Ellen Gray: Not even a 'Family Guy' can hit Oscar-host goals

Posted: February 26, 2013

I'M OLD ENOUGH - just barely - to remember when hosting the Oscars wasn't the showbiz equivalent of the Ironman, requiring a singing, dancing funnyman (or woman) who could somehow bring freshness to a tired format while not upsetting anyone too much and, oh, yeah, meeting East Coast newspaper deadlines.

Which are earlier than ever these days.

Bob Hope and Johnny Carson never dealt with the instantaneous judgment of Twitter and Facebook, much less had to follow Billy Crystal, who raised Oscar hosting to an Olympic sport in which even David Letterman and Jon Stewart failed to medal.

So maybe we should start by acknowledging that the otherwise scarily talented Seth MacFarlane never really had a chance at Sunday's 85th Academy Awards. Even if he had done the entire show in the voice of Stewie Griffin.

Yep, I've taken almost as long starting this column as he did starting the show.

MacFarlane's opening - punctuated by second-screen shtick by William Shatner as "Star Trek" Capt. James T. Kirk, calling from the future - had its moments, but none of them funny enough to justify what essentially became a 17-minute clearing of the host's throat.

No, not even MacFarlane, backed up by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, singing "We Saw Your Boobs," name-checking actresses who've been topless in films. (Presumably few of the people most interested in this list were watching. So see Shatner for the playback.)

Worth the time: MacFarlane's singing "The Way You Look Tonight" as Charlize Theron and, yes, a fully clothed Channing Tatum danced around him.

Because the "Family Guy" creator and voice actor, a science geek who sings like a '40s crooner, can't, it turns out, dance a lick. Which is kind of a relief.

Known best for his taste-pushing humor (and less for his singing voice, which is better than Crystal's), MacFarlane kept himself reasonably in check for most of the evening. (I nevertheless look forward to a Monday-morning email from a certain watchdog group that will almost inevitably object to one or more of his jokes.)

But for anyone who's seen even one episode of Fox's "Family Guy," MacFarlane's comment, after mentioning that Raymond Massey had, like Daniel Day-Lewis, been nominated for portraying Abraham Lincoln, that "I would argue that John Wilkes Booth was the actor who really got into Lincoln's head," had to seem pretty mild.

But this is a show that was never really meant to be about the host, and if you hung in till 11 p.m., you got to hear Barbra Streisand capping the In Memoriam with a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch that I sure hope wasn't lip-synched.

As always, there were a few awards that even a 12-hour show probably wouldn't have gotten to:

Least-prepared winner: Claudio Miranda, the silver-maned cinematographer who won for "Life of Pi." Let's just say that "Oh my God, I can't even speak" is not what you want to hear from someone who's already been speaking for a while and shows no signs of stopping.

Best use of "Jaws" theme since "Jaws": To play off winners who circled subject of their speeches for too long.

Red-carpet charmer: Actress/interviewer Kristin Chenoweth, who endeared herself to short women everywhere when she kicked off her shoes to demonstrate to Bradley Cooper's mother, Gloria, that there was someone at the Oscars shorter than she. If only Chenoweth, too, were from Jenkintown.

Best way to annoy presenter Christopher Plummer: Referencing a scene from "The Sound of Music" in introducing him. But I kind of loved that MacFarlane did it, anyway.

Bit most likely to confuse host's younger fans: MacFarlane, dressed as "The Flying Nun," chatting up its onetime star, Sally Field.

Awkward format: Grouping Best Picture nominees in threes, making for some odd juxtapositions. Is it time to go back to five nominees and give each its own slot?

Email: graye@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: EllenGray.tv

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