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Awards Fail to Rise from the Ashes



The Golden Globes used to involve a predictable kind of chaos. The awards themselves were voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a small and notoriously corrupt organization with a clear set of biases. (In short: the more famous, the better.) Perhaps as a result, the televised broadcast has always been looser, drunker, and less self-serious than more prestigious events like the Oscars. What lacks authority also lacks pretense, and the Globes at their best — see: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s three-year hosting reign in the mid-2010s — have made the most of their relative absence of stakes. 

But after years of scandals, a pandemic, strikes and pivots, including a forced hiatus from TV and then a break with NBC, the Globes spent the run-up to this Sunday’s ceremony (now on CBS) indicating that the institution had changed. For one thing, the HFPA itself is no more, replaced by a for-profit venture with an expanded, diversified voting body. Some of these adjustments were welcome, even overdue; Hollywood has enough opportunities for nepotism without the title formerly known as Miss Golden Globe. Yet the Globes also risked throwing out the baby with the bathwater — or rather, Jennifer Lawrence’s lukewarm chardonnay. If the Golden Globes, the organization, got its act together, could the Golden Globes, the annual celebrity extravaganza, still be fun?

It turns out this year’s Globes were still a trainwreck — just not the kind one likes to watch. At just a hair over three hours, the ceremony was efficient on paper, but felt interminable in practice. With forced banter, ill-conceived staging and a woefully unqualified MC, this year’s show was hardly a triumphant return, let alone a showcase for a new and improved Golden Globes.

Host Jo Koy took the job less than two weeks ago, after bigger names like eventual winner Ali Wong had publicly passed on the gig. Koy’s performance failed to seize the spotlight, instead making for an inauspicious beginning to the Globes’ attempted rebrand. Rather than endearing the stand-up to a new audience, Koy’s monologue was filled with cringe-worthy jokes about “Barbie” breasts and bitter jabs at a crowd that was audibly not on his wavelength. Previous hosts like Jerrod Carmichael and Ricky Gervais have gleefully turned their satiric blades on the Globes itself. (Unfortunately for Koy, Gervais’ shadow only became more prominent when his fellow comic won a prize in absentia.) The kindest compliment one could pay Koy’s performance, at least from the show’s point of view, is that it was enough of a boondoggle to distract from his employer’s own struggles. Unlike in years past, the Globes’ troubles went largely unmentioned until Robert Downey Jr.’s wry acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor.

The former Marvel star brought the same sarcastic charm that enlivened his erstwhile character Tony Stark. (“It’s so fun proving agents right!”) But the evening was otherwise dominated by rushed, perfunctory speeches by honorees who hardly seemed happy to be there. Highlights, like Ayo Edebiri’s shoutout to her reps’ assistants or Greta Gerwig’s shoutout to Noah Baumbach’s inner Barbie girl, came and went quickly, a pace encouraged by an unseen, though frequently commented on, countdown clock. Nor did the presenters seem any more enthusiastic, with the notable exception of Jon Batiste and Andra Day. Onlookers in and out of the room seemed to seize on the pair’s easy chemistry like an oasis in a charisma desert, as much a testament to their own appeal as the lack of highlights before and after their appearance.

The Globes did pull off the coup of getting Taylor Swift in the room by handing her a nomination for Cinematic and Box Office Achievement, an award all but made up to lure megawatt stars to the Beverly Hilton. But Koy quickly squandered that win, alienating the pop star with a cheap shot about her presence at NFL games. Swift, an expert at making the most of wordless TV cutaways, telegraphed her displeasure with a single swig of her drink. The night was surprisingly light on prominent no-shows, besides former Gervais and the team behind “The Boy and the Heron.” But given what greeted those who did attend, producers may have difficulty luring in stars of Swift’s caliber again. Lesser-known nominees like Christine Vachon, producer of “May December,” publicly complained about terrible seats at the room’s margins, adding to the impression that a show that bills itself as one big party was failing to satisfy its guests. For viewers, the dampened vibe was both palpable and contagious. 

Attendees were pushed to the margins by a stage that jutted into the center of the room, competing for space with an expanded pool of nominees. (Each category this year had six candidates in lieu of the traditional five.) The layout was one of several awkward choices in the design of the show, including a conspicuous lack of performance clips with the puzzling exception of stand-up comedy. At one point, Elizabeth Debicki was visibly startled when a voiceover interrupted some awkward banter between Julia Garner and Jonathan Bailey. After six months of labor stoppages, Hollywood is out of practice when it comes to celebrating itself. While that pent-up demand gave the Globes a theoretical edge, the show instead became an exercise in clumsy execution. 

“The Golden Globes have not changed!” joked presenter Will Ferrell, again invoking the elephant in the room where Koy pointedly would not. The line landed, in part, because it wasn’t true. The actual awards were light on surprises — a reflection of respectable middlebrow taste, not easily bribed eccentricity. Attendees dined on Nobu sushi — actual food, not just an endless stream of booze. And the broadcast was missing what the Globes have traditionally had to offer — the good form of chaos, not the bad.

Variety parent company PMC owns Dick Clark Prods. in a joint venture with Eldridge.


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