Seth never had a chance

I'm old enough — just barely — to remember when hosting the Oscars wasn't the showbiz equivalent of the Ironman, requiring a singing, dancing funnyman (or woman) who could somehow bring freshness to a tired format while not upsetting anyone too much and, oh, yeah, meeting US East Coast newspaper deadlines. Which are earlier than ever these days.

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Oscars host MacFarlane went hot and cold

Philippa Hawker and Karl Quinn reflect on Seth MacFarlane as host of this year's Oscars as well as all the big awards of the night.

Bob Hope and Johnny Carson never dealt with the instantaneous judgement of Twitter and Facebook, much less had to follow Billy Crystal, who raised Oscar hosting to an Olympic sport in which even David Letterman and Jon Stewart failed to medal.

So maybe we should start by acknowledging that the otherwise scarily talented Seth MacFarlane never really had a chance at the 85th Academy Awards. Even if he had done the entire show in the voice of Stewie Griffin.

Yep, I've taken almost as long starting this column as he did starting the show.

MacFarlane's opening — punctuated by second-screen shtick by William Shatner as Star Trek Capt. James T. Kirk, calling from the future — had its moments, but none of them funny enough to justify what essentially became a 17-minute clearing of the host's throat.


No, not even MacFarlane, backed up by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, singing We Saw Your Boobs, name-checking actresses who've been topless in films. (Presumably few of the people most interested in this list were watching. So see Shatner for the playback.)

Worth the time: MacFarlane's singing The Way You Look Tonight as Charlize Theron and, yes, a fully clothed Channing Tatum danced around him.

Because the Family Guy creator and voice actor, a science geek who sings like a '40s crooner, can't, it turns out, dance a lick. Which is kind of a relief.

Known best for his taste-pushing humour (and less for his singing voice, which is better than Crystal's), MacFarlane kept himself reasonably in check for most of the evening. (I nevertheless look forward to an email from a certain watchdog group that will almost inevitably object to one or more of his jokes.)

But for anyone who's seen even one episode of Fox's Family Guy, MacFarlane's comment, after mentioning that Raymond Massey had, like Daniel Day-Lewis, been nominated for portraying Abraham Lincoln, that "I would argue that John Wilkes Booth was the actor who really got into Lincoln's head," had to seem pretty mild.

Critics of course have blasted MacFarlane for "crudely sexist antics", peddling "offensive" Jewish stereotypes, and hated We Saw Your Boobs.

This is a show that was never really meant to be about the host.

"Watching the Oscars last night meant sitting through a series of crudely sexist antics led by a scrubby, self-satisfied Seth MacFarlane," wrote culture bible The New Yorker.

"That would be tedious enough. But the evening's misogyny involved a specific hostility to women in the workplace... It was unattractive and sour."

A sketch with Ted provoked some of the harshest criticism. The bear appeared with his big-screen buddy actor Mark Wahlberg, and made a series of jokes about having sex with audience members and an orgy at Jack Nicholson's place.

He then joked about Jewish control of the American movie industry, saying his real name was Theodore Shapiro, adding: "I would like to donate money to Israel and continue to work in Hollywood forever. Thank you."

Predictably, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an anti-Semitism watchdog, blasted the jokes as "offensive and not remotely funny."

But this is a show that was never really meant to be about the host, and if you hung in till 11pm [US] EST, you got to hear Barbra Streisand capping the In Memoriam with a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch that I sure hope wasn't lip-synched.

As always, there were a few awards that even a 12-hour show probably wouldn't have gotten to:

—Least-prepared winner: Claudio Miranda, the silver-maned cinematographer who won for Life of Pi. Let's just say that "Oh my God, I can't even speak" is not what you want to hear from someone who's already been speaking for a while and shows no signs of stopping.

—Best use of Jaws theme since Jaws: To play off winners who circled subject of their speeches for too long.

—Red-carpet charmer: Actress/ interviewer Kristin Chenoweth, who endeared herself to short women everywhere when she kicked off her shoes to demonstrate to Bradley Cooper's mother, Gloria, that there was someone at the Oscars shorter than she.

—Best way to annoy presenter Christopher Plummer: Referencing a scene from The Sound of Music in introducing him. But I kind of loved that MacFarlane did it, anyway.

—Bit most likely to confuse host's younger fans: MacFarlane, dressed as The Flying Nun, chatting up its onetime star, Sally Field.

—Awkward format: Grouping Best Picture nominees in threes, making for some odd juxtapositions. Is it time to go back to five nominees and give each its own slot?

LA Times, AFP, wires

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