The early reviews of Sunday night’s telecast of the 85th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, are in, and the results are mixed.
Robert Bianco, the TV critic at USA Today, wrote, “Oscars fans have seen a lot over the years, but this may be the first time they’ve ever seen a host use the awards to audition for his own variety show.
“That was what Seth MacFarlane was doing on ABC’s Oscar broadcast Sunday, wasn’t it? Because it’s hard to imagine just what else he might have had in mind with that oddly awkward mix of monologue and music that opened the show and set the evening’s why-am-I-here? tone.”
Bianco added, “He started with a number about seeing stars’ breasts in movies that was meant to represent the kind of "wild, crazy and tasteless" stunt folks were supposedly afraid the man behind ‘Family Guy’ might do, and was, unfortunately, less wild, crazy or tasteless than it needed to be. He then moved into more standard production numbers that fell somewhere in between Billy Crystal’s Oscars classics and something you might have seen on ‘The Andy Williams Show.’ It’s as if he saw the Oscar assignment as his last, best chance to revive vaudeville.”
What MacFarlane seemed to forget, Bianco wrote, was that the primary job of the host of the Oscars “means keeping the train running, making your guests comfortable, and making the evening more about them than you. Awash in self-indulgence, neither he nor his 3-hour-and-35-minute show ever seemed to hit a comfortable, confident stride, which is a shame, because the broadcast had a lot of entertainment to offer.”
Tim Goodman, the TV critic at The Hollywood Reporter (and formerly at the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle), was much more kind to MacFarlane: “I’d argue that with the deck stacked very much against him, MacFarlane did impressively better than one would have wagered.”
Goodman also wrote, “In fact, MacFarlane was relatively tame if you know anything at all about his canon, and he was respectful through and through. As a guy who can actually sing and has recorded a successful album (fueling more jealousy and backlash from his detractors), his pick was more spot-on than anyone gave the Academy credit for. But they did get lucky. He didn’t give up, like Franco. He took the job extremely seriously and put himself out there. Ultimately, he excelled at balance.”
Over at THR competitor Variety, longtime TV critic Brian Lowry wrote, “Infusing the evening with genial snark, Seth MacFarlane joined David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock as hosts tapped to heighten the Oscars’ hipness quotient and address its age-old (which is to say, old age) problem. Once viewers got past the protracted opening, however, they learned the ‘Family Guy’ producer was just as constrained as his predecessors and wasn’t going to transform the Academy Awards into a Comedy Central roast. Rather, much like Hugh Jackman’s spirited stint a few years back, it felt like the Tonys had a baby with a Vegas revue, albeit on a much larger stage.”
Lowry added, “MacFarlane might have a reputation for juvenile humor, but he also possesses an obvious love for old-style variety. Perhaps that’s why he really wasn’t an avant-garde choice, reflecting a bait-and-switch tactic the Oscars have employed before — hoping people will tune in to see what might happen, and then serving up the same old show. In a sense, MacFarlane was playing Billy Crystal, just 25 years younger.
“Indeed, while it’s hard to remember a more self-referential opening — dwelling about whether MacFarlane was up to the task — his first flurry of jokes felt about as edgy as a standard Jay Leno monologue on ‘The Tonight Show,’ just with an industry bent: Ben Affleck being overlooked in the director bids, Meryl Streep’s frequent nominations, the tumultuous Chris Brown-Rihanna relationship, etc.”
The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley wrote, “Fewer could have foreseen that old Hollywood and new would come together in one M.C. Seth MacFarlane, the creator of ‘Family Guy,’ crooned sappy standards (‘The Way You Look Tonight’) and carried himself like Fred Astaire. But he also stayed true to form, taking crude shots at Jews in Hollywood, women and even the Lincoln assassination. (He made a joke that despite brilliant impersonations by Daniel Day-Lewis and Raymond Massey, the actor ‘who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.’)”
Stanley was far more critical of the rest of the Oscarcast than she was of MacFarlane’s hosting. Her conclusion: “Mr. MacFarlane didn’t ruin the show. But the show almost ruined the Oscars.”
We urge you to click on the various links in this item and read all of the reviews in full.