This morning, we got a preview of next month's Oscars. Apart from the fact that Seth MacFarlane was wearing a tieless suit as opposed to a tuxedo, it's safe to say his performance was similar to how he will be hosting the Oscars (though, sadly, sans Emma Stone). Here are the five things he did that made us nervous about the big night.
1. Faux Edginess
We all knew what we were getting into with SMacs in terms of pushing boundaries; Family Guy has always reveled in kicking sacred cows in the udder. But you could see MacFarlane struggling to figure out how to seem like the guy whose show had a baby putting horse semen on his cereal, but not actually offend the more conservative Oscar audience. In other words, he was guessing what would play as edgy but not actually be edgy. When he started saying, "I read that Amour was co-produced by Austria and Germany," everyone could see a Hitler joke coming down Wilshire Boulevard, a punch line ratified by Mel Brooks in the early sixties.
But worse than telling that lazy joke was the smile he made while doing it. As if to say, "Oh yeah, I'm about to drop this truth bomb on their funny bones." Few things can undercut a punch line like grinning prematurely. You felt like he might throw in a "giggity" at any moment. Ricky Gervais laughed (well, more like shrieked) at his own jokes as a Golden Globes host, but that is part of his established shtick and gave it a more devilish kick rather than a smug one. (Granted, in year two of the Globes, it did veer toward the smug.) But the bigger distinction between the two of them is No. 3 on our list ...
3. Lack of Stage Presence
A winking smirk is often a sign of an uncomfortable performer. This morning, SMacs incessantly shifted around and moved his head about, seeming very on-edge and a little stiff. Two years ago, when people complained about Anne Hathaway's theatrical hosting performance, her excuse was that she was playing to the cheap seats. This morning, SMacs was playing to the front row. The jokes were performed as if they were following a nudge to a friend at a party. He seemed small onstage ...
4. Lack of Experience
... especially next to Emma Stone. An Oscar host needs to be able to hold the crowd's attention when it's filled with the biggest movie stars in the world. So it might be a problem that SMacs has almost no on-camera experience, save for his SNL hosting gig. Even though they were both delivering similar patter (never a natural act), you could see the difference between the movie star's assured delivery and his. Remember that basically every host for the last twenty years has at least a decent film or stand-up career. It's a matter of comfort and confidence. Confidence sells jokes and lets the audience know they're in good hands. Without that, the audience is lost.
5. Wrong Targets
And nothing loses an audience like picking on the wrong people. We saw it when Chris Rock tore Jude Law apart in 2005, and we saw it again this morning: MacFarlane killed with a joke about how the Best Actress nominees would be thrilled to now be able to stop kissing up to Harvey Weinstein. Less popular: His jokes about how adapted-screenplay writers just cut and paste from the source and directors just sit around watching other people do the hard work. Diminishing an entire Hollywood profession doesn't work with the award show's earnestness, and it's also a pretty big boulder to throw at an event that exists to extol the genius of these very professions. It's one thing for Steve Martin to make digs at Hollywood egos (Ha, ha, the crowd laughs, So true, even if not in my case). It's another to basically say, "You people are being rewarded for something that is not technically a skill." Just because MacFarlane himself is now a director doesn't give him a pass on a self-deprecation technicality; nobody was confusing Ted's direction with Lincoln's anyway.