The Golden Globes are facing down a scandal that has felt, in moments over the past week, practically existential, with Los Angeles Times reporting indicating both a systemic and corrupt self-dealing and a total lack of Black members. Both of these strands have always been understood by some portion of the viewership as part of the complicated and unsavory mix of how promotion works in Hollywood: There are as many examples of unworthy but aggressively-pushed projects to have been met with Globes success as there have been worthy projects about the Black experience to have been blanked.
The implicit rebuttal to all this, in past years when this was vaguely known without having been put as concretely into print, had been that the Globes were allowed to be ugly behind the scenes because they were fun onstage. Yes, this show has certain unfixable issues, but it’s the one where the stars come out to party! Perhaps, then, the timing of the revelations around the Hollywood Foreign Press Association came at the perfect time. In the face of the most concrete evidence to date of precisely why the Golden Globes should not have such a hold on our attention, the ceremony put on a lazy, clueless ceremony that likely convinced many viewers to change the channel.
In contrast to the Emmy Awards last fall, which harnessed the unsettled nature of the moment to do some truly novel things with the awards-show form, this year’s Globes seemed to attempt to force a show that rejected continuity into an uneasy familiarity. Part of that was at the production level: For instance, even though co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were on opposite coasts, they were presented in an eerie and uncanny split-screen in an attempt to create the effect of artificial togetherness. When they, for instance, botched their joint introduction of honorary award recipient Norman Lear, it came as no surprise: By that point, the complete inability of the show to consistently deliver comprehensible audio had become one of the stories of the night.
And perhaps, for the Globes, this was a welcome distraction. There was something perhaps too redolent of the Globes’ recent scandals about the evening’s first winner, “Judas and the Black Messiah” actor Daniel Kaluuya, being silenced for a time, delivering his speech mutely for a while before the connection stabilized. (There are serious logistical barriers in the way of a Zoom awards show; serious production teams, as at the Emmys, are capable of solving them.) Elsewhere, baffling production choices like keeping all nominees in major categories onscreen to clap and smile mutely as one gave an acceptance speech, and strange snafus like the deafening background noises drowning out winners like Catherine O’Hara, kept the story on the show rather than its substance. It can’t have been an intentional strategy — who’d choose to create a disaster? — but it was in some ways an effective one. This show had little to say for itself, so better, perhaps, to let loud noises blare.
The fundamental unseriousness of the Globes has always been its selling point, and — as the show has, despite or because of its frivolous nature, become the most important watering hole on the road to the Oscars — its problem. The fact that the ceremony itself stands for nothing was why, for instance, the talent attending the show three years ago managed to hijack the proceedings and turn the evening into a provocation, a from-the-ground-up all-black-gowns protest on behalf of #MeToo and Time’s Up. It’s also why, in happier times, the show gets defined by its audience in a less thorny manner, with the interactions and alchemical reactions between people sharing a hotel ballroom meaning more than who literally wins or loses. A show with basically no format other than letting the camera roll, one that gives no real counterweight to anything that happens on its air, needs some external force to define it.
Left to its own devices and without collisions between superstars in person to bail them out, the Globes made every choice 180 degrees from the one that might have made sense. They allowed Fey and Poehler first to deliver material that seemed to let the Hollywood Foreign Press off the hook with a gentle warning, and then that called into question the entire idea of awards shows. It’s not that anyone who’d read the coverage this week could disagree, but this is a review of the broadcast and not the concept of the Golden Globes. If the hosts are telling us — not without reason — that it might make sense not to watch, and if the awards-giving portion of the evening is alternately inaudible or painfully uncomfortable, those same hosts are going to have to give us something more, something worth staying tuned in for. Fey and Poehler have, in the past, had great nights at the Golden Globes, and this was not one.
Perhaps the two co-hosts — separated by some 3,000 miles but united in a certain over-it vibe — were feeling Zoom fatigue. Who could blame them? Trying to communicate with a colleague while feeling that weary ache behind the eyes, feeling that now-too-familiar sense of being engaged in a series of interactions that manage to suck energy from all while giving back to none… it’s, for many in the audience, the defining tone of the era. That sense of Zoom thrumming as a threatening backbeat of so many viewers’ lives makes it feel strange that the show worked so hard to recreate and even to induce that Zoom-y feeling in viewers looking for a night off. Did every losing nominee really need to be in frame, living through their loss in GIFfable, humiliating tedium? (And how much more is the awards-giving industry going to force Glenn Close to take?) Similarly, did awkward cutaways back to the hosts or onstage presenters not just lend a sense that all parties were enduring the show until it could be over?
Even if we stipulate, as COVID-era common sense dictates, that the show necessarily had to be conducted remotely, its remoteness from other sorts of common sense was inexplicable. The only possible explanation is that, seeking the sense of chaos lent by serendipitous meetings of stars in the Beverly Hilton ballroom, the show sought to wring as much possible awkwardness as it could from putting all the nominees in a category onscreen and having the hosts tap out. It was an evening defined by sourness and a sense of obligation on all sides: A thing that was being done because everyone knew it was what was done every year, even as the news insisted on the show’s irrelevance and the production seemed to resist being put on. But what viewers who walked away after three hours feeling as if they just got out of a contentious work meeting with some very unpleasant coworkers may think to themselves is: Maybe it doesn’t need to.