Photo Credit: Mark Davis/WireImage
Minutes into his opening monologue as host of the 2013 Oscars, Seth MacFarlane cracked a joke about the best oicture nominee, Django Unchained. "This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who's been subjected to unthinkable violence," he began. "Or, as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie." While the audience laughed uneasily, MacFarlane voiced what many were thinking about the host: "'That's what we were afraid he would do,'" he quipped. "That's as bad as it gets, if it makes you feel any better!" he tried to assure viewers (and censors).
"It's really not as bad as it gets," he added under his breath.
Presumably, Oscars producers knew what they were getting when they handed emcee duties to MacFarlane -- the clever, crass force behind Family Guy, American Dad!, The Cleveland Show and TED, a movie about an extremely profane stuffed bear. They also knew that in addition to his lowbrow sense of humor, MacFarlane happens to be an accomplished and earnest crooner of big-band standards, a guy who just released Music Is Better Than Words, an orchestral album of classic tunes your grandparents grew up listening to in the '40s.
Ultimately, MacFarlane's Oscar-hosting style turned out to be a seesawing mixture of both sides of this hard-to-pigeonhole entertainer. After opening with what seemed to be a funny, yet very by-the-books stand-up monologue, MacFarlane was video-visited by Star Trek's Captain Kirk. "I've come back in time from the 23rd century to stop you from destroying the Academy Awards," proclaimed a cheeky-as-ever William Shatner, who proceeded to show MacFarlane a series of newspaper headlines from the next morning -- all bashing his hosting abilities.
Shatner revealed some of the bawdy material MacFarlane was about to ruin the show with -- and this conceit allowed the host to carry out all the inappropriate gags that his inner irreverent comedian was itching to do. But for each disrespectful song or sketch, MacFarlane redeemed himself by successfully pulling off a polished, classy big-band number.
Thus an entire song devoted to naming actresses who went topless in film ("We Saw Your Boobs") was counter-balanced by an exquisite rendition of "The Way You Look Tonight" with Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron dancing gracefully across the stage.
A hilarious (and tasteless) reenactment of the movie Flight -- featuring an entire cast of sock puppets -- was signature MacFarlane. But he followed it up with an earnest soft shoe number ("High Hopes") featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
And while he hit on Sally Field in a highly improper way (dressed as The Flying Nun, one of Field's most iconic characters, MacFarlane cooed that "there's something about the nun, man, that's so ridiculously hot"), he won the audience back with a "big, classy show-stopper" to the tune of "Be My Guest." Granted, the song had its share of inappropriate lyrics. "There's Joaquin [Phoenix], in his threads, hope he's on his meds," sang MacFarlane. "Daniel Day [Lewis], we love the beard, but Lincoln's voice was kind of weird." But the overall effect was that the audience was indeed watching a professional who knew how to deliver a show.
This was all a pretty clever gambit by the academy, and guess what? It worked. It's not easy to wholeheartedly love a guy who can be so crass and rude, but the opening monologue had just enough heart to keep us interested. The future newspaper headlines got slightly less disparaging as the sketch went on: from "Seth MacFarlane: Worst Oscar Host Ever" to "Seth MacFarlane: Pretty Bad Oscar Host" to "Seth MacFarlane Proves to be Mediocre Host."
Truth is, he never veered into horribly inappropriate comedy territory. The coarsest joke of the evening arguably arrived after he pointed out nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, "the youngest best actress nominee ever." "To give you an idea just how young she is," said MacFarlane, "it will be 16 years before she's too old for Clooney." But even this gag was tepid by MacFarlane's standards.
We agree with his self-deprecating suggestion that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler should host next year, but we must admit: All things considered, MacFarlane was a better than mediocre Oscar host.