Monday, February 25, 2013

The Rat Pack Would Not Have You, Mr. Macfarlane

A lot of people have been scratching their heads and trying to figure out exactly what Seth Macfarlane was doing onstage at The Oscars (now the official name of the awards show, as Academy Awards is considered too old-timey or something) as the creator of Family Guy and Ted bombed joke after joke. Macfarlane bizarrely tried to mix off-color humor with old-school song and dance-man routines, throwing out sexist jokes then participating in numbers that would have felt contemporary before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. "What is going on here?", millions of people seemed to be thinking (and hundreds of people in my Twitter feed) asking all at once.

But close-Macfarlane watchers will know exactly what he was doing... he was making his latest appeal to join The Rat Pack. While Macfarlane playing around with his self-indulgent fantasies that he'd fit in next to Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. is fine on his own time, but forcing nearly a billion people globally (note... this number is, like the egos of many Hollywood stars, spectacularly inflated... considering the fact that the largest audience for the Oscars is the United States and 40 million people watched the decently-rated show last night, where do the rest of the 900 million plus people come in? I've read that the number is much closer to 300 million, which is admittedly a whole lot of people, but barely a quarter of the way to the big B word) is another story entirely.

In 2011, Macfarlane put out Music is Better Than Words, an album where he covered a bunch of old swing-era standards. Reviews were decidedly mixed as Macfarlane indulged in his Rat Pack era fantasies, but if you didn't want to hear him try to pretend he belonged in a Vegas showroom in the 60's, you could pretty easily avoid listening to the music, which didn't exactly set the world on fire. Look, bro, it's cool that you used your resources to make your ego-trip But letting MacFarlane loose onstage at The friggin' Oscars is another story entirely.

Look, I understand the motivation behind hiring the guy. I'm not a big fan of his work, but there are plenty of people who are, as the fact that Family Guy has been on since the 90's and Ted's half-billion global gross can attest to... the guy has a huge fan-base, and they're young. Ratings were up 19% over last year's Billy Crystal-hosted snooze-fest, so the producers got the boost they wanted, especially among young viewers. But reviews for MacFarlane have been blindingly harsh, as his (ultra-lame) meta opening bit featuring William Shatner as Captain Kirk traveling from the future to warn him that he would be described as the worst Oscar host in history proved to be prescient (and did not work to stave off such criticisms simply by BEING meta).

MacFarlane is an uber-successful TV show creator and now film writer/ director. While he voices many characters on Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show, and he played the title talking teddy bear (who sounded suspiciously like the main character in Family Guy) in Ted, MacFarlane has little experience performing as himself. While he did a decent job on Saturday Night Live a few months back, that doesn't suddenly make him Chris Rock, Billy Crystal, Bob Hope, or Johny Carson. MacFarlane seemed nervous throughout the night, shifting his weight back and forth and making the camera-men work overtime to follow him in medium closeup as joke after joke bombed, and while he looked like he enjoyed singing and dancing along with Channing Tatum, Charlize Theron, Joseph Gordon Levitt, and Daniel Radcliffe, Fred Astaire he is not.

Look, I don't want to pick on the guy too much. I'm not a fan, but he's got an audience who loves what he does. My main point is that MacFarlane was trying to pull of a Rat Pack swagger where he could be comically irreverent in one moment and earnestly worshipful to old showbiz style in the next. That mixture makes sense on paper, and a more modern Rat Pack style entertainer would be a great fit for the Oscars. But Macfarlane's jokes came off as mean-spirited, his dancing and singing was nothing to write home about, and he projected a smarmy attitude when he didn't seem outright nervous. This is not what we deserve from an Oscar host viewed by (maybe a quarter of a) billion people worldwide. Just because MacFarlane fantasizes about being part of The Rat Pack riffing onstage at The Sands or Riviera showrooms in the 60's doesn't mean Sinatra and co. would let him into their club.

That kind of swagger where you can be take jabs but remain likable, where you can make fun of people while also implying that you still like them, where you can project a frat-boy ease without coming off as a bro-ed out jerk is not easy to pull off, and choosing a guy with next to no hosting experience under his belt to try and bring that Vegas in the 60s persona back to life was not the right way to go, despite the ratings boost. The thing that's totally shocking to me is that ABC already has the perfect solution on their network and aired his show right after The Oscars ended... Jimmy Kimmel displays ALL of the qualities that the producers were looking for when they tapped MacFarlane... he's got that fratty, proto-Rat Pack swagger where he can take digs at mega-stars (and they can digs right back at him) while remaining totally likeable and confident. His Oscar-tied in and Hollywood-skewing video he aired during his special post-Oscars episode, "Movie: The Movie 2" is already a hit, after the original "Movie: The Movie" fake trailer racked up an impressive 30 million or so views since it came out a year ago.

Kimmel, who ABC is aggressively pushing into the limelight as he steps in to compete with Dave and Jay in his new 11:30 PM slot, will probably end up hosting The Oscars in the near future, perhaps as soon as next year. My question is why they didn't tap him this year instead of tapping a guy with no hosting experience? Seth MacFarlane wants to be a member of The Rat Pack in  the 60's in the worst way. But watch Sinatra and pals take the stage in any video on YouTube from that era and you'll see why they would never have invited the guy into their club even if he could be beamed back in time, Captain Kirk style.

Oh well, better luck next year Oscar producers. I think we can at least all agree to love the awesomely gaffe-prone and genuine Jennifer Lawrence. Now there's a chick Frank Sinatra and the boys would want to hang out with.

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