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Oscars 2013 and Seth MacFarlane: Stupid Is as Stupid Does

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Seth MacFarlane, Oscars
Seth MacFarlane during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2013 in Hollywood, California.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Now that was stupid, Oscars. Few ideas could have been stupider. Letting Alicia Keys sing would have been clever in comparison. A last-minute move to draft Billy Crystal as emergency host would have looked downright cagey. But turning the Academy Awards ceremony into a Seth MacFarlane variety special? That was so stupid, the producers reportedly spent the final 3 hours trying to get James Franco on the phone.

So let's talk about how stupid it was. Lots of people like Seth MacFarlane. Many other people like watching the Oscars. But nobody likes both, not even Seth MacFarlane, who has no idea what the Oscars are. You can't blame MacFarlane, who is top-notch at what he does. You have to blame the Oscars' honchos for the dumb idea, and the much-much-much dumber execution. He's not a movie star, or any kind of performer. He's a writer. His non-writer skills are not pro level, and neither are his skills at assembling a team to help him. Throwing this bumbling rookie out there as a Jay Leno cover band in front of a billion people was a flop-sweat monsoon of historic proportions. 

Oscars 2013: Academy Awards Red Carpet

The host's gig is easy: smile and get the fuck out of the movie stars' way. But after all those months of hype, McFarlane fell apart under the pressure. The poor guy couldn't read off the teleprompter without his eyes darting nervously, giggling at his zingers about how foreign people have accents, musicals are gay, etc. He kept making amateur mistakes on the level of clapping into his mike. (Lots of that.) He sang a show tune about the hot nudity in The Accused – 30 seconds of Googling would have explained why that line wasn't a keeper, but obviously Seth's staff was too chickenshit to give the boss any bad news. He padded the final hour with "Whoa, the show's running long, amirite?" gags, which even Billy Crystal gave up on last year. (Best Adapted Oscar Burn goes to Seth for Oh Snap: The Man Who Went There!) He couldn't sell a John Wilkes Booth joke – now that's bombing. 

The real reason people watch the Oscars? Movie stars, of course. Best movie-star moment: Jennifer Lawrence stumbled and fell on her way up the stairs and the only person who ran over to help her was none other than the ever-gallant Hugh Jackman. Fun fact: This moment is your mom's new favorite masturbation fantasy. Good luck getting her on the phone this week.

The red carpet was hilarious as always. A touching reminder of the indomitable human spirit: The E! network is still letting Ozzy Osbourne's daughter Kelly talk about fashion on camera. They even let her begin sentences with, "The thing about Adele is . . ." Another well-thought-out decision on the road to world conquest, E! 

Salma Hayek wore a frock that was 100-percent cleavage-free. Most Oscar nights, that would be the most inexplicable decision, but this time it didn't make the top 10. Kristen Stewart looked impressively rocked-out, with her disheveled hair, curious upper-arm bruise and twitchy eyes, giving off that three-days-after-Bonnaroo "hey, where'd everybody go?" vibe. The only dude who could match her for rock & roll hair was Best Short Film winner Shawn Christensen, fondly remembered from the excellent indie band Stellastarr. Quentin Tarantino and Daniel Day-Lewis know how to give a speech. That kid from Beasts of the Southern Wild knows how to flaunt it. 

The "In Memoriam" montage crazily left out Davy Jones (so great in Head) and Donna Summer (ditto in Thank God It's Friday). They also forgot Larry Hagman (Mother, Jugs & Speed), Alex Karras ("Mongo only pawn in game of life" indeed) and more. But at least they brought back the audience applause-o-meter. To my admittedly biased ears, the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch housed the competition. Barbra Streisand came out to do a powerhouse version of "The Way We Were" as her tribute to Marvin Hamlisch. Too bad this Williamsburg yeshiva girl didn't throw in a verse of "No Sleep till Brooklyn." 

Michelle Obama presented the Best Picture award with Jack Nicholson, though they were on opposite coasts. (Who snagged the restraining order?) Her cameo was clearly set up for a Spielberg Lincoln win, but it went to Argo. (Just like when Harrison Ford presented Best Picture in 1998, so he could hand the trophy to his old pal Steven Spielberg, except Shakespeare in Love won instead of Saving Private Ryan. Poor Spielberg.) 

Adele continued her streak as one of the all-time great thank-you speech givers in the history of award shows. So why the hell wasn't she hosting? That girl can wing it, and she knows how to command the stage like she's been there before. But nothing, not even the real movie stars, could steal screen time from the host. Even when the show ran horrifically late, he saved room for yet another show-tune parody. No speech for you, George Clooney.

How did this happen? The Oscars suffer from a perpetual case of breaking-what-ain't-broken. Even though it's always the biggest non-football TV broadcast of the year, somebody gets the brainstorm that the ceremony should be younger, maler, straighter, cornier, duller or just generally non-Oscars-er. Anyone could have told them MacFarlane was the wrong solution to the non-existent problem, and lots of people did tell them. But it turned out so much worse than anyone could have expected. 

Every year, people complain it's the worst Oscars show ever. But not next year. Congratulations in advance, Tina and Amy. 

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Rob Sheffield

Rob Sheffield is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where he writes about music, TV and pop culture. He is the author of two books, Talking To Girls About Duran Duran and Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

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