Critic's Notebook: Why Jimmy Fallon Will Bring More Froth Than Vinegar to the 2017 Golden Globes

Jimmy Fallon - 62nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Show - Getty - H - 2016
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Change. It isn't necessarily positive or negative. It's just different. In chemistry, it's represented by delta. In politics, it's going from Obama to Trump. And in awards show hosting, it's going from Ricky Gervais to Jimmy Fallon.

The Tonight Show mainstay will take his first stab at Golden Globes hosting duties Jan. 8, and while you can't necessarily predict what Fallon will do onstage at The Beverly Hilton, it would be very difficult to select an emcee more different from Gervais.

Much of the amusement and trepidation surrounding the 2016 Golden Globes telecast revolved around what Gervais would say during his fourth stint as host — he earned oohs and ahhs for jokes about Caitlyn Jenner and Sean Penn as well as for a genuinely awkward scene with Mel Gibson (probably more NBC's fault for bringing Gibson on the show in the first place). He also lambasted the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and made one reference to "your future president Donald Trump" in a joke about potential deportation for Eva Longoria and America Ferrera. Gervais wasn't a disgrace and probably will host the Globes again someday. But with ratings down a hair, who could blame NBC for now wanting a host who can be invited to the party with minimal risk of his insulting the other guests or the audience at home?

Fallon doesn't bring Gervais' iconoclastic cachet, but he remains the popular king of late night — and NBC can be confident that just as a certain portion of the audience tuned in to the Globes for Gervais' deflating of the room's egos, another — perhaps larger — segment will be happy just to have fun for three hours with songs, gags and pretty stars.

It's the same role that Fallon has played all fall. Some late-night hosts went down a rabbit hole of election-season misery, but Fallon welcomed Trump and ruffled his hair. Even if critics were outraged, audiences showed that they didn't want Fallon to sacrifice his brand in an effort to pretend to be Samantha Bee or John Oliver or Seth Meyers.

We can expect, then, that Fallon's approach to the Golden Globes won't involve scathing mockery of A-listers, nor much chiding of the HFPA, unless he decides to do a character bit with an outsized accent or wig. With Trump's inauguration scheduled for just days after the ceremony, Fallon may trot out his impression of the former NBC reality star — a few hand gestures and tanning booth raccoon eyes — but he won't fuel anger or insecurity. That's not what Fallon does.

What can we learn from Fallon's past as an awards show host? For the 2010 Emmys on NBC, he went straight to his strengths, which are high energy and music. It mostly paid off. With the help of the Glee cast and such stars as Jon Hamm and Betty White, Fallon opened with a partially filmed performance of "Born to Run," used his guitar to introduce awards categories and mourned departed TV shows with parodies of Elton John, Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day and Boyz II Men. The mood in the room remained upbeat as he cycled through a series of costume changes, sometimes arriving for segments out of breath, and the show ended on time. Those are marks to aspire to if you're not worried about being hailed as transgressive, which never has been Fallon's aspiration anyway.

Amusingly, the only real moments of comedic friction in Fallon's Emmy stint came courtesy of none other than Gervais, who took the stage with the promise, "I'm saving all of the really offensive stuff for the Golden Globes," but then generated his usual squirming — particularly when he built an extended bit around none other than Mel Gibson. History and Ricky Gervais repeat themselves.

If producers decide that 2017's Globes ceremony requires an injection of strychnine, Gervais again might make himself available for a drop-by, a no-lose proposition: none of the time commitment of hosting, none of the responsibilities of in-show sobriety and the opportunity to be hailed as the telecast's savior by cynicism-craving critics. In lieu of Gervais, maybe Fallon's SNL buddies Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will make an appearance.

It's only since 2009 that the Globes even have had a proper host: four times it was Gervais, while three times it was Fey and Poehler. That's seven years of pointed jokes about swag-loving voters, vacuous Hollywood celebrities and industry sexism. It's not unreasonable for NBC and the HFPA to want to experiment with something lighter, peppier, sillier. You're up, Jimmy Fallon.

This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.