Seth MacFarlane, creator of "Family Guy" and newly-minted theatrical heavy hitter in the wake of "Ted," has been chosen to host this year's Oscars. Everybody take a moment to get some snotty digs at "Manatee Jokes" out of your system...
...done? Good, because the more I think on it the more he sounds like a great choice.
The problem The Academy has had for years in terms of hosting (and, to be frank, audiences) is the unending generational gap. Old comics playing it safe is one thing (a "prestige" show generally won't have cutting-edge material) but the fact is The Oscars are grounded, conceptually, in a quintessentially Old Hollywood vibe - that unique fusion of soaring pomp and schticky vaudevillian deflation that defined "big celebrity party time" in the era when the show came into it's own. In it's heyday, The Oscars looked and sounded like a bigger, more elaborate version of what every other big live presentation was expected to look and sound like - who was "Mr. Oscars" before Billy Crystal? Bob Hope. Exactly.
Problem is, the rest of entertainment culture moved on in dramatic fashion over the decades... but Oscar didn't. It couldn't, because the Golden Age Hollywood paean is built into the production's very DNA. The reason Crystal was so electric for so long at this gig was that his natural stage persona was an inspired modernization of that classical "feel," making his routines a sly mix of gently ribbing and sincerely celebrating the legacy of the show. Unfortunately, it's now been long enough that Crystal's brand of "goofing on the oldsters" now feels a little old itself; and the "send up of the Golden Age" formula he turned into Oscar's modern default-setting has ill-served present day hosts (see: Hathaway and Franco) for whom it feels just as ancient and unfamiliar as the Golden Age itself.
This is where MacFarlane's selection starts to look inspired. Just on the basics he makes a surprising amount of sense: A naturally gifted comedian, a terrific Stage Voice, occasionally brilliant comic-writer and (this is The Oscars, after all) a legitimately great singer. But what I think could make him an inspired choice (providing he's given a long leash and use of his own material and/or writing staff) is that he so demonstrably "gets" the rhythm and the appeal of the oldschool theatrical sensibilities that simply "are" Oscar.
Think about how much of "Family Guy's" more elaborate jokes have been grounded in classical "lets put on a show" musicals and upgraded takes on ancient comic routines - this is, after all, series that splurges on yearly tributes to the Crosby & Hope road movies; something that most present-day audiences don't know or care about... but Oscar certainly does.
This could, of course, still get fucked up on the producer side, but as host? This is a great pick, and must be a hell of an honor for a guy who (like his shows or not) has paid a lot of dues to get here.