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Oscar Review: Seth MacFarlane's Badness Explained

Photo of Caryn James By Caryn James | James on Screens February 25, 2013 at 2:39AM

Was Seth MacFarlane the victim of some terrible time-travel accident that caused him – and all his Oscar-show material – to be trapped in the 1950’s (and not in a successfully ironic way)? That’s the most generous explanation I have for his pathetically unfunny job as Oscar host.  
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Was Seth MacFarlane the victim of some terrible time-travel accident that caused him – and all his Oscar-show material – to be trapped in the 1950’s (and not in a successfully ironic way)? That’s the most generous explanation I have for his pathetically unfunny job as Oscar host.  

I never thought it was hard to figure out why the producers chose him as host: it was a blunt attempt to have things both ways. They could try to lure in MacFarlane’s young, irreverent fans - the people who watch Family Guy and who made Ted, his movie about an R-rated talking teddy bear, a hit. At the same time they’d have MacFarlane bring his retro-crooner persona; after all, he’s the guy who recently recorded an album of 40’s standards. I never imagined it would all backfire so badly.

In the opening routine, William Shatner as Capt. Kirk pretended to drop in from the Star Trek future to prevent MacFarlane from fulfilling a headline calling him “Worst Oscar Host Ever.” That was the show’s one really risky joke, because it makes it way  too easy to let the other shoe drop on MacFarlane now. What might have made him so bad in that future world? As Capt. Kirk explained, he offended women with a musical number, which the show then went on to play in its entirety. It was “We Saw Your Boobs,” with MacFarlane and a group of chorus men in tuxes singing and dancing while listing the actresses whose boobs they’ve seen in movies (Anne Hathaway in Brokeback Mountain, Kate Winslet in everything she does).

This apparently was the Oscar show’s stab at being cleverly self-referential, alluding to the offensiveness of a sketch and then playing it “in quotes.” Bad move, and not nearly clever enough. The live audience did not seem amused. Kathryn Bigelow and Helen Hunt were especially stony-faced.

The real problem wasn’t that the routine was offensive (although it was juvenile). It wasn’t funny. Somehow, MacFarlane and the producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, never grasped that being self-referential is no excuse for being lame.

Sometimes there wasn’t even irony to cloak the tired material. MacFarlane referred to the tenacity of Jessica Chastain’s character in Zero Dark Thirty and said it’s “a celebration of every woman’s innate ability to never ever let anything go.” Yikes, that’s a “Take my wife, please” joke. His more topical comedy? Introducing Ben Affleck, he made a reference to Gigli. There should be a statute of limitations on Gigli jokes – not because Affleck gets a pass on it, but because the subject is used up, it’s boring by now.  

As I said in my broader roundup of the show and it many, many problems, trying hard to be edgy isn’t the same as being edgy. The animated Ted, appearing with his co-star Mark Wahlberg, joked about having to be Jewish to make it in Hollywood, telling Wahlberg about “secret synagogue meetings.” I can accept that the joke is about a stereotype, and not merely stereotypical. But how stale is the stereotype it’s sending up?

The producers may have thought they were getting retro-MacFarlane, but instead they got some archaic time-traveler from the past, who wasn’t even sharp enough to be offensive.  

He was offensive, although not sharp about it, at one point.  After Adele finished singing, MacFarlane said he was going to have Rex Reed comment on her. That was a fairly obscure but thoroughly mean-spirited reference to Reed’s attack on Melissa McCarthy’s weight in his review of Identity Thief. Yes, Seth MacFarlane made an Adele fat joke. But guess what? She won an Oscar for co-writing the theme to Skyfall, and he quite possibly goes down in history as Capt. Kirk’s and our worst nightmare. .

This article is related to: Television, Oscars, Seth MacFarlane, Adele, Skyfall, Kathryn Bigelow, Helen Hunt, Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet, Ted (film), Mark Wahlberg, Zero Dark Thirty, Jessica Chastain

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