Critic's Notebook: Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg Open the Golden Globes With Positivity

There is a standard by which we judge mismatched (as in not "Tina & Amy") award show hosting combos. I'm thinking Anne Hathaway and James Franco at the Oscars or that year the Emmys let the reality hosting nominees anchor the show. It's a standard that ought to be easy to top, but one that also lets you understand why combinations like Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg don't happen very often.

And so by that standard, Oh and Samberg's performance opening the 76th Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night was … better than those!

The first thing that I feel like I need to say is that the director of the Golden Globes telecast did Samberg and Oh no favors by botching the funniest joke in their entire monologue. You had Oh paying tribute to Crazy Rich Asians by kidding that it was the biggest hit for a movie with an Asian lead since Ghost in the Shell and Aloha, and from somewhere in the crowd, if you listen closely, somebody yelled "I'm sorry!" It sounded like Emma Stone and folks tweeting from the crowd seemed to indicate that it was Emma Stone, but if you're the director of the telecast and you know an Aloha joke is coming, how do you not have one camera focused exclusively on Emma Stone?

Sigh.

There was a clear edict for Oh and Samberg, and that was to set a positive and warm tone.

That doesn't sound like so much to ask, but keep in mind that this is the Golden Globes, a show that reveled in all the years Ricky Gervais came out and mocked everybody, a show that Seth Meyers had to turn into a smart platform to address #MeToo and a Hollywood sociological earthquake last year. Gervais' monologues were beloved by a certain audience segment. I thought Seth did a tremendous job last year, or at least as good a job as anybody could have done under trying circumstances.

That, however, was not the tone anybody wanted to set on Sunday night, and surely it's a tone that could have, once again, been the choice. A bit later in the telecast, which I'll write about at length anon, Samberg would make a Les Moonves joke, and there could have been more of that. There could have been the usual Donald Trump mockery, including the now-ritualized joke about how "Hollywood," "foreign" and "press" are three of Trump's least favorite things. An opening dig at the Oscars and their struggles finding a host could have been carried through for the duration, but it came and went swiftly.

Instead, Oh and Samberg began by joking that they were roasting the crowd, Gervais-style, and preceded thusly:

Spike Lee — "I'll tell you who does the right thing! You, as a director."

Bradley Cooper — "You are hot!"

Gina Rodriguez — "Last time I checked, she resided in heaven." "Sandra Oh? More like 'Sandra Oh Snap'!"

Michael B. Jordan — "More like Michael Be Buff AF. You a snack, Michael!"

Amy Adams — "Hey Amy, save some for the rest of us, you mega-talented piece of dog crap."

Jeff Bridges — "Hey Jeff ... I wish you were my dad."

Fair enough!

A warm tone had been set, even if the audience laughter was a pretty mixed proposition. At least if they'd been genuinely roasted, they would have known to play "angry" or "amused." In this case, they had to play "false humility," which isn't the sort of thing you want to force actors to play at an event meant to honor them, an event with an open bar. The result was a lot of, "Ha ha ha … I am pretty great?" smiles.

It's an interesting choice: Either you run the risk of souring the room with truly cutting jokes, or you run the risk of not necessarily warming the room up properly to laugh. Oh and Samberg definitely didn't do the former, but they probably did the latter. You could sense it as the monologue got more traditional and also more pointed.

Like Oh's First Man joke, "First Man is also how studios look for directors. First. Man. If no man available, then pair of man." That was fairly funny. The audience wasn't sure.

Or Samberg's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel snap, "It's the show that makes audiences sit up and say, 'Wait, is this anti-Semitic?'" That was fairly funny. The audience wasn't so sure.

Then there were some straight-up bad jokes, or rather straight-up dad jokes, like "Darren Criss of Ruth's Criss Steak House is here." You know who wasn't amused? Everybody. Nobody was antagonistic but even Darren Criss was like, "Really? That's the best you've got?"

Even if she wasn't necessarily fully fluid as a monologue teleprompter reviewer, Oh had many of the best moments, including a wonderfully specific bit about "the Asian flush" that she reassured most of the audience wasn't for all of them. She also ceded a sincere bit about inclusion to Samberg before noting, "Wow, Andy can I just say that you just read all my lines off the teleprompter," to which Samberg responded, "Oh my God, I just totally whitewashed your speech."

This was clearly a bit, but you could forgive the audience for not being sure if Oh's ultra-serious, ultra-emotional, ultra-grateful monologue closing pronouncement had any jokes buried within that they were missing.
 
"Right now, this moment is real. Trust me, it is real. Because I see you. And I see you. All these faces of change. And now, so will everyone else," Oh concluded. Some people in the audience looked moved. Others didn't seem sure, especially those who laughed during an awkward choked-up pause. 
 
For all of the negativity that those of us who cover Hollywood every day know we've often been seeing and writing about, Oh and Samberg wanted to point to something better and more encouraging and, honestly, they did so without the self-congratulatory tone that sometimes seeps into events like this. 
 
It wasn't an approach that landed completely, but I can see why it was the approach Oh and Samberg and the Globes telecast wanted to take.

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Dick Clark Productions, which produces the Golden Globes, is a division of Valence Media, which owns The Hollywood Reporter.