Seth and the Oscars: what went wrong?

21:41, Feb 26 2013

I was lucky enough to spend yesterday afternoon live-blogging the 85th Academy Awards, along with movie blogger Charlie Gates and Life & Style webeditor Nyree McFarlane. I thought the show was a bit long and relied too much on music, but it was made up for by some great speeches and deserving winners toward the end of the night, and a decent performance by first-time host Seth MacFarlane, reviewed here by Steve Gorman.

So I was surprised when I turned to Twitter in the evening and found that the view among some was the complete opposite - it appears a large number of people found MacFarlane's hosting job a complete failure, peppered with all manner of inappropriate and disrespectful (and self-congratulatory) material.

To find out more, I turned to television presenter turned media commentator (and admitted Oscar nut) Steve Gray, who was one of the most vocal about Seth's shortcomings on the social media site, to find out what he thought went wrong. Here is what transpired ...

Chris Philpott:
So, you've been vocal about how disappointing Seth MacFarlane's performance at the Oscars - I believe you called it a "xenophobic childish disaster". What exactly do you think Seth did wrong? Was it just the content, or was it also partly to do with the setting and context?

Steve Gray:
I watch every Seth Macfarlane show every week, and I have watched every Oscar show since 1973. Female actors reduced to how often they have gotten their "boobs" out. Three fat jokes. The xenophobia included "who can tell the difference between Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem", and "who can understand what they say". A gag about a child, imagining her having sex? A 9-year-old?! It is not about context being wrong for this level of "humour". [It's about whether we're] expected to just happily allow sexist, racist, sophomoric ridiculousness in prime time. And there was nothing about cinema in the ceremony, just "celebrity" worship.

I hear you on the celebrity worship, and certainly some of the material Seth did was inappropriate for primetime television. But you've said yourself, you're an avid watcher of his shows - isn't this just an example of Seth being Seth? Why can't we excuse most of what he did during the Oscars telecast as being what we would expect from him?


No, just watch them, nothing avid about it. Excuse? No. When the gag is "Jews run Hollywood", and that is the gag, we are not looking at sophisticated humour. Eating disorders, same. I suppose if Seth wants to be known as some type of equal opportunity offender then he should have at least one "white men" joke. But you don't hear them, do you? Film fans get one night a year to celebrate cinema, and turning it into a dorm room "who can be the biggest jerk" contest is not what the Oscars have ever been about. If this is where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences want to take the broadcast, they will be shedding viewers.

Well, as a MacFarlane fan, I thought he was pretty funny - and while some of the criticism is fair (a large portion of MacFarlane's material was self-indulgent, and a couple of jokes were totally inappropriate - like the Chris Brown/Rihanna date movie joke), I also think some are criticising him unfairly. Like, you mentioned a joke Seth made about Quvenzhane Wallis, the 9-year-old nominated for best actress, that implied she was having sex with George Clooney; but the actual joke was worded "in 16 years, Quvenzhane Wallis will be too old to date George Clooney", which is a blatant dig at Clooney's dating history. It almost seems unfair to say that joke was about something it wasn't. I guess my question is, isn't it possible MacFarlane got offside with people early and wasn't able to recover, and as a result people - not just yourself, as this is a common theme running through reviews of the show - started poking holes in everything he did?

If you think even bringing a 9-year-old child into a sex gag is fine, you need to check yourself Chris. Starting with the song We Saw Your Boobs, and also the "violence is funny" gags, sure, he totally got offside early on. But his theme of knocking people did not stop at all. And the xenophobia, "you can't tell Latin actors apart". That is not funny or true. It was an endless parade of "I have to kick you in the face". It wasn't bullying, it was just endless negativity. As a whole, the awards were overlong (as per), unfocused, and far too reliant on music for the moving moments. In the past, these moments have come from the cinema being celebrated that night, and past film successes being revelled in.

You've hit on something else there that I wanted to ask you about: the actual show itself. It seems to me that (not all of) the blame can be placed on MacFarlane - the producers of the show, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, need to shoulder some too. As you say, the show ran long, and I felt like there were way too many musical cues and song performances; among other things, Zadan and Meron were producers on Chicago (which was nodded to numerous times during the show, including a terrible Catherine Zeta-Jones performance of All That Jazz) and currently serve as producers on musical TV drama Smash. How much of the failings of this particular ceremony, as you see it, lies with them? Like, MacFarlane's monologue was overlong, but that would be a production issue. The focus on celebrity (and lack of focus on film) that you mentioned before, that would be them too. It seems to me like they are just as responsible for the shortcomings of the show as MacFarlane, maybe even more so.

Yes, agree. I was watching the ABC feed and they were interviewed there right before the show started, as if it was about them, and whenever the Academy gets a star producer for the Oscars, it is always a car crash. The classic example is the Allan Carr year with Snow White and Rob Lowe doing Proud Mary. So yes, the best moments of the night (Streisand, Jennifer Hudson, Shirley Bassey) were actually musical theatre high notes rather than classic cinema. Where were the great movie montages, a la Chuck Workman, where an aspect of cinema is celebrated? Where were any moments where great cinema was remembered or evoked? And as they allowed The Seth Show, whereas in the past the opening monologue and song (if there is one) are based around cinema and the year in film, this was all some uber-meta opening about Seth doing the opening and what was acceptable and him being bad and then being good so the boobs song was okay. It wasn't. And half way through it disappeared up its own arse. Never get star producers for the Oscars. Ever.

What did you think of Seth MacFarlane's hosting job? Do you agree with Steve that it was xenophobic, childish, wildly inappropriate? Or do you think it was just Seth being Seth?

Make sure you like On the Box on Facebook and add Chris on Twitter.
Or, feel free to
 email Chris with any questions or ideas.
This is a spoiler-free blog - please comment responsibly.