Golden Globes Reward the New, the Worthy, the WTF in TV

2016 Golden Globes TV Analysis
Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

The Emmys are often taken to task for handing out awards to shows that long ago passed their prime and to well-known performers who are merely going through the motions, but on Sunday, the Golden Globes often went quite a long way in the other direction when handing out TV awards. A series of statues went to shows and performers that many Globes viewers have probably never heard of, or they went to the shiniest and most famous nominee in a category — not necessarily the most talented one.

There are probably a dozen shows that could realistically contend for the title of best comedy on TV — among them fellow Globes nominees “Veep,” “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent.” But “Mozart” and “Casual” — streaming shows that have good casts but do not deserve to be in the best-comedy conversation — were nominated and “Mozart” won because the Globes like to be among the first (or only) awards-giving bodies to recognize certain kinds of niche shows and performers.

This is both a good thing (hurray for “Mr. Robot” and Taraji P. Henson for her “Empire” win), but it is also sometimes a dispiriting thing.

There’s nothing wrong with being willing to embrace the new — it’s a trait to be applauded for many reasons. But sometimes the Globes voters appeared to reward obscure or mega-famous nominees, well, just because. Whoever ran Amazon’s awards campaign for “Mozart in the Jungle” is probably going to ask for a raise (and possibly free shipping for life from a grateful Jeff Bezos). But that middling show’s wins highlight the flaws in the Globes’ tendency to embrace something shiny and new-ish, especially if it has a certain kind of international flavor.

“Mozart in the Jungle” is sweet, reasonably decent comedy about the world of classical music that is most assuredly not the best comedy on television. Gael Garcia Bernal is an endearing performer but even he said his win for his role in that show was “a big surprise.” That’s an understatement.

Given that the Globes love to embrace up and comers, a win for Aziz Ansari would have been an expected (and well-deserved) event in the comedy category. But the Globes voters are an international crew, hence Bernal’s edge in this arena. All in all, two wins for that show was about two wins too many.

In the grand tradition of silly Globes wins, nothing was sillier than Lady Gaga winning for her performance in “American Horror Story: Hotel.” It’s all good fun to laugh at the Globes voters when they do something goofy, but it’s hard to do so when those laughs come at the expense of truly exceptional work.

Kirsten Dunst gave one of the great performances of the decade in the second season “Fargo,” and the statue should have been hers; in fact, awards-giving bodies should just back up a trucks full of statues at Dunst’s house. But once again, Globes voters couldn’t resist the shiny pop star with debatable acting abilities (paging Pia Zadora).

This year in the TV realm, the Globes’ usual indecision seemed especially pronounced: The group can’t seem to decide if they want to reward obscure but deserving entities and actors, or people who are very famous and have a few good films or songs on their resumes.

In part, the “Mozart” wins were victories for all streaming platforms, which weren’t even a factor in the realm of awards a few years ago, but those services have gotten more attention and more nominations every year. Right now, Netflix and Amazon are where cable networks like FX, AMC and HBO were a number of years ago — they are the cool new kids that people want to sit near, metaphorically speaking. (For Globes voters, of course, that’s often not a metaphor. As Ricky Gervais noted in an otherwise pallid monologue, Globes voters are known to enjoy chances to rub elbows with famous people, a desire that awards publicists are only too eager to cater to.)

Of course, not all the awards went to new faces and shows with tiny followings. Christian Slater won for “Mr. Robot,” which is partly a victory for the show and partly a recognition of the fact that, as Slater noted in his acceptance speech, he’s been working in Hollywood for four decades. Same goes for Maura Tierney, who won a supporting-actress award in part because she’s a respected and well-known actress, and in part for her nuanced performance in “The Affair.”

Whatever one thinks of the Globes, it’s nice to know that Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” got a second Golden Globe to put on his mantelpiece, where ideally the latest one will sit next to the Emmy he got last year. As “Mad Men’s” final trek through awards season came to a close, it was lovely to see the Globes recognize him one more time for his indelible performance as Don Draper. 

But, in the main, the flavor of the month was the flavor of the Globes, which for the second year in a row, recognized a fine comedic performance on the CW (a network that is undoubtedly on a roll). Even if you subscribe to the theory that the Globes are meaningless bits of statuary that studios and networks see as publicity investments and nothing more, these kinds of wins do have worthy uses. They can help marginal shows raise their profiles and get the attention they not only deserve but may well need. Rachel Bloom’s win for her loopy role in the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” could get that low-rated show another season, just as Gina Rodriguez’s win for “Jane the Virgin” helped bolster that CW show and get it more much-deserved attention.

“Mr. Robot,” one of the most arresting new shows of the year, could also get a needed and deserved boost from its two wins. Those awards were not only defensible, they may help propel the program to greater fame this year when it returns, which would not be a bad thing at all.

It was also a little heartening that “Wolf Hall” beat out “Fargo” and “American Horror Story: Hotel” for the best miniseries award. Those FX shows have much higher pop-culture profiles, but “Wolf Hall” and its stars were simply mesmerizing. And if Oscar Isaac won in part because the actor’s career is on fire, so be it. If a tenth of the people who saw him in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” watched the worthy HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” the world might be a slightly better place.