As most of us know, The 85th Academy Awards aired last night. The main concern on everyone’s minds however was host Seth MacFarlane, and just how offensive the Family Guy creator would get. Before I get into the details I will say upfront that I very much enjoyed MacFarlane’s turn as Oscar host. MacFarlane is clearly the latest choice by the Academy to “keep it fresh.” In the past five years we have had only one new solo host (Hugh Jackman, whom I really liked), two sets of host duets (Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin and the comically tragic James Franco/Anne Hathaway duo) and last year’s safety pick of veteran host Billy Crystal. So MacFarlane was the Oscars’ response to the brash humor of Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes of the past several years; its a smart ratings gamble. And while I may not be the greatest fan of Family Guy or its animated brethren, I can’t deny that MacFarlane is a witty and talented creator. I take more pleasure in MacFarlane’s stage presence actually. I think that he has a great Andy Williams-like singing voice that combines with his more crass modern humor to form a curious final product of offensive charm.
So let’s get into the key beats from MacFarlane’s hosting gig, shall we? The show began with an opening joke about the perennially stoic Tommy Lee Jones, followed by an “interruption” from William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. Captain Kirk was broadcasting from the future, warning MacFarlane of how he would ruin the Oscars with some of his more offensive jokes and routines. We then saw a few video examples of MacFarlane’s “future failures,” including a sock puppet rendition of Flight and the host making a pass at Oscar veteran Sally Field (both of which were rather meh.)
The most entertaining of these was MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” song and dance number. I can understand why this could be seen as an offensive/misogynistic attack on female performers in Hollywood and women general, but I do not agree with that assessment. Being a woman in the public eye (Hollywood’s especially) is a not the easiest life. Your performance, appearance and personal life is under constant scrutiny by critics, “fashion police,” tabloids and the like. And as absurd as it seems, there is a delicate balance in choosing the roles when and where you go topless. These decisions can make or break your career by labeling you as an artist or something less than desirable. It is with this perspective that I approach the silly (and in my opinion good-spirited) musical number about actresses’ breasts. First off I believe that MacFarlane sees the absurdity in our fixation with Oscar nudity. Secondly I like the fact that he openly addresses peoples’ concerns of his lowbrow/low blow form of comedy by showing “what could have been” segments. You may accuse it of being a cheap cop out (which it is) but that is his trademark humor, similar to all of those drawn-out cut scenes on his TV shows. Also, I probably enjoyed it so much because I’m a fan of big production musical numbers that have an inherent silliness to them. (I reeeally want to see The Book of Mormon on stage.)
Suffice it to say, compared to what Fox allows MacFarlane to get away with on Family Guy, his jokes last night were rather tame. You may say that he was too smarmy and disrespectful, but I point you to his introduction of Christopher Plummer, which was an excellent and very sincere homage to The Sound of Music. MacFarlane is certainly a man of easy digs and rude humor, but he is also a lifelong fan of film; you don’t have so many pop culture references stored in your brain otherwise. Now I realize that MacFarlane doesn’t need any defense, he’s doing alright on his own obviously. And I’m honestly not the biggest advocate of his work, which does often cross the line in terms of taste. While I may not like everything he does, I do respect him. He is a product of Hollywood film and television, heavily influenced by those creators (good and bad) that have come before him. I think that he is a sign of the times, a representation of the self-aware nature of Hollywood and America (for better or worse.) So I applaud his efforts, and if I had to grade him I would give him a “B” or “B+.” He wasn’t perfect, but I think that he made the show more entertaining than it has been in some time.