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Who are the MTV Movie (and TV) Awards for, exactly?

This is the question that kept rattling around my exhausted brain during Monday’s broadcast, which squeezed the ceremony (which happened live in Los Angeles on June 15) into two taut hours of waning pop culture references and supportive screaming. If it’s for Gen Z teens, as the heavy emphasis on Netflix originals like “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” suggested, why have Zachary Levi host? If it’s for adults, what’s with the “how do you do, fellow kids” vibe? The MTV Movie (and TV) Awards so thoroughly split the difference that there’s no clear target audience to speak of. Even Sandra Bullock (especially Sandra Bullock) seemed confused to be there accepting the award for “Best Frightened Performance,” formerly “Best Scared-As-Shit Performance,” for her turn in “Birdbox.” (Her scripted speech about how mothering is the most important horror movie there is would no doubt have gone over better at the Golden Globes than with this MTV crowd.)

Now, there’s something to be said for an awards show that dares to have fun with itself. With awards like “Best Kiss,” “Best Villain,” and the now retired “Best Shirtless Scene” (which went to Zac Efron two out of three times), the MTV Awards lack the staid self-righteousness that can make other ceremonies so exhausting. And from Levi’s opening promise that he wanted “a fun and positive” night to the speeches themselves, this year’s show emphasized the value of “being kind by being compassionate, by being inclusive, and by being straight up good to people, because that matters” (credit to: Generation Award winner Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). It’s also fun to see a show throw caution and precedent to the wind, especially with gender-neutral categories like “Best Fight” that pit Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel against “Ruth Bader Ginsberg versus inequality” (which…Ginsberg lost). And again, thanks to the magic of pre-taping this broadcast clocked in at two hours total. For as much as Levi’s interjections and rambling sketches (sending up “Us” and “Game of Thrones”) slowed down the proceedings, there’s a general breeziness to this show that few others have.

And yet this brand of efficiency (and the fact that so many of the nominees are from shows and films whose seasons are long past) also makes The MTV Movie and TV Awards so much more forgettable. By the time the credits rolled, all but a few moments of the hyperactive broadcast had already faded from view. (If you’re going to look up anything from this ceremony, look up the wonderfully unrehearsed speech from the “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta” cast, the uncharacteristically somber speech from the “Surviving R Kelly” team, or Lizzo’s performance of “Juice” as remixed with an enthusiastic “Sister Act 2” riff.) The punchlines were half-hearted and easy, gently roasting subjects that have already been joked to death. The chipper gloss poured over every inch of the ceremony flattened it into something so generic it might as well have been shrink-wrapped on a Target shelf. It just tried so hard to be for everyone that in the end, it may have been for no one at all.

TV Review: 2019 MTV Movie and TV Awards

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