Updated: February 26, 2014 2:38PM
A lot of song and dance but not enough actual entertainment. That’s what the Academy Awards delivered Sunday in a telecast that felt like it dragged on from the very start.
Too few high points peppered the seemingly interminable opening. One of them featured William Shatner as Captain Kirk warning rookie host Seth MacFarlane about the near future’s cruel headlines skewering his performance.
MacFarlane — a wild card as emcee — wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, a la James Franco-Anne Hathaway in 2011. Instead he was mediocre, just as Captain Kirk’s prescient faux headlines predicted.
The 39-year-old creative force behind Fox’s animated series “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show” started strong by welcoming folks to the 85th installment of the Oscars, quipping that “the quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh begins now.”
The quest to make the rest of us laugh all the way through turned out to be more of a mixed bag. MacFarlane occasionally pushed the envelope — and pushed buttons. He sang about lady parts in the sophomoric number “We Saw Your Boobs” and cracked a Chris Brown-Rihanna domestic abuse joke that elicited groans. But he generally came off likeable and never went so far as to alienate the ever-graying loyalists who tune into the Oscars year after year.
With his young, male fan base (the Academy Award’s largely untapped audience), MacFarlane clearly was brought in with the mission of luring new viewers. He did a decent job straddling the line between modern and old-fashioned and was appropriately unpredictable. That alone is a refreshing change in an awards ceremony shackled to tradition. But his overall performance wasn’t riveting, memorable or just plain funny enough to salvage the bloated show that at times felt more like the Tonys than the Oscars.
First-time producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan (“Smash”) packed the program with an inordinate amount of musical numbers. Some of these acts were highlights of the show, such as Shirley Bassey belting out “Goldfinger” in honor of the 50th anniversary of James Bond films. But the sheer quantity tacked on precious minutes to a show that would have felt long even if it had ended on time.