They didn’t get it, at least not the dozen reviewers and bloggers I read the morning after the awards ceremony. In some cases, reviewers trashed MacFarlane’s singing We Saw Your Boobs and celebrated the sock puppet version of Flight. Ironically, both were MacFarlane’s ideas.
The Oscars skew old, meaning that the audience is relatively old for TV. They need to attract a younger audience to maintain viewer numbers that will allow them to profit from ad sales. Ergo, the creator of Family Guy and Cleveland was tapped as host. His name alone attracted viewers from the Family Guy and Cleveland demographic, but the Oscar performance had to deliver the irreverence and edginess his name suggests.
How to be edgy for the younger audience while traditional for the older one?
How to hold the interest and indulgence of both audiences so they won’t click away?
How to make a strong enough impression on the younger demographic so that they will watch again next year and start a life-long Oscar habit?
Captain Kirk visits from the future—appearing from the bridge of the SS Enterprise—showing the host his mistakes from an archived recording of the show and advising him how to ‘fix’ it in real time. The ‘mistakes’ are the profane and disrespectful bits that the young demogrphic enjoy, but they are framed—literally on screen—as a recording of the flawed show; not part of the real show. The ‘fixes’ are the real show—the responses to the profane ‘mistakes’—and pitched to the traditional viewer. Thus, MacFarlane sings of seeing Charlize Theron’s boobs in the recorded version of the ‘bad’ show (and getting an uncomfortable look from her reaction shot), then croons while she dances beautifully in the fix.
It was a wonderful example of playing with the codes and conventions of entertainment media, something that MacFarlane does in his animated shows already, and which allowed him to counterpoint both tasteless and tasteful performances, pleasing two different audiences with the use of a frame.
It is a wonderful text for students wanting to explore and appreciate the codes and conventions of television representation and awards shows in particular.
Hopefully time and reflection will allow critics to re-visit and discover the genius of MacFarlane’s structure and performances.