Over the last decade his trademark brand of controversial comedy is enough to get us all excited about what to expect on the big night, and hundreds of millions of us across more than 225 countries will be tuning in live waiting for his scathing deconstruction of all things Fox (something I’m sure ABC will not discourage). I too am bouncing with excitement from the news, but it may be that MacFarlane’s success comes back to haunt him as the hype creates expectations that his potentially charming but inoffensive performance is unable to match.
There are several reasons why the Academy sees MacFarlane as the perfect man for the job. Comedians have a rather successful record when it comes to the Oscars with Billy Crystal, Bob Hope, and Whoopi Goldberg among the great compères. Comedians are the natural choice to host awards shows, bringing a sense of unpredictability and chaos to an otherwise painfully dull television format, so it certainly comes as no surprise that the likes of MacFarlane was considered.
The arrangement is mutually beneficial – the telecast gets lots of publicity due to hiring a host not afraid to shock and awe, thus ratings improve and ABC are happy, whilst Seth MacFarlane has the wonderful opportunity to spend six months schmoozing with Hollywood’s elite, gain A-List credibility, and finalize his transition from TV to feature films. As such, his Oscars performance runs the risk of being too clean.
I do hope this is just silly speculation, because this is still the creator of Family Guy and Ted, but there is a chance that the professional motivations behind this gig may keep his eyes firmly on the autocue and leave us at home feeling pretty underwhelmed. We must also remember that the Oscars have a team of writers working on his script even during the show, so even the most seemingly controversial of statements has been written or at least approved by the production team. Comedian hosts provide audiences with the believable illusion of controversy, and this year Seth MacFarlane nicely fits the bill.
This is also the man who is cultivating an image away from the dirty one-liners and scathing put downs, the man who released an album of songs inspired by Sinatra. He even had the same vocal training to emulate that sound. MacFarlane in many ways encapsulates this classic Hollywood image and no doubt the show will project a sense of nostalgia through musical numbers and skits inspired by his crooner image. However, abandoning the side of MacFarlane we all know and love for a nauseating four hour walk down memory lane would be catastrophic for the ratings.
But it is clear that what he brings to the show is the ability to balance one with the other, directing our gaze towards the golden years of Hollywood whilst keeping us rooted firmly in the spontaneous, chaotic, and sensational present. MacFarlane is the host Oscar has spent the last 85 years searching for. It won’t be the performance we’re all hoping for, but it will be consistent, strong, and pitch-perfect for the occasion.