Monday, October 1, 2012

Can Seth MacFarlane Bring Youthful Energy to the Oscars?

Seth MacFarlane
It was announced today that the director of the breakout hit comedy Ted and creator of the Emmy winning cartoon series Family Guy as well as the nominated shows American Dad, and The Cleveland Show will be hosting this year's telecast of the 85th Academy Awards. That statement justifies a spit take, if just because of  how random it appeared. It plays like a bad cutaway gag in Family Guy. However, this could be a silver lining. Is it possible that the Academy has finally found a way to be young and hip by giving Seth MacFarlane the hosting gig?

For the past few weeks, we have been focusing on possible contenders for nominations. However, the biggest slot of all, the host, has remained unfilled. It hasn't been that big of concern on account of the event not being until February 24, but it was still a perplexing one. Based on the past few years, the Academy has tried to appeal to the younger crowd and has notoriously failed. First came the team-up of James Franco and Anne Hathaway, which still gets a bad rap and is probably why Franco has been low profile ever since. 

However, last year was a blessing and a curse. The original line-up was Brett Ratner producing and Eddie Murphy hosting. While Murphy has become known as a hack children's movie comic, it raised eyebrows. Would the Beverly Hills Cop star shine with a slew of funny jokes, or would it be one long barrage of antisemitic references as Midnight in Paris? No matter what, there was some interesting possibilities which were shattered when Ratner was fired and Murphy followed suit. 

He was replaced with longtime reliant host Billy Crystal, which many would argue was a step backwards in terms of cool. However, he cannot be faulted as he did his inoffensive shtick and caused no controversy. However, portions that may have been completed by Ratner were present in the ceremony, including a skit where maligned actor Adam Sandler was seen talking about quality movies. The last minute switch over left some segments feeling awkwardly placed in what ended up being an uneventful ceremony due to a strong front runner named The Artist.

That is why this year seemed like a gamble. The Oscars have long been notorious for being boring, occasionally peaking with hosts like Hugh Jackman and Steve Martin. Who could they possibly pick to rejuvenate the show? Someone who had the background necessary to be a well rounded host. Someone that could do song, dance, pop culture references, and not step on everyone's toes. Many names come to mind, but at this point, we'll consider the older legends to be on the priority list. However, this video came out and proved us all wrong:

It has been quite a year for Seth MacFarlane. Besides continuing to be currently one of the highest paid TV creators, he released the very successful comedy Ted, which grossed $434 million worldwide on a $50 million budget and possess as 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. His big band covers album "Music is Better than Words" received Grammy nominations. He hosted the debut episode of the current season of Saturday Night Live to high praise, and American Dad just won an Emmy for Best Animated Program. Everything seems to be going his way. However, what makes this more impressive is that he is the first voice actor to host the awards.

Which brings me to another concern. I am not opposed to voice actors hosting the ceremony, but there is a certain charisma that goes along with it. For the most part, MacFarlane has a familiar shtick that has made him famous: sporadic jokes that often deal with misogyny, racism, or self-deprecation, easy pop culture jabs, and even a few song and dance numbers. He has proven himself time and again to be a charismatic person in interviews and is able to jump into song almost immediately. This is a necessity to any awards show, but the bigger question is if the rest of his routine will work.

As the announcement video will show, he is not below making lowbrow humor. This is not necessarily an issue when hosting the ceremony, but the host is expected to bring some class to the event. How is he going to bring class to an event if he is making jokes about swim trunks and possibly even worse, jokes that may seem familiar to him, but ones that will not play over well with the audience? I'm of course talking about jokes like these:

"Don't look at the lady in the front row with the huge knockers," is one of the few lines that makes me doubt that this guy can do it right. I am sure that he will be toned down and with writers that are not part of his Family Guy writing staff, there may be some quality improvement, but he seems like a sporadic improviser who goes straight for the lowbrow. While it is impressive that he can jump from category to category, voice to voice, there is still the worry that we're expecting MacFarlane to bust out a Peter Griffin impersonation. 

There is a sense that MacFarlane has become successful from doing voices, so therefore is obligated to use them whenever he can. Since those voices are associated with shows that always jab at everything possible, what is to stop him this time? He has gone on record as saying that he will be very active in writing the jokes for the show. That is one of the cons of this event, if just because I feel that he could easily fall into lame jokes that don't highlight what makes him an apt host.

What makes him an apt host? In fact, what could make him a great host? It is not just the voice work, which is impressive. You cannot see other cartoon creators like Trey Stone and Matt Parker (who also are on their own winning streak with "Book of Mormon" on Broadway) getting up there and hosting. It is the charisma. If you watch that Saturday Night Live clip, you will notice something. He is able to keep going, even when his routine is falling flat. He is always a step ahead of the audience and therefore is able to keep going. Also, the way he jumps around with voices and can easily jump into songs seems like a god send. Need more proof that he's an apt singer who is well aware of its history:

He may seem drunk with power at times, which attributes to his lazy joke writing, but when it comes to music, there is a sense of appreciation. He can croon one of the classics or string together a witty little ditty that manages to pay homage to the days of yesteryear while sounding fresh. This is essential to any opening segment, which tries to start the show with a dazzling set piece that highlights the year in movies. Last year, to add insult to injury, felt more like a look back on the history of the Oscars more than any current achievement.

As an average episode of Family Guy will show, he has a vast knowledge of pop culture and can easily draw references. This could be one of the most creative hosts to capture the zeitgeist if he does it right. Imagine a monologue where he manages to make modern and clever jokes about Cloud Atlas or Argo. He isn't afraid to be edgy, which will help him go for bolder material. The only problem now is to string together an entire monologue without it turning into tangents. He hasn't been needed to do any hosting beyond a few minute awards presentation. However, if his persona carries over, he could be very charismatic.

He also could craft decent segments throughout the show. Sometimes the show runs short and it is necessary to have a few pre-taped videos to entertain the audience. Along with his work on Ted, he understands brevity and can work through a bit in any amount of time. After all, it worked for Jon Stewart, who remains one of the recent highlights. It may seem wacky and out of place (and hopefully doesn't involve Family Guy references), but it will add some energy to the ceremony and even if the older crowd doesn't understand, it will get the audience to enjoy themselves.

However, as charismatic and promising as MacFarlane is, it is himself that gets in the way. Chris Rock got banned for insulting actors. MacFarlane does that on a weekly basis. What's to stop him from going too far? He may have all of the elements necessary to be a great host, but he seems a little too dedicated to the lowbrow punches. It also has been awhile since his shows have been the centerpiece in the zeitgeist, so maybe we are too familiar with his shtick to find it funny. Only time will tell, though I hope we get MacFarlane at the right energy level and have what could possibly be one of the best, most entertaining shows in recent years.

What do you think, is Seth MacFarlane a good choice? Will his patented humor go over well, or will it run flat in the four hour telecast?

No comments:

Post a Comment