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Oscar Review: Seth MacFarlane's Badness Explained

by Caryn James
February 25, 2013 2:39 AM
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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. .

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  • Surprise123 | September 24, 2013 12:30 PMReply

    Seth McFarlane was the worst Oscar host ever (and, considering James Franco's past performance, that's saying a lot). Although, admittedly, that title was quite possibly the one the juvenile McFarlane hoped to win.

    Who's the primary audience for the Oscar Ceremony? Women (and, a few men) of a certain age who love movie stars and who love glamour. And, what does the Academy do? Decide that THAT audience isn't good enough. It's time to reach out to irreverent, juvenile males for whom, when describing movies, "crass" is a more positive adjective than "Academy Award Winner."

    And, so the Academy hires McFarlane to piss on the proceedings, and make fun of the very filmmakers, actors and actresses (ESPECIALLY the actresses, who, undoubtedly have the least power in Hollywood -- way to go, McFarlane, next time, why don't you mock the Brothers Weisenberg, instead of relatively powerless actresses, some of whom were coerced into "showing their boobs" unwillingly) the ceremony was ostensibly supposed to honor.

    God, it was dreadful...from McFarlane's William Shatner/Star Trek myopic focusing on....Seth set pieces highlighting "Ted," a lame movie directed by....Seth McFarlane's Adele fat McFarlane "I Saw Your Boobs" ditty (what truly would have been edgy is if he had followed it up with a "I Saw Your Dong" piece, honoring Harvey Keitel's ever present Johnson, backed up by a "Dykes-on-Bikes" Lesbian choir) McFarlane's final finale song, mocking the Oscar "losers" (why, Kristen Chenowith, why?).

    I don't even really blame McFarlane: he was just doing what he always does: the Academy KNEW what it was getting itself into.

    I hope McFarlane brought in committed new young, irreverent male viewers to the Oscars: the Academy is going to need them. Because one more McFarlane-like host, and the Academy has lost this woman of a certain age as a viewer forever.

  • matt | February 28, 2013 3:48 PMReply

    I think he kinda sucked as host. He wasn't as horrible as this blog would lead me to believe, but it was a pretty dull performance and a pretty dull show in general. But Jeez I can't imagine actually being offended at anything he said. I see a lot of people in the comment section are upset. why are people so sensitive?

  • Surprise123 | September 24, 2013 1:48 PM

    "But Jeez I can't imagine actually being offended at anything he said. " Well, perhaps you don't self-identify as one of the in-groups he sought to offend (or you lack the empathy to imagine yourself as a member of one of these in-groups): Non-native English speakers, prominent, serious actresses whose breasts appear bare on screen; large, overweight women; and Oscar attendees who lost in their category.

  • Linda | February 27, 2013 7:09 PMReply

    I was very offended by the continuous stereotype of Jews running the entertainment industry. When will this stop? If you were Jewish, you would be sensitive to this issue, as Jews throughout history have been stigmatized, and killed. No other group of people is signaled out in this manner, and this form of "so called entertainment" is not at all funny. The other absolutely ridiculous skit was the one in which you had the gay mens' chorus singing the "boob" song.This audience is not mostly made up of pre-pubescent teenagers. Can you, or whoever writes the dialogue in between the award presentations, not come up with anything either not vulgur or offensive?

  • Surprise123 | September 24, 2013 2:01 PM

    Yep, he mocked Hollywood Jews (which is not really all that daring these days, as it's been done so often before); he mocked an overweight woman attending the ceremony; he mocked non-native speakers of the English language; he mocked Oscar attendees who lost in their category; and, he mocked prominent, serious actresses whose breasts have appeared on film.

    All pretty much low-hanging fruit. Whom did he NOT mock? Himself, and those in the media industry who might have actually had the power to adversely affect his career.

    What a brave, edgy performance that was....Lol.

  • Karen Waslowski | February 26, 2013 11:42 PMReply

    Oscar show comedy is ALWAYS stupid, people! What did you expect? The intros are yada, yada, yada, BANG. Then there is the interminable clever chatter between presenters, then the interminable thank you's to god/mother/wife/lover/father/lawyer/accountant/agent. Hollywood is so sleazy they will say and do anything, insult anyone, rape and pillage on the stage, if it will get an approval point. And, since the dawn of man, the easiest way to hook the young is say something offensive. It's a no-brainer (kind of like the young) I learned years ago - you watch the first half hour and the last 40 minutes. That way you get the supporting actor/actress, and then the best actor/actress/director and movie. And, in Hollywood's appeal to the older crowd, you get your list of the dead. It's a win/win.

  • Michael Shumway | February 26, 2013 3:43 PMReply

    Some people find "Family Guy" and Seth McFarlane funny, but the Academy should have known to chose someone else if they wanted someone with broader appeal, or at least someone who wouldn't have offended large swaths of people, particularly the people being celebrated. If it was Mr. McFarlane and his cohort writing the show, you would have to expect to get the kind of show they are capable of creating. I admit, I don't care much for his stuff because I don't find his style of humor particularly funny or entertaining. It is edgy perhaps, but also not very imaginative. It isn't that Mr. McFarlane didn't do better, less offensive jokes, it is that he probably isn't capable of coming up with better, less offensive jokes.

  • ifit'swrong, it'swrong | February 26, 2013 3:21 PMReply

    To all the people defending Seth McFarlane here, I'm a family guy fan, but just because you like a person's work doesn't make everything they do right and it doesn't help them to pretend that it does.
    I (thankfully) didn't watch the broadcast, but have heard of some jokes that were just mean.
    I DID see the 'boob song' and it was a show of shame.
    Singing about boobs in movies is one thing, singing about boobs seen in Boys don't cry and the accused and a leaked phone photo os another.
    Both those films were about REAL LIFE RAPE victims, both of whom are now DEAD.
    It's not funny, not to their family and friends.
    He should have left Hilary Swank and Jodie foster out of his list as well as Scarlett Johansson. because she was the victim of a CRIME. She didn't not CONSENT to Seth McFarlane seeing her pictures and he should not be joking about it.
    I enjoy the edgy humour of family guy, but if someone cracked a joke about a illegally acquired picture of me, I wouldn't be amused and neither would any of you.
    I know women who have been raped and if their story were portrayed on screen I would not expect it to become a punchline in a boob joke.
    These are REAL PEOPLE, not the cartoons on family guy.

  • Surprise123 | September 24, 2013 1:17 PM

    Good points. McFarlane sought to humiliate actresses whose bare breasts appeared in movies...plain and simple. But, the undeniable fact is that, while some of those actresses didn't give a 2nd thought to breast-nudity; others were, undoubtedly, coerced into it against their better judgment (on-screen nudity or no role for you, young lady); and others, even if they had misgivings, thought that the delicate subject matter (rape, etc.) warranted sacrificing their modesty.

    The fact that McFarlane was able to cause such outrage and offense is proof that breast nudity is still, at least, somewhat, controversial.

    But, you know what would have been REALLY edgy? If McFarlane had composed and performed a "I Saw Your Dong" song, backed up by a "Dykes-on-Bikes" Lesbian Choir. The song could have poked fun at the exposed members of such male actors as Harvey Keitel and Viggo Mortenson. And, in doing so, McFarlane would have demonstrated supreme confidence in his own sexual orientation (whatever it may be), and really baffled the audience. THAT would have been edgy and daring. Instead of exposing vulnerable actresses who expose their breast on films, he could have exposed himself to ridicule and even questions about which sex he is actually attracted to. THAT would have been brave (although equally inappropriate at an Oscars Award Ceremony).

    As to whether Viggo Mortensen and Harvey Keitel would have more humiliated by the attention directed at their bare dongs, than Kate Winslet and Jody Foster by the attention directed at their bare breats, remains to be seen.

  • Dan | March 4, 2013 3:51 AM

    I agree

  • Steve | February 26, 2013 1:59 PMReply

    You missed the point on the Chastain joke too. Go back and watch it again. Notice how Seth enunciates that last few words and then stresses the final word "go". Like's he's had a bad experience in the past that he's angry about and that he clearly can't let go of.

    And then tell me who the joke was about.

  • Surprise123 | September 24, 2013 1:20 PM

    OHHHH, McFarlane was just making fun of HIMSELF, and HIS inability to let go. How could I have been so blind?

  • Charlie | February 25, 2013 6:32 PMReply

    Yeah, you totally missed the point of the Melissa Mccarthy joke that he made to Adele. He was making fun of Rex Reed! Did you not see that or was your reactionary feminist brain too angry to laugh at that point. I watched the show in a room full of comedians in NYC. Gay, straight, female, all types. We were howling! They WERE all funny. Offensive? sure, but don't say it wasn't funny. You just didn't get the jokes.

  • Surprise123 | September 24, 2013 1:27 PM

    OHHHH, McFarlane was just making fun of REX REED, and REED'S perverse need to mock large women. How could I have been so blind?

    Or, alternatively, knowing that a direct insult targeting Adele's weight might have gotten him booed off the stage, he alluded to a insulting comment made by Reed instead?

    But, in any case, insulting comments about large women such as Adele, are just a HOOOOT, and, are especially appropriate at a ceremony intended to honor Adele, among others,

  • charlie | February 25, 2013 6:20 PMReply

    Yo have no idea what you are talking about. You have no idea what a good joke is. You are offended by everything. The entire idea of Hollywood is offensive, and you get offended by a comedian shooting some truth out there? Please go worry about your PC ethics somewhere else. If these people can't take a roasting, then get the hell out of Hollywood!

  • Surprise123 | September 24, 2013 1:38 PM

    There are MANY things wrong with Hollywood in general, and the Oscars in particular: the vapid comments; the self-congratulation; the expensive, startling gowns, etc.

    But, the Academy Awards Ceremony is NOT the appropriate event to point them out. SNL, McFarlane's TV shows, The Daily Show, the internet...these are the right and proper places for biting Oscar satire.

    In spite of its many flaws, from time to time Hollywood and the film industry get it right, and produce truly great works of art. And, if the Academy does not understand that the Oscars Ceremony is there to honor those who do get it right...the Ceremony is going to go down in flames...because it just can't compete with the likes of SNL and Jimmy Fallon in parodying its own industry

  • Hollywoodinsider | February 25, 2013 3:47 PMReply

    Dreadful stuff last night. If it felt like 4 hrs to you watching, it felt like a lifetime sitting in a seat.

  • Sean | February 25, 2013 10:23 AMReply

    Context aside, this blog is poorly written and boring. Hobby or paid?

  • Jen | February 25, 2013 9:52 AMReply

    Yes there were some jokes that were offensive but you have to remember
    this is Seth MacFarlene. He is know for pushing the envelop and taking
    risks. He at least tried you got to give him that and he had some good
    moments. I liked him hosting, but he already said he would not do it again
    due to his busy schedule. Another thing you have to remember is he was sick
    the last 3 weeks with the flu so not a lot of practice. His singing to me though
    loved it! And that's my 2 cents

  • jimbo | February 25, 2013 7:36 AMReply

    to each their own. i thought he was the most entertaining, edgy host the oscars have had for years. calling him the worst seems to dismiss stoned out franco from two years ago.

  • SebbeG | February 25, 2013 5:29 AMReply

    Only thing bad here is your blog... I watch every year and MacFarlane is one of the best hosts yet...

  • dow | March 20, 2013 3:53 AM


  • Hurray For You | February 25, 2013 5:52 AM

    In other words: "He's not bad, *you're* bad". I can see why you'd enjoy McFarlane's weak schtick. It must seem like genius to you.

  • Rich Sol | February 25, 2013 4:22 AMReply

    Kudos for nailing MacFarlane as the crappy, antisemitic, disgusting hack he is. His material only appeals to the juvenile of all ages that confuses obnoxious with funny.

  • chris-leo | February 25, 2013 4:20 AMReply

    were you watching the same oscars?? i was in a room full of people, and it was unanimous. macfarlane was a showman of the first order. jokes, witty intros, dancing, great voice, charm, just enough self-deprecation, and i don't believe i've EVER seen anyone look that comfortable hosting anything in my life. and he was able to get out of the way just enough to not make it all about him. he single-handedly made that one of the best oscar telecasts i've seen in recent memory.

  • Surprise123 | September 24, 2013 12:46 PM

    Are you kidding? The entire show was about McFarlane...the lame William Shatner/Star Trek opening focusing on Seth McFarlane, and discussing whether, post-ceremony, he would be judged a good host...the "Ted" movie schtick....the offensive jokes meant to humiliate Ceremony attendees, verses honoring them for their achievements.

    Compare McFarlene's hosting to that of Hugh Jackman's. Jackman used his talents (singing, dancing, etc.) to honor the filmmakers; whereas, McFarlane used his talents to focus attention on himself and his own projects. Therein lies the difference.

    More Hugh Jackson, less Seth McFarlane please.

    This Oscars Ceremony was a McFarlane "ME" fest

  • Ron | February 25, 2013 3:35 AMReply

    Do you get paid to write this blog or is this just a hobby for you? I watched this year's Oscars with my father, grandfather, girlfriend, and her sister and we all laughed and thought everything about it was well done. None of us are Family Guy fans or have seen Ted. His jokes were racial and sexist but they were supposed to be edgy and push the limits. I loved it. Not sure how you can legitimately be so negative about it.

  • Brian | February 25, 2013 3:05 AMReply

    I think you may have misinterpreted the Rex Reed joke. I believe Mr. MacFarlane was making a joke at Mr. Reed's expense. After all, what kind of a buffoon would complain about Adele's weight in the wake of a great performance. But that nuance may not fit in with the narrative of this article.

  • susan | February 25, 2013 5:56 AM

    the same kind of buffoon who insults the presenters before they take the stage. salma hayek (and company) are impossible to understand (they are??? i don't have any trouble, and how's your spanish seth?) but it doesnt matter since all they have to do is look pretty. outrageous. this broadcast was a real low-water mark for the academy awards. what a train wreck.

  • Kelly | February 25, 2013 2:46 AMReply

    Does a guy who's head looks like that get to tell fat jokes about somebody else?
    What an embarrassing dick.

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