Review: Meta-Man Does the Oscars

By Bane Okholm | Feb 26, 2013

Ah, the Oscars, that vaunted event where the luminaries of Hollywood gather to pat themselves on the back so hard it’s surprising they don’t collectively chuck their lunches.

I jest, of course. No one in Hollywood ever eats lunch. Or other meals. Or food in general. (Remember Breatharianism? Think that, with less tea and chocolate biscuits.)

I’m not against the Oscars, or really any of awards season. Like many red-blooded Americans, nothing makes me feel more patriotic than watching someone receive a shiny award, even if the awarding body is essentially giving it with one hand and accepting it with the other. And if the award is of an anatomically PC naked dude (kinda creepy).

My problem is the three-and-a-half hour slog to actually get that process over with - and that doesn’t even include the untaped (and therefore unseen) technical awards.

Despite living in L.A. for the majority of the last five years, I’m not a dedicated Oscar viewer. For those of us that are on the fence - do I watch? Or do I try to do something actually productive, or at least procrastinative, for a few hours? - I think it’s often a problem of finding the right host. Or not getting distracted by that structure fire across the street. (Ah, 2009.)

At a certain point, the host just has to fight time in a recreation of that time-old clash of arts vs. math. IMHO, Seth MacFarlane did a pretty darn good job, considering some of the yawnfests to which I’ve previously been privy. Sure, there was a fair share of crassness, but Hollywood was in on the joke.

Check out the actress’ reaction shots to the, uh, first song: none of them are wearing the same outfits as they are while sitting in the audience at that moment, ergo those reactions are pretaped. That dude isn’t oh-so-blatantly checking out Naomi Watts, he’s doing a bit.

They hired Seth MacFarlane, and they got “Family Guy.” No surprise there.

The other side of MacFarlane’s Janusian personality is a Dean Martin-esque crooner, and that bit of classing things up was surprisingly entertaining. That dance between Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum? Priceless. MacFarlane sharing the stage with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Daniel Radcliffe? My fangirl-y brain nearly exploded inside my skull.

And that, O best beloved, is what makes me think the Oscars have hope, with a few tweaks. What it boils down to is this: bring the old-school class, and jump through a final few hoops before you get your prize.

Think about it: a sports team plays through a season, and then typically a tournament, and then a final, epic showdown. Hollywood behaves similarly, but by denying us the awesomeness of that final game, they’re dropping the ball completely.

Those performances on Sunday were great because they took people whom we know are reasonably talented, and showcased them doing what were often - even for them - atypical things in an atypical context, and doing them well.

It was like an old-timey variety show - a tradition that persists in most high schools as the dreaded “Talent Show” - combined with MacFarlane’s trademark meta humor. That “Boobs” song was funny because it combined the ridiculous subject matter with a comprehensive knowledge of recent film history (no doubt gleaned from Wikipedia, but that’s not the point).

I’m about to get all archetypal up in here, because in the end, I’m pretty convinced everything boils down to mythic structures. Yeah, that’s inspired by my education in screenwriting, but I’m pretty sure it’s at least a new way to examine things.

Seth MacFarlane is a gatekeeper, a man of two worlds. He’s both the guy we geek out over and a geek himself. If the return of “Family Guy” to the airwaves post-cancellation is a Cinderella story, Seth MacFarlane is...well, Cinderella (which shouldn’t surprise anyone who heard the Shat Man’s prediction regarding July 2015), and Cinderella is (we secretly hope) us.

By integrating both highbrow and lowbrow humor into the Oscars ceremony, I think Hollywood was able to entice that demographic of people who wouldn’t necessarily watch otherwise. We tuned in because we were uncertain how far MacFarlane was going to push the envelope in either direction. My only disappointment with the Oscars was that there weren’t more of those little performances and bits after the monologue was over, and more of MacFarlane doing what he does best.

Oh yeah, and how that the poor VFX guy’s speech got trampled as he was trying to explain the issues confronting award-winning FX house Rhythm & Hues. That was pretty cold.

If more little vignette performances are added, of course that would increase the overall running time, which wouldn’t solve the Oscars’ unsteady appeal. This might be sheer madness, but I think the awards could be broadcast on two sequential nights - probably Saturday and Sunday.

It could be like dodgeball in 5th-grade gym. Break the awards into two groups so that you’ve got a good mix of awards you really want to see and awards you’ve never heard of, and neither is overtly “better.” Then, switch the order those two nights go in each year. (Trust me, Hollywood would need some ruffled-feathers-soothing move like that so no one would feel snubbed.)

Logistically, it would probably be pretty rough. I can’t imagine police spending two nights of shutting down the major intersection of Hollywood and Highland for red carpet madness, but then again, maybe that’s the reason why I was (figuratively) sitting on my couch eating puffed corn snacks.

Ultimately, though, if the Oscars can’t make themselves that same sort of unpredictable, occasionally over-the-line performance that puts together mind-blowing combinations of performers as happened this year, what reason does anyone outside Hollywood have to tune in? Straight-up comedians are solid, but even they can only take things so far, or make so much repetition interesting.

Probably next year it’ll be the same old boring schlepp, but at least by putting this meme out into the ‘verse, maybe there’s a shot. And if I think there’s a chance things have changed for the better, I’ll be watching - for the first five minutes, at least.

Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm received her M.F.A. in Screenwriting from U.C.L.A. Email her at bokholm@courierpublicationsllc.com or follow her on Twitter @MediaHeathen.

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