Tuned In: Seth MacFarlane dances between crude, classy as Oscar host

This morning there may be a giant maw of a generation gap in reactions to Oscar host Seth MacFarlane. But love him or loathe him, viewers should be able to agree: That opening went on too long.

Mr. MacFarlane is creator of the raunchy animated Fox comedy series "Family Guy," which was evident in jokes throughout the 85th Annual Academy Awards telecast.

But he also has an avowed appreciation for big band music and classic Hollywood, which also came through in myriad live musical numbers, particularly the "Chicago"/"Dreamgirls"/"Les Miserables" performance.

If you were to draw a Venn diagram of these two approaches, there may not be many people with a strong appreciation for both, yet that's what the Oscar producers attempted to pull off.

Mr. MacFarlane began the show with a monologue that was overly reliant on inside-Hollywood jokes (the Coppola family film dynasty), but some of the lines were funny.

In speaking to "Lincoln" star Daniel Day-Lewis, who reportedly stayed in character throughout the shoot, Mr. MacFarlane said, "If you saw a cell phone, would you have to be, like, 'Oh, my God, what's that!?' If you bumped into Don Cheadle on the studio lot, would you, like, try and free him?"

Mr. MacFarlane also made some cutting, funny jokes at the expense of Chris Brown and Mel Gibson.

Just as the monologue seemed to head off track, William Shatner appeared as Capt. James T. Kirk, who was traveling back in time from the 23rd century to warn Mr. MacFarlane about the bad reviews he'll get if he doesn't make swift improvements.

At this point, Mr. MacFarlane's fingerprints became evident on the Oscar opening. What followed was a series of cutaways and tangents for the sake of gags, a structure used in every episode of Mr. MacFarlane's "Family Guy."

Viewers were treated to several bits, including a song about seeing actresses' breasts in movies (juvenile but with clever wordplay and ironic casting of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles as the choir), a somewhat random soft shoe dance with Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and an intermittently funny backstage encounter with Sally Field, including a winning shoutout to Ms. Field's TV ads for a bone density drug.

There were far too many self-deprecating jokes about negative Oscar telecast reviews, something Mr. MacFarlane also spoke of a lot in interviews prior to the telecast (was he wishing them into fruition?)

Mr. MacFarlane returned throughout the telecast to offer quips, including a crude, shock humor joke about "Lincoln": "The actor who really got inside Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth," he said to gasps from the audiences. "150 years and it's still too soon?"

Some other notable elements of Oscar night:

Battle of the pre-shows: Let's face it, any red carpet show is, by definition, shallow and full of kissing up. In recent years, ABC has offered a notably awful pre-show, sometimes using "Good Morning America" anchors. This time actress Kristin Chenoweth took the lead role, and although her enthusiasm seemed sincere, her fawning over the stars ("You go, girl!") made the E! hosts seem like actual reporters by comparison. When she wasn't hinting that stars should compliment her, Ms. Chenoweth was bragging: "One of the best parts of my job tonight is getting to interview my friends!" ("GMA" anchor Robin Roberts also introduced Halle Berry as "my dear friend.") Also stupid: Asking stars to guess what's under a blanket (turned out to be red ruby slippers from "Wizard of Oz"). Total waste of time.

Best free publicity for Lifetime: Ms. Chenoweth brought up her love of Lifetime's Pittsburgh-based reality show "Dance Moms" to fellow fan Jennifer Lawrence. "Oh, my gosh, you love 'Dance Moms'?" Ms. Lawrence said. "Is the Pope Catholic?" Ms. Chenoweth replied before Ms. Lawrence uttered a profanity that got bleeped (possibly: "Does a bear [poop] in the woods?").

Unfunny, uncomfortable presenters: Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy are terrifically talented, but they were given painfully unfunny patter for their presentation. When some of the "Avengers" cast re-assembled to present an award, either their dialogue was also badly scripted or stars Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Downey Jr. got into a verbal scuffle on stage. It was impossible to tell which was happening.

Best use of "Jaws" theme: The da-NA, da-NA John Williams score was used to play off a winner whose acceptance speech went on too long. Rude? Maybe. But kind of inspired, too.

Bond boredom: The Oscars had a great opportunity for an exciting tribute to the James Bond film franchise -- why not bring out all the living actors who have played Bond? -- but it was squandered with a been-there, seen-that montage. Dame Shirley Bassey's performance of "Goldfinger" was the highlight.

Best movie callback: Mr. MacFarlane's "Sound of Music" gag was an inspired nod to the scene in the classic film when the Von Trapp family failed to show up for a performance, escaping from Nazi-occupied Austria instead.

Want to see Oscars again? ABC will make full show available at abc.com, Hulu.com and on some on demand platforms beginning today at 6 a.m. through Wednesday at midnight.

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TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published February 25, 2013 5:45 AM


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