The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is not known for its members’ … let’s call it logical consistency. But that’s one of the reasons that their nominations for the Golden Globes are so fascinating. All awards nominations reflect surprising elements of the current cultural moment; the Golden Globes, a messy, glitzy affair, frequently highlight some of our most unpredictable vagaries. And while films get just one shot to impress the HFPA, many television shows try to catch the Globes’ attention year after year — with vastly and sometimes hilariously different results. Shows that win the top award one year get snubbed the following, and a show with any varying amount of quality could suddenly grab the HFPA’s attention with an A-list regular or an especially charming ingenue. Every awards show is subject to influence from efficacious marketing campaigns, buzzy trends, and emerging political realities. But the Globes are peculiarly tuned into flashes in the pan; the Golden Globes are, more than any other awards, about Hollywood’s current self-definition.
For some reason, Hollywood’s current self-definition thinks that “Mozart in the Jungle” is one of the best comedies of the year.
The Golden Globes are great at locating what’s buzzing brightly — either through brand recognition or industry chatter.
This is one of the reasons that one of the Globes’ favorite subsets of nominees are big-name actors in small-screen roles — hinging, still, on older ideas of what the worth of television is, and rewarding film-famous actors who appear to be “slumming it.” This year, Nick Nolte, Billy Bob Thornton, and Sarah Jessica Parker were all nominated for performances in marginal series that never quite broke through — with audiences, critics, or even the HFPA itself, which didn’t nominate new programs “Goliath,” “Graves,” “Divorce,” or “London Spy” for any other awards.
But that’s an impulse that is often at odds with television, which usually aims to appeal over not just months but years — not just this awards season but the next too.
Television watchers and critics might fawn over a hot debut or fall in love with a new star, but shows are supposed to endure. The fact that the Globes take place in the winter — when most of television’s buzz rises and falls in the spring and summer — just exacerbates the fact that the nominations often feel out of step with what people who love TV are tuned into.
That can be frustrating — buzz is an imprecise measure of quality. It’s revealing, though. The nominees for limited series, for example, are dominated by stories about crime and courtrooms — “The Night Of,” “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” “American Crime,” even “The Night Manager.”
Best drama, meanwhile, is populated by period pieces with a twist — “Westworld,” a Western with science-fiction underpinnings; “Game of Thrones,” a knights-and-dragons epic with dark magic around every corner; “Stranger Things” is every horror film from the ’80s mashed together, with Winona Ryder as the cherry on top.
Even NBC’s family drama “This Is Us” uses time-jumping as its primary storytelling method, and “The Crown” is a straight-up costume drama, albeit with greater verisimilitude.
Gone are the antihero dramas — though their lead actors are all nominated in the category — and almost gone are the sex, drugs, and blood that are practically synonymous with prestige drama. Those vices seem to have departed for the more forgiving formats of anthology and limited series.
It’s worth observing, too, just how many women are in this crop of nominated dramas. “Westworld” engages with sexism and objectification in ways that were controversial this season — but it’s notable that the two nominees for performance are both Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton, who in different ways both portrayed women brutalized, repeatedly, by their captors. “This Is Us” nods to both Mandy Moore and Chrissy Metz, both of its lead women. And though “Game of Thrones” has had its issues, this season focused on Westeros’ women — mostly because many of the men are dead. Lena Headey, as Cersei, is the sole acting nominee for the show. “Stranger Things” hinges on both Ryder’s performance as the distraught mother and a young girl taken captive by a questionable agency; and “The Crown” is literally about Queen Elizabeth II.
For once, it’s comedy series that leans a little more male-centric — although it’s also worth observing that given the experimentation happening in the half-hour format, the five comedies chosen by the HFPA are a slim and inadequate cross-section of what’s doing the best work in that space.
Indeed, sometimes — as with the continued love for “Mozart in the Jungle” — the HFPA best instincts war with marketing narratives. But there’s still a broader appreciation for comedy from unexpected corners — “Transparent’s” continued honors, and nods for Donald Glover and Issa Rae, two of the most exciting voices in television.
The drama acting nominees are dominated by white actors; the comedy acting nominees reveal much more racial diversity.
This year’s Globes points to what seems a growing trend in television — where certain formats are suited to certain topics. Half-hours seem to be for identity politics; miniseries for social issues; dramas for genre exploration.
Whether or not these are good silos to have in order to produce the best television is another question entirely, but the nominees point towards a genre-wide specialization and self-selection.
But there’s also a lot to be excited about with what the HFPA finds buzzy this awards cycle. The nominees include a broad appreciation for stories from a range of demographics, genres, and voices. If this is what Hollywood is excited about this December, then we have great stuff to look forward to in 2017.