Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Oscar Postmortem Pt. 2: Seth MacFarlane

Reactions from entertainment writers in the wake of last Sunday's sweet and sour Academy Awards telecast have been mostly sour. Has nobody anything sweet to say about the show or its controversial host Seth MacFarlane? I'm just searching for some sugar, man.

Not that MacFarlane needs me or anyone else to defend him. He's no martyr. The style of frat-boy humour that so annoyed people at the Oscars is that upon which he's built for himself a small TV animation empire. Having gotten away with – and actually thrived on – far grosser comedy in Family Guy and American Dad for so many years makes the 39-year-old millionaire somewhat untouchable.

So why do I feel compelled to debate the vocal masses who have been quick to deem him public enemy #1? Again, it's not because I feel he needs to be defended. Nor is it because I think he did a particularly great job; his own self-deprecating meta review of himself, “Seth MacFarlane Proves to be Mediocre Oscar Host”, is pretty accurate in my opinion. So no, this editorial is not a defence of the man, and it is not a contrarian stand for the minority opinion. Rather, it is a plea for cooler heads and less conclusion-jumping, which are becoming increasingly rare in this digital age of hasty headlines and instant reactions.

Indeed, the hunt for measured or objective reviews of Mr. MacFarlane's hosting gig has proven a difficult one. Most critics either neglect or simply refuse to take the good with the bad, opting for the easier route of isolating his most offensive zingers as the entire basis for their assessment of not only his performance, but of his personal character as well, going so far as to libel him with allegations of misogyny, racism, and homophobia.

Forgive me for thinking that such accusations are thinly based and excessively harsh. Even the most cringe-inducing of MacFarlane's one-liners are no worse than Ricky Gervais' three consecutive years of mean-spirited roasting at the Golden Globes, a common comparison being made to MacFarlane's attempt. And even that comparison is not an entirely sound one, as Gervais only knew how to make crass and acidic jabs at the talent in the room, whereas MacFarlane's comedy ran the gamut – as it does in his animated TV shows – from dangerously provocative to subversively satirical to self-consciously dopey.

People seem to forget, or simply don't care, that the same guy who wrote that unnerving George-Clooney/Quvenzhane-Wallis innuendo is the same guy who thought to include that affectionately geeky Sound of Music reference (yes, that gag cracked me up). The same guy who rolled our eyes with the now infamous “We Saw Your Boobs” song was likely even more eager to croon the Fred & Ginger classic “The Way You Look Tonight”, swing music being one of his favourite larks. He who jested about the decidedly unfunny Chris-Brown/Rihanna drama also invented that clever Captain Kirk sketch, which not only served as an innovative framing device for raunchy asides and musical pastiche alike, but also rained a preemptive blow against the rough reviews that MacFarlane surely knew he would face ever since accepting the job four months ago.

Am I implying that we should unconditionally forgive MacFarlane his most tasteless bits? Not at all. A cruel joke is a cruel joke no matter which way you slice it (although I'd argue that most of his bad material falls under the category of immature rather than cruel). But what right has anyone to judge a large, variety-filled performance from nothing more than the relatively small sample of gags that crossed the line? How can a handful of ill-advised jokes encapsulate the efforts of an unarguably talented man who clearly worked his ass off to write, act, sing, and dance on a 3.5 hour live show?

That is selective reasoning. That is biased journalism. That is unfair.

Of course, MacFarlane was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. Even if all his material was clean as a sheet, he would still probably have taken flack for the show's heavy musical slant. Not that it was even his doing, but the host always acts as a lightning rod for negativity toward the show, even if it's not his/her fault. William Shatner's subtle aside, “Are you sure you want to become the first Oscar host to get a bad review?”, apparently went over the heads of the audience at the Dolby Theatre, who did not laugh on cue as I did.

If you're one of the many who hated this year's telecast because of the plethora of musical performances, then your beef is more with producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. As much as I enjoy song and dance, even I felt the frequent shout-outs to Chicago (which the pair executive produced ten years ago) wreaked of self-promotion. Not MacFarlane's fault, but again, he's the easiest target to identify for those who thought the show was an unbearable disaster.

I wouldn't weep for him. He'll land on his feet and continue to prosper doing what he does best. A press culture as quick to judge as this will undoubtedly move on to the next big controversy soon enough, but I'll continue to keep my eyes peeled for opinions that are a bit more considered, a bit more willing to see a bigger picture, and perhaps just a bit sweeter than the cry of the mob.

I'm just searching for some sugar, man.


  1. I know, right. Ricky Gervais got away with more on the Golden Globes and I honestly could not belive the stuff that MacFarlane himself was able to get away with on Family Guy, and yet him having a mild form of that on an Oscar telecast was subject for hatred. Simply makes no sense.

  2. "Even if all his material was clean as a sheet, he would still probably have taken flack for the show's heavy musical slant" - Or he will be criticized/ribbed for holding back/chickening out.