After the breath of fresh air of the surprisingly entertaining Golden Globes broadcast, it seems we’re back to business as usual in awards show land. Last night’s Seth MacFarlane-hosted broadcast of the 2013 Academy Awards had all the defects one typically associates with these occasions. It was overlong, going on well past its scheduled end time, awkward, and had a divisive host who put a lot of people off even if he apparently did succeed in bringing in more viewers “in the demo” (i.e. age 18-49).
First, let’s get this out of the way: Seth MacFarlane was terrible. If you disagree, that’s fine. You’re wrong. His material was hacky, lazy, and mean-spirited, not to mention racist, sexist, and homophobic at various points. No I didn’t find his material “offensive.” It was just dumb, boring, mean, and predictable. Any randomly chosen frat boy could have probably come up with similar material.
What’s strange is that while MacFarlane was probably chosen to be a hip, “edgy” 21st century host in contrast to the geriatric Billy Crystal who was trotted out for last year’s show, with his retrograde worldview, dated references, and old school style of delivery, MacFarlane came off as positively retro to me. It’s obvious the guy has always had a retro jones. He seems to love singing like an old school crooner more than anything else in the world, and he indulged in that impulse so many times last night it led many to remark that it felt more like watching a Tonys broadcast than an Oscars.
Things immediately got off to a bad start. MacFarlane’s seemingly endless opening monologue ran well over 15 minutes and had a ridiculously convoluted premise. (Contrast that with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s approach of simply walking out on stage and telling a series of funny jokes.) Basically, in probably the most “meta” hosting gig of all time, MacFarlane throughout the night made tons of jokes about how he felt he would be perceived as a host. This started right at the beginning of the show when William Shatner as Captain Kirk appeared on a big screen saying he’d been sent back from the 23rd century. (It says everything you know about MacFarlane’s frozen-in-time frame of reference that for him Shatner will always be Captain Kirk.) Shatner showed MacFarlane an internet review of his performance (much like this one) in which he was pronounced the worst host in Oscars history.
MacFarlane then proceeded to do various bits demonstrating what he did to garner the negative reviews, gradually upgrading his reviews from “worst ever” to “mediocre,” at which point he decided to leave well enough alone. Typed out, this sounds like a potentially entertaining premise. The problem is, as opposed to doing the “worst ever” bits in some kind of quick cutaway gag or something, MacFarlane chose to perform them in full, excruciating length. It was obvious that the whole ridiculously convoluted Captain Kirk/time travel premise was merely a “have your cake and eat it too” device, allowing him to perform the hacky, juvenile bits he really wanted to perform, but all within some meta framing device which he thought would somehow make them go over better. As Alan Sepinwall says, “Give us 10 or 15 seconds of “We Saw Your Boobs,” and it’s effective self-satire; give us the whole thing, and that’s what you really wanted to do, framework or no.”
So, yes the big opening musical number to the 85th Annual Academy Awards was called “We Saw Your Boobs,” and was pretty much a Mr. Skin-like listing of all the times a bunch of major actresses had performed nude scenes. The camera cut to reaction shots of many of the named actresses, some appearing to take the bit in good humor and others glowering. It was unclear whether those who appeared annoyed were just doing some acting to help the bit along or were genuinely peeved, but either way it was uncomfortable to watch and went on for way too long.
This bit pretty much set the tone for the whole seemingly interminable evening: overlong, too many musical numbers, and too many juvenile, mean-spirited, sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes. The “We Saw Your Boobs” number was performed by Seth alongside the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Choir and he immediately made sure to make a “joke” to Shatner about how he wasn’t part of the Choir because, you know, “no homo” bro.
Later joke subjects included how “Zero Dark Thirty” was really about “”a woman’s innate ability to never let anything go,” how you can’t understand what some women like Salma Hayek are saying but it doesn’t matter because they’re super hot, how 9 year old nominee Quvenzhané Wallis was going to grow up to one day have sex with George Clooney, how Seth can’t tell Eddie Murphy and Denzel Washington apart, how the Jews control Hollywood, and how the Kardashian sisters are unusually hairy, I guess because they’re Armenian?
As terrible and dispiriting as this all was, not everything that was wrong with the broadcast was MacFarlane’s fault. The Producers of the broadcast also produced the movie version of the musical “Chicago” and they packed in so many tributes to that movie (because it’s apparently the tenth anniversary of the film’s release) that at times the show seemed to be more an all-star tribute to “Chicago” than an Academy Awards Show. Between the seemingly endless slew of Seth MacFarlane musical numbers and “Chicago” tributes the broadcast went on well over half an hour past schedule, returning to bad old habits after strenuous efforts to make the telecast tighter over the last few years.
As the broadcast limped to the finish line MacFarlane of course made a joke about how long it was getting (when it was mostly his fault), placing him firmly within the tradition of hack Oscar hosts, Billy Crystal’s heir apparent.