Was Oscars host Seth MacFarlane too crude, or are critics being too sensitive?

February 25, 2013

The 85th annual Academy Awards ceremony was broadcast Sunday. Though talk of the winners, losers, and red carpet attire was popular, so was talk about the host — Seth MacFarlane. Lisa De Moraes wrote:

Oscar hosts come in two flavors.

There are filmdom insiders — Hugh Jackman, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, etc. — and filmdom outsiders such as David Letterman, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart.

Outsiders tend to favor a scorched-earth approach.

Remember Rock’s “Who is Jude Law” Oscar gag? “You want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law? Wait! . . . Why is he in every movie I have seen, the last four years? Even the movies he’s not acting in, if you look at the credits, he made cupcakes or something,” which got presenter Sean Penn hopping mad?

Scorched earth.

This year’s host, Seth MacFarlane, is a member of the outsiders, although, yes, he directed, co-produced, co-wrote and co-starred in “Ted” — the highest-grossing, original R-rated comedy film of all time.

Mostly, MacFarlane’s known as the guy TV critics love to hate — the brains behind Fox’s animated “Family Guy,” the much-derided magnet for young-guy viewers, the elusive unicorns of the television industry.

Hank Stuever said that he “Jaws” theme song, which was used this year to warn speech givers that they’re time on stage was almost up, should have been used on MacFarlane instead:

But to be fair, the “Jaws” theme ought to be used when the host’s shtick is dragging on, too. Such as when you have William Shatner don his Captain Kirk costume and beam in from the 23rd century to tell the host — in a protracted and meta way — that, in real time, his gig is getting bad reviews from critics.

It was a too-long setup for host Seth MacFarlane’s best number, “We Saw Your Boobs,” backed by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.

MacFarlane, the potty-mouth cartoon mogul turned latter-day lounge lizard, did a fairly middle-of-the-road job as host on a fairly middle-of-the-road telecast. He occasionally found the balance between the knifey, pop-savvy humor of his TV shows and his other side as a showbiz sycophant who sings all the standards at the top of his lungs. What you got was a combination of sicko and retro, an Oscar show hosted by someone who waited until Oscar night to discover that he’s only so-so at stand-up comedy.

He was neither comfortable with the easy jokes (“Amour — or as I call it, ‘This is 90’ ”) nor the provocative ones that he was brought on board to tell and perhaps goose the ungoosable youth market for Oscar ratings: “I would argue that the actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth,” he said. (That wasn’t the real joke, though. The real joke came after the Hollywood swells in the Dolby Theatre gasped and groaned. Then it became what it was meant to be in the post-irony age: a “too soon?” joke.)

Stuever isn’t alone in his assessment of MacFarlane’s performance, or his jokes being told in “bad taste.” But the Post’s Joel Achenbach responded to Stuever’s review with a little humor:

Until just a few years ago, the Academy Awards show was both long in length and long in the tooth, with aging mandarins like Jack and Clint camped out in the front row as tenured directors and cinematographers and costume designers creaking up the steps to pick up their hardware. The show included a ritual homage to Hollywood’s glorious past and a lifetime achievement award for someone who’d once directed Buster Keaton.

Now the show is hipper. Younger. Edgier. The producers decided we must have humor that offends the old, the staid, the stuffy, the frumpy and the frowny (I’m one of those, but I’m not going to tell you which one!). The way you can tell if you’re no longer the demographic prized by the show’s producers is if you were offended last night when host Seth MacFarlane joked that the only actor truly able to get into Abraham Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.

Yes, Hank, “too soon.”

I’m still upset by what happened in Ford’s Theater in April 1865. I’ve reached the age when a lot of stuff that happened a long time ago doesn’t seem as distant. I would probably wince at a Julius Caesar assassination joke. Or a quip about Socrates drinking his poison.

Related:

The Onion apologizes for Quvenzhane Wallis tweet that outraged the Internet

Dennis Kucinich at the Oscars

Oscar 2013 fashion trends: A muted color palette reigns

All is inanity at Vanity Fair’s Oscar party

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