By Jessica Allen - Friday, March 1, 2013 - 0 Comments
Should Seth MacFarlane apologize to everybody else?
I have mixed feeling today about Anne Hathaway. I wrote before the Academy Awards aired on Sunday that if she won the Oscar I would leave the comforts of my couch and take the opportunity to have a washroom break during her acceptance speech so as to avoid another cringe-worthy ode to Acting and being an Actor and Acting.
But five days of Hathaway hatred has left me wanting to hunker down with the enthusiastic thespian and watch Actors Acting in films, like Julius Caesar, for example, and pat her back and say, Well, at least you love something.
There was a reason that theatre kid irked you in high school. He or she took a vocation–that is, for many, tantamount to entertainment–and elevated it to a life-affirming art. I remember the theatre kid at my high school. He actually made his own Phantom of the Opera mask and wore it along with a black cape to a school dance. Most dismissed him–but that may also have been on account of him standing up in biology class and announcing that he wouldn’t take part in the comparative anatomy component because Evolution was hogwash.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, February 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Will the Oscar-hosting gig be the Family Guy creator’s stepping stone to onscreen superstardom?
Many performers have hosted the Academy Awards, but Seth MacFarlane, host of the 85th annual show, is something different: he’s not known for performances where he’s actually seen. As a TV creator and producer, MacFarlane became one of the most powerful people in show business thanks to the success of Family Guy, for which he also does many of the voices; he followed that up with two other animated series, then transitioned into live-action filmmaking by writing, directing and voicing Ted, one of 2012’s most popular comedies.
You wouldn’t think he had anything left to prove— being the highest-paid writer in TV with a reported salary of $33 million a year, and having influenced many other cartoons, such as Robot Chicken, a pop-culture parody created by Family Guy voice actor Seth Green. But recently, MacFarlane has been trying to get out in public—he hosted Saturday Night Live and sang at London’s Royal Albert Hall before landing the Oscar hosting job. It’s part of his attempt to go from animator to live-action star—and his colleagues think he can do it. “Watch this guy go,” says Family Guy and American Dad composer Ron Jones. “He will astound everyone.”
The transition from cartoonist to performer isn’t quite as strange as it might sound. Van Partible, creator of Johnny Bravo, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon where MacFarlane achieved early success as a scriptwriter, says, “the best cartoonists need to have a working knowledge of acting so that they can get their characters to perform and emote in a believable way.” Because of that link, many other writer-creators from the ’90s animation boom, such as Mike Judge (King of the Hill), are also vocal actors. But these other creators don’t usually try to separate themselves from the cartoon characters they play. Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park (who have bashed MacFarlane’s work on their show) accepted starring roles in the movie BASEketball after South Park took off. But the film bombed, and the pair settled for an offscreen role for their next project, achieving live-action success writing but not starring in the musical The Book of Mormon.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, October 1, 2012 at 2:29 PM - 0 Comments
So, Seth MacFarlane is the new Oscar host. My first reaction was to joke that he’s tired of success and is looking for the kind of over-exposure that caused people to turn on Ricky Gervais. But from his point of view, I sort of understand his recent attempts to make himself more of a public figure. He’s one of the most successful people in show business now, but he himself isn’t all that recognizable to the broader public, because they know his voice but not his face. Hosting the Oscars is a way of establishing himself as a live performer, and maybe paving the way for a future when he can star in his own movies—instead of hiring a better-known actor like Mark Wahlberg to be the face of his work.
Well, that’s what’s in it for MacFarlane—more public recognition. What’s in it for the Oscars? It seems like an odd, unfamiliar choice. But the Oscars are always on the lookout for hosts who can attract the Young People without driving away the Old People. The failed James Franco/Anne Hathaway experiment was an example of that. MacFarlane has one advantage over those two: his audience base is very young, but he’s actually beloved by middle-aged Hollywood as well.
You can chalk that up to his old-fashioned Rat Pack sensibility (his performing style is a mix of sincerity and phoniness; it’s also the style of music he and his bandleader, Walter Murphy, like to use). Also, his jokes are the right mix of “edgy” and populist, giving him a middle-age appeal that goes beyond almost anyone in Hollywood, except maybe Larry David. For example, David Simon, a middle-aged genius who doesn’t like most television, recently said that he likes to watch Family Guy with his adolescent son. Family Guy just seems to hit the sweet spot of appealing both to very young people and to the show business establishment. Same with Ted, a hit movie that was seen as an example of a movie that was both very commercial and very (or at least somewhat) personal.
So the Oscar/MacFarlane gamble, on his part, is that he can use the hosting gig as leverage to make himself into a genuine star— not just an incredibly successful creator/director/voice actor. His recent SNL gig didn’t make this seem entirely possible—he has this smugness about him that simply cannot be gotten rid of—but he can try again. As for the Academy, they’re willing to hitch their wagon to anyone who may be able to provide that rare cross-generational appeal.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
A new animated series based in Alberta is brimming with inside jokes for Canadians
The U.S. is full of Canadian comedy writers, but they usually don’t get to make many jokes about their native country. That’s where Crash Canyon comes in. The new animated series on Teletoon was developed by a Calgarian writer for The Simpsons, Joel H. Cohen, who hired several other Canadian writers, including Simpsons colleague Tim Long and How I Met Your Mother’s Chuck Tatham.
Though shows like The Simpsons and HIMYM frequently have Canadian jokes, they’re usually obvious ones about Tim Hortons and hockey. On Crash Canyon, a mix of Family Guy and Gilligan’s Island about a Canadian family stuck in a canyon in Alberta, Cohen told Maclean’s that the writers finally had the opportunity to put in Canadian insider jokes like an ice cream store called “Don and Cherry’s” and a Monopoly game called “Moncton-opoly.” There are other possibly lost-on-Americans jokes, such as a stylist character who calls himself “the René to her Céline” and a road sign that says, “Now entering Saskatchewan—Welcome to our Nothing.”
“Americans love to make fun of Canada, so this is a chance to show another thing Canadians do better than the U.S.,” Cohen says. “In that sense, I guess we’re being patriotic. Now where do I pick up my Order of Canada medal?” Of course, not all the Canadian references are for insiders; Teletoon’s advance trailer includes a joke where the family daughter mixes up Anne Frank with Anne of Green Gables.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 5 Comments
This time around, Bugs and Daffy are sitcom characters living in the suburbs
The Looney Tunes Show, premiering in May, is Warner Brothers’ last hope of reviving the value of Bugs Bunny and friends. Old cartoons are no longer widely shown on TV, and kids can’t buy Daffy Duck merchandise if they don’t know who he is. That means the new show, which already has many segments online, is an attempt to “reinvigorate the brand with the best possible execution,” as WB TV president Peter Roth put it. Blogger Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew saw it differently after viewing the clips: “I’ll comment at a later date…after I’ve stopped vomiting.”
This time around, Bugs and Daffy have been rebooted into sitcom characters, living in the suburbs in what Ad Week magazine described as a “Desperate Housewives/Odd Couple mash-up.” There will also be stand-alone musical segments, and CGI Road Runner cartoons parodying movies like The Matrix. None of this is ideal for fans of the original cartoons, who make unfavourable comparisons between the wild, violent, unpredictable Bugs Bunny of the ’40s and the more sedate character who appears in these shorts. “The problem isn’t that the WB characters aren’t the same,” explains Canadian animator Mark Mayerson. “It’s that however they are now is inferior to their former selves.”
But by the standards of past Looney Tunes reboots, The Looney Tunes Show may wind up looking almost brilliant. Ever since the original WB cartoon studio shut down in 1963, the company has churned out one unsatisfying new version after another, starting with an infamous series of cartoons where Daffy Duck chased Speedy Gonzales (no one ever explained why a duck would chase a mouse), culminating in disastrous shows in the last decade like Baby Looney Tunes. Other classic characters have been reintroduced to new audiences: James Bond or Batman came back in vehicles that many fans thought were better than the originals. But the standards of Looney Tunes revivals are so poor that fans may not even mind that Yosemite Sam is doing a rap number in the new show; at least his ornery personality hasn’t been changed.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, November 27, 2009 at 10:20 AM - 17 Comments
Where did all the major network shows about black families go?
“The only other black comedic character on TV is Cleveland,” veteran TV producer Don Reo told the Kansas City Star, “and he’s a cartoon who’s voiced by a white guy.” Reo was trying to explain why his new show, Brothers, deserved to succeed: because of all the comedies premiered on the major U.S. networks this season, it was one of only two about an African-American family; the other one, The Cleveland Show, is a Family Guy spinoff about the show’s token black character (voiced, as Reo notes, by a white writer-actor, Mike Henry). And since Brothers opened to terrible reviews and worse ratings, Cleveland will soon be the only major network show about a black family. Richard Dubin, a professor at Syracuse University who wrote for many such shows in the ’80s and ’90s, puts it bluntly: “There are no more black shows.”
This is happening, strangely enough, at a time when things are better than usual for African-American actors and characters in the movies: there’s Oscar buzz for Precious (which may make a star out of actress Gabourey Sidibe), the Jamie Foxx vehicle The Soloist, and Clint Eastwood’s Nelson Mandela biopic Invictus, while Tyler Perry has become one of America’s most successful film producers with hit movies like Diary of a Mad Black Woman. But even as the overwhelming majority of television people were voting for Barack Obama, they were making fewer TV shows with African-American leads.
That’s not something anyone would have predicted 25 years ago, when The Cosby Show premiered. That show not only saved the sitcom, it became the most popular television program in the world, demolishing the idea that African-American TV families were only for a niche audience; Dubin says that its success “opened up a greater sense of possibility for black shows.” Cosby paved the way for other successful star vehicles, from Fresh Prince of Bel Air (for Will Smith) to Family Matters (which turned the character of Urkel into the most beloved TV nerd of the ’90s) to the late Bernie Mac’s self-titled sitcom.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 10:48 AM - 10 Comments
This is yesterday’s news, literally, but Microsoft pulled its sponsorship from the upcoming Family Guy variety special (where Seth MacFarlane and Alex Borstein will perform as themselves) because they heard the jokes and realized that this was full of “offensive” humour. Microsoft’s announcement makes it clear that they (or the people who greenlit this, anyway) had no idea what the show was about and simply chose to sponsor it because of the demographics:
We initially chose to participate in the Seth and Alex variety show based on the audience composition and creative humor of ‘Family Guy,’ but after reviewing an early version of the variety show, it became clear that the content was not a fit with the Windows brand.
There is, however, no truth to the rumour that Seth MacFarlane and the “Mac” from those John Hodgman commercials are the same person. Even though they’re both young and smug. (On a tangent, I now find myself rooting for the PC in those commercials. The Mac is such a smarmy, self-satisfied jerk, in the tradition of those kids from the Trix commercials.) But obviously this won’t help Microsoft any in their quest to make themselves seem hipper.
Actually, I can see the MacFarlane/Borstein thing being decent, or at least better than the other variety specials that the networks have greenlit in their ill-fated quest to bring back the format. One thing I actually do like about MacFarlane is that even though I find him unfunny, he does have genuine love for old-fashioned showbiz, particularly Broadway musicals and Vegas-style cabaret. He has, for example, done at least two parodies of songs from the Bob Merrill/Jackie Gleason musical Take Me Along, a show that only hard-core Broadway buffs seem to know about. I might actually watch this thing just to see if they choose to parody any songs as obscure as Take Me Along‘s “But Yours.”
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, September 28, 2009 at 11:43 PM - 1 Comment
Maybe it’s because I had low expectations or because it was an island in a sea of Seth MacFarlane, but I actually enjoyed the Simpsons season premiere quite a lot. I didn’t know until afterward that it was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (you know how it is, sometimes you turn away in the precise moment when they’re showing the writing credit), but I did feel like there was something a little different about the “voice” of this episode from most recent episodes. That’s not to say that they brought anything terribly original to the table, and certainly not to presume to guess how much of their work actually remained in the final version, but the episode was short on horrendous puns and self-referentiality, had a story that made sense, and even a few “screw the audience” jokes that felt like they could have come out of season 6 (the scene that seems to be building to a studio buying Comic Book Guy’s creation, only to reveal that another studio already bought it weeks ago).
That’s damning with faint praise, but The Simpsons is never going to produce episodes as great as its best seasons in the ’90s; what we can hope now is that it will produce scripts that don’t fall apart halfway through. The show has enough going for it that if it has a decent script, it can produce an entertaining episode. Again, I think that part of the rapturous critical reaction to the Simpsons movie — a reaction that now seems overblown — was simply relief at encountering an entire Simpsons script without any B-quality material. The puns and other corny devices that had plagued the show were mostly absent in the movie; it didn’t compare (even the quality of animation, believe it or not) with the best TV episodes, but it felt like it was subject to quality control. The show has cut back a bit on the cheap jokes since then, but most episodes still leave me with the feeling that a terrible joke could come at any moment and, worse, that if there is a terrible joke, there won’t be a good one along in a few seconds to make up for it. So while I will not claim that this new episode was great, it did make me relax and feel like I was in for a string of competently-crafted jokes. That seems like a lot nowadays.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 5:01 PM - 18 Comments
I never liked Family Guy, but now that they’re doing an episode with such delightful people as Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove, I’m clearly on board.
In an episode being produced for next season, the Griffins’ liberal dog, Brian, gets bored and frustrated because he feels he no longer has anything to complain about with Barack Obama in the White House. So Brian becomes a Republican and starts listening to Rush Limbaugh (who, apparently, also sings a song).
Limbaugh has actually been on the show once before, so the novelty isn’t huge, and Rove, of course, is well on his way to converting himself into a media personality who is beloved by all in the TV news industry. (The fact that he has no intellectual integrity is not a problem in an industry that also likes Newt Gingrich and James Carville.) Part of that strategy is getting a reputation for being a “good sport,” which explains why a Family Guy appearance will help his career.
More interesting than the guest stars is the irony of the plot summary: it’s being announced at a time when it’s clear that liberals have plenty to complain about with Obama in the White House and that (as with Clinton) they may spend the next four to eight years fighting a rearguard action against conservatives (including conservative Democrats), no matter who has the power.
But I admit that’s not Family Guy‘s fault; animated shows can’t stay on top of the headlines, except for South Park, and even that show isn’t as current as it used to be. Maybe by the time the episode airs, the headlines will have changed again and it will once again seem timely. But sometimes it’s better for a cartoon, with its long lead time, to ignore current headlines altogether. The picture to the left is from The Simpsons‘ episode “Sideshow Bob Roberts,” first written in early 1994 when Democrats controlled everything, health-care reform seemed likely to pass, and conservatives like Limbaugh and Sideshow Bob were being written off as marginal figures. By the time the episode aired, health-care reform was dead and the Republicans were on track to take back Congress (which they did, not long after the episode aired), and the show had become timely by refusing to be tied to specific ripped-from-the-headlines news items. Just another reason why season 6 The Simpsons is better than Family Guy.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, March 23, 2009 at 4:47 PM - 0 Comments
In response to the announcement of a Family Guy/Bones crossover, William Rabkin recalls a story he and Lee Goldberg almost did for Diagnosis Murder until they ran into rights troubles: Dick Van Dyke solves a mystery with the help of Scooby-Doo. Lee Goldberg also supplies his own account of the planned Scooby crossover; the idea had to be dropped because Hanna-Barbera had been bought out by Warner Brothers, which dragged its feet on letting them use the character.
If they had done the episode, most of the animated footage would have come from the first time Dick Van Dyke met Scooby, but This unproduced story was a substitute for another gimmick show they had to abandon, a live Diagnosis Murder. They had to drop it when ER announced plans to do a live episode of their own.
The Rabkin/Goldberg years of Diagnosis: Murder were actually quite a blast, and one of my favourite examples of how any show can be made worthwhile if the writers think outside the box. A typical Dean Hargrove older-skewing procedural was tricked out with so many gimmicks, stunts, in-jokes, cameos and harangues about the state of ’90s television and popular culture that it was always worth tuning in just to find out what they would try next. (In one episode, taking place at a radio station, Dick Van Dyke’s character walks by a booth and sees himself, on The Dick Van Dyke Show, from the episode where he was a radio DJ. That may or may not have been the same episode that had cameos from Stephanie Miller and Donny and Marie.) They seemed to realize that being a low-budget formula show didn’t preclude them doing some things that could surprise us, something you rarely see on today’s CBS procedurals.
(Link via Mark Evanier.)
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, March 20, 2009 at 3:59 PM - 1 Comment
The upcoming Bones/Family Guy crossover is being promoted as something big and new because it’s an animated character appearing on a live-action show. But really it’s a very old-fashioned crossover where characters from one long-running show pop up on another long-running show on the same network. Though I guess Family Guy is more popular than Bones, this isn’t really the sort of crossover that’s done to boost a show’s popularity. It’s more the sort of crossover that happens when two shows are produced by the same studio, and so when the live-action show wants to do an animated segment, they arrange to borrow a character from their sister show.
It used to happen quite often in the movies; Bugs Bunny appeared in two live-action musicals at Warner Brothers, Two Guys From Texas and My Dream Is Yours, Tom and Jerry swam with fellow MGM contractee Esther Williams, and most famously, Jerry appeared with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh after Disney refused permission to loan out Mickey Mouse. A scene which, to bring us full circle, was copied by Family Guy, because why make new animation when you can just trace over the old animation and claim you’re doing an homage?
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, December 1, 2008 at 7:11 PM - 0 Comments
But Seth MacFarlane is going to give it to us anyway. (She’ll be one of the talking bears on The Cleveland Show, the Family Guy spinoff.)
The article is mostly a MacFarlane puff piece, but it indirectly clarifies one thing that has been puzzling me: why American Dad has gotten better while Family Guy has gotten worse. American Dad, which went into production just before Family Guy was revived, started out as a lame cross between Wait Till Your Father Gets Home and 24 (actually, all MacFarlane’s shows have some Wait Till Your Father Gets Home in them — Meg Continue…
By Colin Campbell - Monday, June 30, 2008 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
In the money…: Google’s stock price may not have hit anywhere near the
In the money: Google’s stock price may not have hit anywhere near the $1,000 a share many analysts were predicting last year. (In fact, it’s been slogging along in the $550 range). But the company is still dreaming up ways to try and boost its online ad revenue. The latest is a deal with Seth MacFarlane, creator of the television cartoon The Family Guy. MacFarlane, the New York Times reports, is working on an Internet animation series (called “Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy”) that will appear on thousands of web sites using Google’s advertising system, AdSense. The short, two-minute episodes will appear with ads, facilitated by Google, attached to the beginning, or somehow worked into the videos. Google seems intent on setting up its own little online television network, not just selling ads but distributing the content. “We feel that we have recreated the mass media,” Google tells the Times. Unlikely. But Google, to its credit, continues to defy its critics by luring ad dollars that once would have gone to television over to the Internet.
Trading down: Don’t mess with French fashion. A French court ruled that the online auction site eBay, must pay $61 million to LVMH, a company that makes perfumes and luxury fashion goods. LVMH argued that eBay hasn’t done enough to stamp out the sale of cheap, designer knock-off goods (90 percent of Louis Vuitton bags and Dior perfumes sold on the site are fakes, it argued). This isn’t the beginning or end of eBay’s legal troubles. Hermes International successfully sued the company in June. Tiffany & Co has also sued. eBay is appealing the LVMH decision.
Number cruncher: The $35-billion BCE takeover fracas continues. And it may not be resolved until the end of the year, the Globe and Mail reports today. With the legal issues seemingly put to bed, the issue now is the $42.75 a share purchase price. The banks that are financing the deal think the number should be as low as $35 a share, according to the Globe. That’s a big difference from the number the BCE board has settled on.
Boom or gloom: Surprise, surprise. Statistics Canada reports today that the nation’s GDP actually grew slightly in April, following declines in February and March. So, that was a short lived recession. But with an increase of just 0.4 per cent, we’re inclined to say this is still a bit more gloom than it is boom.
Ticker tape: We’re transfixed with the price of oil, which moved past $143 a barrel this morning. Where will it stop; nobody knows! Also on the rise: demand for the new Apple iPhone. An RBC report says it’s unprecedented.