When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose Seth MacFarlane to host this year’s Oscars, we at Brow Beat tried our best to be optimistic. First, MacFarlane is a terrific singer, with an old-fashioned croon perfectly suited for the jokey opening numbers that the big night favors. Second—though I suspect that my Slate colleague (and MacFarlane detractor) David Haglund was looking hard to find the #slatepitch on this one—we argued that his short-attention-span style might suit the stop-and-start Oscars better than it does his TV shows and movies.
But this morning MacFarlane managed to botch his Oscar-hosting gig in record time. While the nominations aren’t usually presented by the Oscar host, this year the Academy put their host out front, perhaps to introduce him to older viewers who might not watch Family Guy. MacFarlane did not make a good first impression.
In the less than 10 minutes it took to announce the nominees, MacFarlane managed to insult his co-presenter, belittle the achievements of several nominees, and make a Hitler joke. He introduced Emma Stone as “the star of the new film Gangster Squad,” making a show of reading off a cue card, before breaking off to question: “I’m not sure you’re the star. That seems more like an ensemble piece, right?” A moment later, he added of Stone, “some say she’s better than Meryl Streep,” before stopping to ask, “Who says that?”
MacFarlane presumably meant this to be comedic, and the lines may have been scripted. (It was hard to tell.) But MacFarlane seemed incapable of making quips that weren’t at the expense of the honorees or others in the room. After reading the Best Director candidates, he cracked, “These are 5 people who are the very best at sitting in a chair and watching other people make a movie.” After the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay: “These are adapted screenplays, so that means that the writers basically copied stuff from Microsoft Word and pasted it into Final Draft.” Then when he announced that Amour was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, he explained that it was a German and Austrian co-production. “The last time Austria and Germany got together and co-produced something,” he interjected, “it was Hitler.” (“But this is much better,” Stone chimed in.)
Edgy and biting can work at an awards show, but these one-liners were neither. When Ricky Gervais caused a stir at the Golden Globes, he mostly took aim at the awards show’s self-indulgent tone and aired a bit of Hollywood’s dirty laundry. MacFarlane’s targets were the actual honorees—and his lines lacked satirical bite because there was no real truth in them. (Does anyone think good directors don’t work hard or that adapting a screenplay isn’t difficult?) That doesn’t make MacFarlane edgy, it just makes him juvenile.
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