Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars

A Star is probably not born

by Jaime Weinman

Well, the most important news out of the Oscars is that Ben Affleck thanked Canada. This obviously makes up for everything, including our inability to make our own movies about our stories.

But, I suppose, some non-Canadian stories need to be dealt with. I wrote a piece about whether Seth MacFarlane’s stint as host of the Oscars would establish him as the live-action, onscreen star he clearly wants to be. And after his opening monologue, someone snarked that that piece was instantly dated. Well, the art of predicting the future won’t be perfected until the robots take over. Now, for all I know, the wide reaction to his performance might not have been as negative as it was among people I know – after all, in a world where Identity Thief is a hit, there is no consensus on what’s funny. But if the question was whether MacFarlane could translate his behind-the-scenes popularity into onscreen popularity, then it seems at first blush like the answer was “no.” Even before he held up the ending of a show that was running late to perform yet another musical number.

The overall theme of the Oscars, as James Poniewozik noticed when he linked to the promo below, was that it was supposed to be “an Oscars that guys can enjoy.” MacFarlane is known for his guy appeal, and ABC, the network that broadcast the Oscars this year, is known for having the most heavily female audience on TV. Unfortunately, this wound up coming off as pandering, with the network desperately trying to load the show up with what they consider “guy” stuff like breast jokes and Star Trek. And what was supposed to be their biggest coup, a reunion of all six James Bonds, fell through when one or two of the Bonds refused to do it (and I don’t mean Lazenby). It might be that the desperation to attract men to ABC accounts for some of the mean-spiritedness of the evening, apart from the famous Family Guy tendency toward that type of joke.

But back to that opening, the one that made a lot of us long for Rob Lowe and Snow White and Allan Carr. The problems most people seem to agree on were that it was too long, it began too abruptly, and that smirking a bit about your material being bad and tasteless does not actually make it any less bad and tasteless. (Besides which, “We Saw Your Boobs” isn’t even edgy, it’s just another crummy Huffington Post headline.) But the overall conceptual problem was that it was all about him. It makes sense for us media types to speculate on how Seth MacFarlane will do as the host. But as media types also noted, the average viewer doesn’t even know Seth MacFarlane as more than a disembodied voice. The host’s performance can do a lot to raise or lower the level of the show, but the host isn’t usually the draw for the Academy Awards. The movies are, and the shows that get the best ratings tend to be the ones where the favourite is a big movie like Titanic that a lot of young moviegoers went to see. The successful hosts are often the ones who figure out how to show off while calling attention to the more movies on the slate.

Maybe MacFarlane and the producers and writers were too obsessed with the question of how he’d fare as a performer, or whether he could properly balance his edgy and retro sides (both of which probably terrify TV networks: I picture ABC sending them notes not to get too offensive and not to have too many references to movies before 2002). But the theme of the show was “how is Seth MacFarlane doing?” The opening was mostly about him and whether his jokes were too tasteless or edgy. First of all, a lot of those jokes just made him sound like the new Bob Hope, which is no surprise since nearly all Oscar hosts wind up sounding like Bob Hope whether they try to be “mainstream” or “edgy.” (After all, boob jokes were a longtime Hope specialty.) But apart from that, it focused attention away from the movies and the stars, and drew all the attention to this guy most of the home audience wasn’t even familiar with. This was his opportunity to introduce himself to a huge audience, but it seemed to be predicated on the idea that we already knew who he was and were dying to see how he’d make out.

So unless this is an Identity Thief situation where the reviews and the public reaction are wildly out of sync, This night might not wind up helping MacFarlane’s rise to stardom the way he wanted it to. If the ratings aren’t too bad – and since the movies this year are more popular than they have been in some of the previous years – he might emerge looking OK, but it’s certainly not going to change the perception of him as a smug performer. He’s improved so little between Saturday Night Live and this that it suggests he couldn’t or wouldn’t work to improve his live performance skills.

But then the sense of smugness was all over the Oscars tonight. Every Oscar show disappoints for different reasons (let’s face it, the disappointing shows far outweigh the pleasantly surprising ones), but the particular problems of this one were symbolized for me by the way the producers, Zadan and Meron, went out of their way to plug their movie version of Chicago. First they had a re-creation of a number from that movie. Then they had a presentation that paid tribute to the fact that it’s the 10th anniversary of Chicago winning Best Picture. They somehow managed to turn a tribute to film musicals into a tribute to themselves and their foresight in helping to revive the film musical. Even if Chicago were now considered the greatest Best Picture winner of all time, it would still come off as smug. They are, in other words, very much the same guys who produce Smash. The whole show had that same air of assuming we’ll think they’re wonderful and that they don’t need to do much to prove it. Certainly for a producing team that was hired for their showmanship and connections to the world of musical theatre, the show seemed short on the glamour and production values that other producers have brought to it.

There’ll be more about the show and the awards later, but near the end of a long, long night, there was a certain pleasure in seeing Quentin Tarantino’s short, egomaniacal speech. On a night of self-promotion, he was the biggest self-promoter and self-regarder of all, and in a strange way you almost had to admire him for pulling that off. Or maybe it’s just that we sort of know deep down that he’s right: it is all about him.




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Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars

  1. Complain much

  2. MacFarlane was great. I`m not a fan, but I have noticed the mainstream media is slamming him, which I think is unfair and undeserved. Have a look at the comments, he was a hit with people who watched. So much so, some of the media are “updating” their stories to praise him…

    • He was a disgrace. Insults do not equal entertainment

      • what were you expecting?

      • Yes, I bet so many people watching where horrified that he insulted and poked fun at a bunch of filthy rich actors/directors/etc attending a show designed solely to praise their abilities and pumps up their egos. As the “average guy” I loved it and hope Seth is asked back.

        • Some of the filthy rich found it funny too. Those reaction shots during the “boob song” were PRE-RECORDED. The ladies in question were in on the joke.

      • You’re kidding right? Show me one Oscar Host EVER who has not poked fun at the nominees.

    • I think he did a great job as well.

    • I thought he sucked big time.

  3. My boobs were happy that their relatives got a shout out tonight and they would like to congratulate Seth for entertaining those of us who are not always looking for the negative…

  4. I happened to love MacFarlane’s hosting. Love love.

  5. This comment was deleted.

    • I don’t think it was worse than Rob and Snow. What I was thinking was that that show, bad as the opening was, had an opening that conveyed its theme – which, I guess, was being a terrible show. This show just started with a guy in a tux walking out and starting a monologue. I wonder if the opening had been less abrupt if the critical reaction would have been less negative, I don’t know.

  6. “So unless this is an Identity Thief situation where the reviews and the public reaction are wildly out of sync…” The answer is yes. Wildly out of sync, indeed. MacFarlane was really great. I’m browsing all sorts of news sites, and despite bad reviews the majority of comments seem to be in his favour. And ideally viewers perhaps should turn in for the movies but, come one, that’s totally not true at all. The choice of host is far and away the biggest determining factor in the show’s ratings every year. The host *is* the draw.

    • Go back and look at previous years. The best years are hosts who can transition one segment to the next smoothly. Its not about the host, its actually about respect to the years movies.

      • Well, that may be part of it, but *every* host of the last ten years — of the Oscars, the Emmys, the Golden Globes — makes their mark by launching scathing insider humour. Some do it more than others, but it’s become a staple of the awards show genre. Fey and Poehler did it, too, by the way, even though they continue to be universally adored (including by me). And I’m not arguing that the best hosts aren’t those who transition from one segment to the next — that’s demonstrably true — I’m just arguing that people DO tune in these days primarily by the host. And the point that the media is a little out of sync again is based on observational fact. Read the comment sections and this and many, many other sites bears this out.

    • This is true, but it’s also true that comments sections aren’t the most representative thing in the world. Critics can be out-of-touch, but so can comments sections. It’s fair to say, though, that the reaction probably wasn’t as negative as it seemed to be from the reviews.

  7. MacFarlane had the best oscars performance in recent memory. Some people can’t handle actual comedy… It was a hell of a lot better than the crap you see on Family Guy. Didn’t know he had it in him.

    • comedy isnt insulting people

      • No man, comedy is insulting people like you

  8. Pro critics are getting more and more aggravating and desperate. Maybe because we live in an era of 60 million critics on Twitter, so the scraps they’re fighting over are so thin. Seth did great. It wasn’t perfect, it was a little too much about him, but it was great. Plenty of laughs, which sure isn’t as easy as it looks.

  9. He was okay, but it’s hard to watch him because his face is extremely and rather oddly asymmetrical.

  10. That sad moment when Macleans changes their article title from “Macfarlane: A star is not likely born” to “Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars”

    • Seriously… this is happening a lot. The media completely read it wrong. As they’re realizing people loved it their adjusting so they don’t get hated on.

    • No kidding, I’ve noticed at least a couple of sites having changed their reviews or deleting portions of – obvious by the comments of the first few posters referring to some point made by the reviewer which is no longer visible in the review.

    • I still think “A star is probably not born” was pretty inoffensive though.

      • Change it back! I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other – I saw the boobs number and then fell asleep – but surely Maclean’s isn’t losing readers because of the headline.

    • Thanks for bringing this up, Keith. If it helps to demystify things a bit, we web folk will sometimes switch around the headline and sub-headlines on a story, for variety or clarity. In the case of this story, “A star is probably not born” hasn’t been removed: it’s still the story’s subhead, and you can see it on the front page now. (That said, it might be worth looking at making the subheads visible on the blog posts themselves – I’ll raise that with our programmers.)

  11. Having seen the last 36 Oscars live and watched everything else thats available from previous years I have to say MacFarlane was by far THE worst host ever, even worse than David letterman. He managed to show how inept and out of his depth he really is. The insults and negative comments each time he spoke were unnecessary and quite frankly insulting to a revered institution as the Oscars. The viewing audience are mostly over 25 years old, someone forgot to tell the producers obviously, the show is not about who watches it or who tweets this or facebooks that. Its about respect to artists from all generations. Sorry if people don’t appreciate what the Oscars actually mean. The greatest hosts have always managed to be brilliant without using juvenile toilet humour. Bob Hope and Billy Crystal knew how to do it. Sad that now we have to be insulted for 3 hours and call it quality. 1/10 (1 for showing up)

    • you just might be the biggest monster i’ve ever met

    • I think the only thing lacking from Seth is that he was too concerned about being “Nice”. They should have just let him do his schtick. Some people need a sense of humor and learn NOT to take themselves so seriously. He did a great job.

    • ……..buddy, you think the majority of people actually care about this show? Literally half of the United States lives in poverty, and these celebrities are parading around celebrating themselves on how great they are at their jobs, wearing ear rings that cost more than an average persons salary over 5 years. Give me a break. Seth was a fantastic host. Get over it, this ADD nation will forget this show within a week.

    • The viewing audience are mostly over 25 years old, someone forgot to tell the producers obviously, the show is not about who watches it or who tweets this or facebooks that

      In my FB and Twitter feeds the reaction to MacFarlane was OVERWHELMINGLY more negative than this column. Maybe I’m getting old (along with the people I follow).

    • You’re so out of touch. Next year don’t even turn on your black and white TV.

    • Bob Hope and Billy Crystal knew how to do it.

      For the record, boob jokes were pretty much a Bob Hope staple.

  12. Seth was a great host. Some people need to stop taking EVERYTHING he says so seriously, I mean, he’s a comedian for God’s sake. What did you people expect with HIM as the host? Have you ever seen Family Guy? or Ted? or ANYTHING he makes? Geez. He was funny, and a great host. Get over yourself

  13. What the heck is up this guys butt I watched the entire show and I loved Seth he is the funniest host Ive seen for as long as I can remember

  14. I find it hard to believe that people actually think that “insults aren’t comedy.” Tell that to the millions who found Don Rickles funny, or the hundreds of stars who subject themselves to comedy roasts.

    Seriously — why are insults not funny again? Particularly in a business where too many people believe way too much of their PR?

    Insult comedy has a pretty damned good pedigree, from the Ancient Greeks, to Moliere, to the social satirists of today (such as Jon Stewart).

  15. He did better than Franco that’s for sure. He was funny, I actually laughed at his jokes, no matter how inappropriate they were

    • Franco didn’t set that high a bar.

      • I see what you did there.

  16. thought he did great. Your magazine sucks.

  17. MacFarlane was an ass. Lousy jokes. Poor taste and bad performance skills. Did not enjoy him at all, and think he should stick to behind the scenes. Didn’t know who he was before tonight, and now I don’t really want to know any more about him.

  18. i find it amusing while watching the female stars’ faces as the BOOB SONG was sung, they were horrified, especially Charlize and Naomi, and seriously who are they kidding?

    • The “reaction shots” were pre-recorded. The ladies were in on the joke. If you go back and look, the actresses in question (and Jennifer Lawrence too) aren’t even wearing the same dresses in their reaction shots.

  19. he did a very good job. finally some fresh face, fresh ideas. people who are complaining are probably 50+, grumpy, old and never satisfied by anything. good job and hopefully he’ll be back next year.

  20. I blame the producers at least as much as the host for the self-indulgences. The 17-minute opening made me glad I was time-shifting. (“ABC, the network that broadcast the Oscars this year” Huh? Why the hedging? ABC’s had a lock on the show for decades.)

  21. Best Oscars I’ve ever watched. It doesn’t matter who hosts. The media will always hate it. Seth kicked butt, it was so entertaining. People need to take the sticks out of their behinds. Even the celebs were in on the fun.

  22. Those slagging McFarlane: get off Seth’s case! Hosting the Oscars is a tough gig and yet he was not only funny, edgy and versatile, but also self-effacing; I thought did a great job!

  23. “Chicago” helped revive the musical? I beg to differ. That distinction goes to Moulin Rouge, I think. Withou the success of that musical, I doubt that the film version of Chicago would have seen the light of day.

  24. The worst Academy Awards EVER!

  25. MacFarlane produces Family man and the Movie Ted etc…He uses crudeness and shock value as a substitute for real humour.. But the academy new this and there he is..bad decision to the suprise of ??

  26. Frat boy humor.

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