Seth MacFarlane emerged as a triple threat as he sang, danced and told jokes in his first time out as host of the Academy Awards Sunday night on ABC.
He had plenty of help, though, starting with William Shatner (of all people), who gave MacFarlane some timely advice aimed at ensuring that MacFarlane get positive reviews on the morning (or the minute) after the Oscars were over.
Just minutes into the telecast, Shatner suddenly appeared to MacFarlane on a big screen and dressed in costume as Capt. Kirk from “Star Trek.” Announcing that he’d arrived from the future, Shatner told MacFarlane that he’d already read the negative reviews MacFarlane would be receiving for this hosting gig.
And so, from the vantage point of the future, Shatner advised MacFarlane to drop some of the bits he was planning to do, that people wouldn’t like, in favor of tamer options. But, in the process, the risque bits were shown anyway — such as an elaborate production number led by MacFarlane singing a song called “We Saw Your Boobs,” a tasteless tribute to female nudity in the movies.
It was a clever move — allowing MacFarlane, 39, to traffic in the somewhat immature comedy he’s known for in his Fox animated shows such as “Family Guy” and “The Cleveland Show,” but at the same time acknowledging that such material probably wouldn’t fly at the Oscars. And yet, it did anyway.
The Shatner bit lasted a tad too long for our taste, but it did allow MacFarlane to sing and dance, and not badly either. He first sang “The Way You Look Tonight,” while Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron danced like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And in a second such bit, MacFarlane sang “High Hopes” and danced a soft shoe with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe.
Despite that effort at producing G-rated material suitable for everyone in the Oscar audience — both at home and in the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood — MacFarlane nevertheless raised eyebrows with some jokes that were not unanimously well-received. One of them had to do with Daniel Day-Lewis and the way the actor immersed himself in the role of Abraham Lincoln for the Oscar-nominated “Lincoln” movie. “If you bumped into Don Cheadle [who is African-American] on the studio lot,” MacFarlane asked, “did you like try and free him?”
Many in the audience laughed at the joke, but it seemed to us that just as many reacted uncomfortably to the quip. As it happened, the audience was even less receptive to a Lincoln joke MacFarlane told later in the telecast about how John Wilkes Booth, another actor, really “got into Lincoln’s head.”
One of MacFarlane’s earliest quips also drew more murmurs than laughs. The topic: Rihanna and Chris Brown’s sometimes violent relationship. Raising the subject of Quentin Tarantino’s slavery movie “Django Unchained,” MacFarlane said: “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie!”
To MacFarlane’s credit, the reactions — either negative or positive — seemed to make no discernible dent in his confidence as he sang, danced and told jokes throughout the telecast. In fact, he seemed to pop up a lot more frequently than any major awards-show host in recent memory as the evening wore on. He even appeared as the voice of “Ted,” the animated teddy bear he played in the movie of the same name last summer.
One bit we liked a lot: The one in which MacFarlane, in costume as “The Flying Nun,” encountered Oscar nominee Sally Field in one of the Oscar Green rooms. Hilarious.
At the evening’s end, after “Argo” was declared Best Picture, MacFarlane was joined on-stage by singer/dancer Kristen Chenoweth to serenade the audience as the end-credits rolled. This show-ending number was ballyhooed in the days leading up to the show as a potential show-stopper. But instead, the song came across as an unnecessary add-on — particular because the song, an ode to the evening’s Oscar losers, seemed ill-considered.