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Seth MacFarlane: Both fleet- and flat-footed with Oscar opening

Feb. 24, 2013 at 9:51 PM ET

Seth MacFarlane is best known as the creator of the often risque "Family Guy" series, not generally the kind of biography touted by an Oscar host. With a reported billion people watching worldwide, some Oscar fans wondered what MacFarlane would pull out of his bag of tricks Sunday night.

Everything, it turned out, and anything -- including a series of initial jokes that elicited as many gasps and groans as laughs. Sure, he made a solid base hit with his first words: "And the quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh begins now" (cut to the man whose poker face became a meme during the Golden Globes chuckling gently). But a reference to Chris Brown and Rihanna's relationship problems (joking that they considered bloody and violent "Django Unchained" "a date movie") crossed a line for some, as did his comparing the multiple uses of the n-word in "Django" to "Mel Gibson's voice mails."

Fortunately, Capt. Kirk arrived to try and save the night. An enormous screen descended from the top of the stage featuring William Shatner in full "Star Trek" regalia, pointing out to MacFarlane that his jokes were "tasteless" and "inappropriate."

Shatner/Kirk showed the first of several "future clips" and headlines indicating that MacFarlane had ruined the telecast: First, a performance of "We Saw Your Boobs," a song that named a number of actresses who went half-dressed in various films. (Cut to pre-filmed clips of actresses giving him dirty looks for pointing out that at some point, billions of movie fans out there saw, well, their boobs.)

And no surprise, a boob singing songs about boobs won over the crowd, temporarily. It didn't necessarily win over the viewing audience, however, and spawned the first of what would be an evening's worth of blog posts and Tweets questioning whether MacFarlane was sexist. Buzzfeed made a list,  The Atlantic Wire said the monologue was "maybe racist and sexist," and of course the Twitterverse weighed in. 

But all of that was happening off-camera, and back on stage MacFarlane knew he had to "fix" the future. So he launched into "The Way You Look Tonight" as Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron danced in classic Fred-and-Ginger style behind him, a move that didn't fix everything. Shatner next had to explain why MacFarlane's sock-puppet reenactment of "Flight," in which he wore a brown sock to represent Denzel Washington, bombed at the "future" Oscars.

"You're a white guy in 2013," said Shatner to MacFarlane. "You can't wear black hand."

And that's when the mood of the crowd sank again. The truth: White guys doing racial humor, no matter how gentle, still makes everyone uncomfortable. So MacFarlane led into another older tune -- MacFarlane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe hoofing it to "High Hopes," a song popularized in 1959.

It still wasn't quite enough, said Shatner, to make MacFarlane an acceptable host -- and another future clip featured him dressed as Sally Field's character "The Flying Nun," chatting up Field backstage, ultimately making out with her and driving off in a "Smokey and the Bandit"-style Trans Am. "I went home with Sally Field, that's awesome!" he said.

But without Field there to get her Oscar, Shatner told him, Amy Adams "ran up and grabbed it ... they tried to take it from her and she bit a guy." So, the final attempt: MacFarlane had to give the crowds a showstopper of an opener. One more big song and dance number: "Beauty and the Beast's" peppy "Be Our Guest." And that seemed to do it -- Shatner's screen vanished, and projected across the back of the stage, the new headline: "Best Oscars ever, says everyone except Entertainment Weekly."

Cut to the new Tommy Lee Jones of the evening, the unsmiling nominee Joaquin Phoenix. So maybe Entertainment Weekly is in good company. 

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