The Golden Globe Awards may be the biggest guilty pleasure on TV. You can't watch them with the air of participating in a significant cultural event, as with the major guild award shows. They are, after all, handed out by a small group of journalists nobody in the viewing audience has ever heard of. But respectability can be a drag -- as some of the more ponderous Oscar shows of recent years have proven -- and the Globes' relative lack thereof can give the show a freewheeling, occasionally even raucous spirit.
The Golden Globe Awards may be the biggest guilty pleasure on TV. You can’t watch them with the air of participating in a significant cultural event, as with the major guild award shows. They are, after all, handed out by a small group of journalists nobody in the viewing audience has ever heard of. But respectability can be a drag — as some of the more ponderous Oscar shows of recent years have proven — and the Globes’ relative lack thereof can give the show a freewheeling, occasionally even raucous spirit that makes for good TV. (The wine being poured in the Beverly Hilton ballroom probably helps, too.)Overall, the Globes are just an occasion to feed our endless appetite for star gawking. In that respect, the 58th annual awards show didn’t disappoint. Recognizing that the show’s significance is directly related to face time with celebrities, producers managed to squeeze in even more star wattage this year, showing candid shots of table schmoozing during the commercial breaks and posting exec producer Dick Clark backstage and in the green room to chat with (somewhat startled) presenters and winners. The latter gambit was less than scintillating, with even the smooth Clark reduced to shamelessly asking Reese Witherspoon, “Are you sure you don’t want to plug anything?” The candid camera segments were better: Sigourney Weaver grimacing as she appeared to knock over a glass, Joan Allen listening intently to a bookish-looking Frances McDormand, stars air kissing each other endlessly. Pointless stuff, but a fun way of giving the TV audience the feeling of actually attending the “party of the year,” as the Globes have branded themselves. This isn’t the Oscars, so there are no Chuck Workman montages, no R&B divas warbling songs you don’t really remember from Jerry Bruckheimer pics (although maybe one year, the HFPA could introduce themselves to us, in production numbers featuring music indigenous to their countries of origin…). The long parade of stars, speeches and schmattes can get monotonous, but there were some novel moments: An ovation for Bob Dylan, surely the least likely Golden Globe winner we’ll be seeing for some time. (Charmingly, Julia Roberts said, “I never thought I’d follow Bob Dylan — this is huge!”) Robert Downey Jr.’s two appearances were notable for obvious reasons. His first, to intro a “Wonder Boys” clip, was oddly heralded by Clark as “very special” (meaning what — that it wasn’t taking place in a courtroom?). Downey later picked up a Globe for supporting actor in a series; on both occasions he made jokes about his travails. Bob Keene’s mood-ring set, which mutated from peach and gold colors to blues and purples, added to the TV picture some much-needed texture and color– which the fashion parade largely didn’t. With stars male and female reciting the labels on everything but their underwear during the E! pre-game show, one may well wonder whether the show is a bigger boon to the entertainment or the fashion industry. And yet while the increasing focus on fashion means a higher level of taste, it also means a decrease in those what-was-she-thinking-of? moments so dear to the hearts of TV viewers and the tabloids (Charlize Theron — bless her heart — saved the day in this respect). Gowns tended to be monochromatic sheaths. Hair was mostly neat and upswept. The matching shirt-and-tie look is still big for Hollywood men, many of whom seem to believe the affair doesn’t warrant the black-tie thing. Scripted patter was wisely kept to a minimum by writers Barry Adelman and Ken Shapiro; the few jokes were tepidly received. Speeches were standard-issue, with a few exceptions, such as Roberts’ breathless, jubilant and delightful ramble, and Martin Sheen’s offer of support to both Jesse Jackson and George W. Bush. The best performance award would have to go to Al Pacino, winner of the Cecil B. DeMille career achievement nod. Pacino watching himself in an array of film clips was a performance more riveting than most found on screens small or large these days. The smooth procession of awards and speeches was, blessedly, interrupted by a moment that’s becoming de rigueur for this awards show. Renee Zellweger was in the bathroom removing lipstick from her teeth, as she later sweetly explained, when Hugh Grant announced her award. Here the show’s generally expert camera work under director Chris Donovan fell apart: As Grant gamely wondered where Zellweger was (“Under the table?” he joked), we saw a shot of the (garish) carpet and another of Zellweger’s empty chair. Dick Clark stormed onstage muttering about a “Kathleen” Lahti moment. (Christine Lahti, shown laughing a moment later, was the first to inaugurate this now traditional glitch.) And then came the real surprise: Elizabeth Taylor’s decidedly odd behavior as she announced the evening’s final award. Seemingly disoriented, she had to be coached through the hardly complicated process of giving the best-picture nod to “Gladiator” by helpful audience members and Clark, who once again emerged from the wings to offer assistance. A faux pas, yes, but such are the moments that make the show lively and watchable. They should be savored, if not manufactured, to give the Globes a personality distinct from the Oscars. If the 58th Globes illustrated anything, it was that they’re getting more similar to the tightly regimented Oscars these days, at least as TV broadcasts. And as we all know, at the Oscars, sometimes the only surprise is how long the show runs.