane Wallis a four-letter name for a female body part I’m not printing here. Deleting the tweet didn’t stem the tide of indignation brewing online, hours after the Oscar ceremony ended.)
The Oscars is always a schizophrenic piece of television anyway, as producers try to build youth-oriented TV around a bunch of films that most young people have not seen. In this case, the creator of a show with a bulls-eyes target on young males is hosting an awards ceremony where a biopic of Abraham Lincoln, a spiritual film about a boy shipwrecked with a tiger and a movie of a 30-year-old musical based on a 150-year-old book about the French Revolution has the most nominations.
And even though MacFarlane was the host and primary comedic voice, the producers of the Oscar telecast were Craig Zadan and Neil Meron – best known as producers of film and TV musicals such as Chicago and Smash. So considerable screen time was spent on Catherine Zeta Jones performing “All That Jazz” and Jennifer Hudson belting out an amazing rendition of “I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls – wonderful sings with no real connection to this year’s Oscars race.
Music, in fact, proved the saving grace of this year’s Oscarcast, as Hudson, Adele singing the theme to Skyfall just before the song would win an Oscar and Barbara Streisand singing “The Way We Were” as tribute to her late collaborator Marvin Hamlisch all stood as highlights in a too-long, too-boring show.
Though McFarlane wasn’t bad as the Anne Hathaway and James Franco fiasco of a few years back, he wasn’t the right note for Oscar, either. Don’t expect him to return, as the Academy keeps trolling for the person who can make populist comedy out of highbrow film stars feteing each other on national television.