Well, after a long and arduous show, and a long and arduous awards season, the 2013 Oscars have come to a close. We endured the inevitable Hathaway speech (Fantine's misfortunes!), the obnoxious Seth MacFarlane jokes, and a million inexplicable references to the film Chicago. What did we learn? Well, kinda the same thing we learn every year, or at least in recent years: Don't mess with the Oscars.
Meaning, funny little inventions or new gags are fine and all, but trying to add more content to the already whale-sized show is not only silly, but a little aggressive. Why waste our time with random salutes to James Bond and movie musicals that came out less than ten years ago? We don't need to be reminded of those things, they just happened! I appreciate that the Academy wants to celebrate its craft and that ABC wants to get as many ad dollars as possible, but good grief. Nearly four hours is a long time to hand out a couple dozen awards. The Oscars are always long — that's a part of their makeup — but when the extra stuff feels as arbitrary and pointless as it did on Sunday night, that length really starts to annoy. And Seth MacFarlane making joke after joke about how long the show is going doesn't really help. It just, y'know, makes the show longer.
Really, Seth MacFarlane wasn't helping anything. I know the Academy has been experimenting with hosts and host styles for a while now, trying to get younger and edgier people into the Oscar mix, but MacFarlane's hire felt like a new level of misguided. Sure, he had a hit movie this summer and Family Guy has been popular for a long time, but the people who like Seth MacFarlane don't really watch the Oscars. Or at least don't care about them very much. The oddness of the hire — middlebrow frat-boy hero emcees Hollywood's glitziest night — was only heightened by MacFarlane's unpleasant demeanor. When he wasn't making tired jokes about Jewish people in Hollywood and haha gay people, he was entirely preoccupied with being liked. His whole opening bit, an annoyingly meta thing involving too much pre-taped material, was about himself and his hosting ability. He was concerned with being a successful host, but then went for the easiest, most played-out material, all delivered with an awkward churlishness that made the whole show feel like your annoying college roommate was narrating. I'm not saying that a host has to completely ingratiate himself to his audience — Jon Stewart had two successful gigs without pandering — but the show has to be about the show, not about Seth MacFarlane snickering at himself.
At least he very likely won't be back anytime soon. Too many of the bits landed with a thud or, worse, seemed rude in the most pointless of ways. The Ted bit — featuring MacFarlane's ugly faux-humility — felt like sad self-promotion, while using the Jaws theme as the playoff music probably sounded great in the writing room but came off incredibly snide in practice. Cool way to sully someone's huge, life-changing moment, Seth and friends! That they played off people in such obnoxious fashion especially didn't sit well when you considered all the time the show devoted to Chicago and Ted and the obscenely long opening bit. MacFarlane's Oscars seemed contemptuous of the event while also constantly reminding the audience that it was a big deal that Seth MacFarlane was hosting. I know the Oscars are silly and don't mean much in the grand scheme of the world, but it does mean something to the people involved and to lamely mock them for that is unnecessary. Aspects of the show felt like they were filtered through the lens of MacFarlane's biggest fans; boob jokes and gay jokes and fat jokes and a general dismissive smugness. Well, except for the singing and dancing, which ultimately felt like a paean to MacFarlane himself.
Still, there were some good things in the show. Barbra Streisand singing "The Way We Were" in memorial to Marvin Hamlisch and the other film industry people who died last year was the kind of moment the Oscars are made for, pure and unadulterated glittery, golden cheese with just the right bit of genuine sentiment. That's what the Oscars should be most of the time. A little experimentation goes a long way; ultimately most of the formula was figured out a long time ago. Stick to that mood, Oscar people. Elsewhere, MacFarlane's Sound of Music bit when introducing Christopher Plummer was admittedly clever, and it was fun to learn that Charlize Theron is actually a pretty good dancer.
In terms of the actual winners, there were no real outrages. It was a pretty strong year across the board, so no one truly undeserving won. There were nice moments in the speeches if nothing terribly stand-out. I liked the Best Picture nominees being introduced in three-film chunks — it was a good way to speed through a tedious formality. So, yes, there were hints of invention and humor throughout the show, but all told it was remarkable only in its moments of jaw-droppingly bad jokes from the off-putting and unsteady host and in its agonizing time-wasting. Closing the show with yet another MacFarlane song, this time teasing the losers, was a fitting way for the show to go out — making the night even longer while also snidely making fun of the whole enterprise. That's the MacFarlane way, I guess. I was as sure that Seth MacFarlane would be annoying as I was that Anne Hathaway was going to win, but I didn't think he'd be so boring.
Of course, this misfire doesn't mean that the Academy will now stop its needless tinkering and just hire Whoopi Goldberg again. It just means that this iteration didn't work out, so they'll try something new next year. I hope they hire a real performer to host, one who knows how to avoid crossing the line between puckish and prickish. Here's hoping William Shatner's wish comes true and next year we'll enjoy a sleek, three-hour ride with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. That's change I think we all could believe in.