Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars

So what did I think of the Oscars?

Funny you should ask.

Besides it being too long -- isn't it always? -- and despite the fact that most of the awards are of interest only to those in the film industry, I thought this year's event was injected with a healthy dose of inventiveness, making it a refreshing change from the recent past.

Most of the day-after water cooler chatter had to do with host Seth MacFarlane.

(A disclaimer: I met MacFarlane when my son was a writer on his animated sit-com "American Dad" and I watched him work several times at "table reads," where the cast performs a script for the first time. He's funny, likable and extremely talented. So let's just say I was inclined to enjoy his Oscar performance even before the first joke.)

Here's what you have to understand about MacFarlane and the Oscars: He was hired in large part because of his appeal to young males, a demographic the aging Oscars show needed to attract to the broadcast. (TV ratings did rise overall and in that category.) And he was selected because the producers wanted what MacFarlane could deliver: the kind of edginess that has helped make his three Fox comedies ("Family Guy" and "The Cleveland Show" are the two) and his movie "Ted" popular, plus his ability to sing standards in the manner of old Hollywood. In short, MacFarlane is a younger, hipper Billy Crystal, a perennial Oscar favorite.

So MacFarlane performed as advertised, something he parodied in a bit-too-long opening routine anticipating him being called the worst Oscars host ever (with which many on Twitter during the show and in the press afterwards were in agreement).

Here's the equation: Past Oscars shows have been considered predictable and, yes, boring. Bring in an irreverent performer and turn him loose. Then duck when spitballs from an offended peanut gallery come flying.

Jokes about breasts, domestic violence and Jews in Hollywood drew the predictable screams of foul from some individuals and special interest groups.

(Meanwhile, the "In Memoriam" segment, something with which MacFarlane wasn't involved, produced anger among Hispanics for the omission of an actress they thought was snubbed. (Days before the Oscars there were reports about "In Memoriam" being such a hotly contested segment, given the guarantee of many exclusions, that the names of those who decide who's in and who's out are closely guarded secret, lest they be subjected to backlash.)

What all this says to me is that there's no tougher "room" than the Oscars, both in the theater and on TV. When you look up "no-win situation" in the dictionary, there's Oscar.

Hey, it's supposed to be entertainment, all in good fun, from the movie capital of the world, no less. Lighten up. If the Seth MacFarlanes of the business are scared away from hosting future Oscars, we'll get more shows hosted by the likes of Ann Hathaway and James Franco. Remember when they had the gig? Yikes.

If you want to know what disappointed me most about this year's show, it was that other than the electrifying performance of "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey, the James Bond tribute highlight reel was pedestrian stuff. I'd hoped that all the James Bonds would do a walk-on -- Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. It's been speculated that both Connery and Brosnan weren't interested in attending.
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