Seth MacFarlane’s clever, if somewhat protracted, opening bit at Sunday night’s Academy Awards starred his hero, Captain Kirk, who traveled back in time to prevent a hosting performance certain to earn the wrath of Hollywood.
Kirk/William Shatner showed “clips” typical of the MacFarlane we’ve come to expect from “Family Guy” and “Ted” – he sang a number called “We Saw Your Boobs” that named names (and movies), mounted a sophomoric sock puppet version of “Flight” and creepily came on to Sally Field while hovering in a “Flying Nun” outfit.
But with the encouragement of Kirk/Shatner, viewers also were treated to more traditionally Oscar-friendly fare as MacFarlane used the pleasing singing voice that once crudely derided “The Freaking FCC
” to croon “The Way You Look Tonight,” “High Hopes” and a gentle parody of “Be Our Guest.”
The comically schizophrenic opening set the tone for a night in which MacFarlane tried to have it both ways – morphing before a worldwide audience from a “Family Guy” to a self-mocking “Oscar Guy.” Not that it always proved a smooth transition during a broadcast whose strength and weakness both rested in being a made-for-TV affair more rooted at times in MacFarlane’s television sensibility than in the movies.
Still, whatever the final critical consensus, “boring” shouldn’t be among the top adjectives to describe MacFarlane’s frequently funny Oscars turn. He tweaked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for snubbing Ben Affleck in the Best Director category for “Argo,” even if he couldn’t help likening the filmmaker to a Kardashian. MacFarlane got tentative laughs with a quip about Daniel Day-Lewis’s round-the-clock method-acting approach to “Lincoln” (“If you bumped into Don Cheadle on the lot, would you try to free him?”). A crack about the prevalence of an insidious slur in “Django Unchained” (“I’m told the screenplay is loosely based on Mel Gibson’s voicemail”) elicited groans.
The Hollywood audience didn’t know how to react to another “Lincoln”-inspired one-liner that invoked the most infamous thespian of them all: “I would argue that the actor who really got into Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.”
MacFarlane quickly made it clear, even if he was somewhat subdued compared to his usual bawdy TV oeuvre, that he was playing less to the stars in the seats of the Dolby Theatre than to the Peter Griffins in Quahogs across the globe (or at least in the U.S.).
His jokes, taste-pushing and otherwise, helped keep the 3 1/2-hour ABC broadcast moving at a reasonable pace, which came as a relief after recent years of lackluster Oscar nights. MacFarlane provided balance between the scathing wit that Ricky Gervais brought to the Golden Globes from 2010 to 2012, and the more all-around talents required by the Academy Awards. His song-and-dance talent aided the cause in a year in which Oscar celebrated music.
MacFarlane knew coming in he’d be viewed with skepticism by the usual Tinseltown crowd, and drew laughs stressing his outsider status not only in his opening but via his fuzzy, foul-mouthed alter ego Ted, who wanted the address of “the big post-Oscars Hollywood orgy.” He also knew he’d be compared to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who earned raves hosting
the Globes last month. MacFarlane turned that into a joke, too – and making himself, like everyone else in the crowd, fair game for barbs.
“Why couldn’t they just get Tina and Amy to host?” Kirk/Shatner asked.
MacFarlane said they’d be in his place next year. Maybe. But give him credit for injecting a breath of fresh – as in cheeky – air that at times propelled the 85th Annual Academy Awards into comic territory where no Oscars broadcast has gone before.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.