Critic's Notebook: Speeches, Political and Personal, Highlight 2020 Golden Globes

Michelle Williams - 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards - NBC Publicity-H 2019
Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Ricky Gervais ended his monologue at the 77th Golden Globe Awards with a note of caution to the star-studded attendees.

"You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg," the host said.

He recommended, “Thank your agent and your God and fuck off."

If you are a viewer who agrees with Gervais — Twitter strongly indicates that you are legion — there's a very good chance that you strongly disliked Sunday night's Golden Globes telecast, or at least disliked large chunks of the show.

As much as Gervais urged brevity, that's not the way the kudocast was structured.

There were very few presenter "bits." Amy Poehler and Taylor Swift did a little bit of joking about how animated films are produced by tiny mice? Tiffany Haddish and Salma Hayek riffed on accents? Will Ferrell complimented Pierce Brosnan on being handsome? There might have been some truncation of intended patter — I still don't understand what Dakota Fanning was doing standing next to Ansel Elgort as he sang a category name — but really that's just not how the show was constructed.

There were none of the extraneous and interdisciplinary segments that can sometimes leave the Emmys or Oscars feeling padded. Yes, we got extremely brief clip packages for each nominated film, but there were no additional subject-spanning montages. On a night when Swift and Elton John and Beyonce were among the nominees in the song category, there were no musical performances. There was no necrology, which Gervais joked was owing to the lack of diversity.

Yet somehow the Globes telecast ran 10 minutes long, and that's because the scaffolding of the show was set up to be supported completely by speeches. In retrospect, it's almost impossible to fathom how the producers would have rounded out the show if winners actually took Gervais' suggestion and thanked their agent and their God and left the stage.

Opening winner Ramy Youssef at least hinted in that direction with an enthusiastic "Allahu Akbar," an enthusiastic "I know you guys haven't seen my show. Everyone's just like, 'Is this an editor?'" and the informative factoid that Egyptians, including his family, love fellow nominee Michael Douglas. I've been telling people to watch Ramy since it premiered last spring, so this was a solid start for a night that saw many of the TV awards go to critical favorites, including comedy series and drama series wins for Fleabag and Succession, my two top shows of 2019.

The tone of the kudocast was, amusingly, actually set by a winner who wasn't there. Russell Crowe, honored for his latex-encased work in The Loudest Voice, missed the ceremony because he's dealing with the impact of Australia's continent-ravaging bushfire crisis, but he sent a somewhat lengthy call to action, specifically referencing climate change. Good thing Crowe wasn't present, because the idea of Ricky Gervais trying to tell Russell Crowe to keep his opinions to himself on this topic makes me laugh a little.

The fires in Australia ended up being the cause of the night, coming up in at least four speeches or introductions, with Joaquin Phoenix's best actor acceptance probably coming the closest to a Gervais-approved approach, as he told the crowd that sending well-wishes and even voting weren't sufficient and urged them to take direct action in changing their own behaviors. What suggestions he might have offered other than to stop using private jets are unclear, because he won in the waning stages of the show when it was finally time to start playing people off. Phoenix had previously praised the Globes for going vegan this year, so that presumably was part of his call for personal responsibility.

The fires in Australia were only part of Patricia Arquette's agenda in what was surely the most ideological speech of the night. The actress has been a regular on the awards circuit in the past year between Escape at Dannemora and The Act, and her warning that we're at a global tipping point and that entertainment awards aren't really all that important was more composed and less purely emotion-driven than several speeches she's given, so naturally people on Twitter are making fun of her weight and the cut of her dress. She still made zero mention of the president or of several other specific grievances.

On this front, she ended up maybe slightly upstaged by Michelle Williams, who has proven consistently on her Fosse/Verdon awards circuit that she gives a rousing speech better than just about anybody. In Sunday's case, her cause was a woman's right to choose, a right she said she has availed herself of — without referencing having had an abortion, though surely that's the assumption that will be widely made. The climax of the actress' speech was the declaration, "Women, 18 to 118, when it's time to vote, please do so in your own self-interest. It's what men have been doing for years, which is why the world looks so much like them."

Tiffany Haddish loved it. The audience seemed to as well.

Maybe the proliferation of politics — or the ignoring of his edict — explained why Gervais became increasingly more acidic as the show progressed. He's had years where he's nearly vanished after his monologue. This Globes telecast kept making room for him to introduce things and sneak in punchlines. A Harvey Weinstein joke late in the show was tougher than anything he said in the monologue, as was his obscenity-fueled response to the audience's discomfort. There was no response at all to a joke that boiled down to, "If you're bitter about the lack of female directing nominees, how would you like it if studios just stopped hiring women entirely?" Blech.

Leaving the floor open for speeches and, at least for the first three hours, not playing anybody off didn't open the door exclusively for political advocacy. Phoebe Waller-Bridge may have praised former President Barack Obama, but it was in a prurient context and not one related to policy. Director Bong Joon Ho just urged viewers to get over the "one-inch tall barrier of subtitles" and embrace films from around the world. And Brad Pitt wanted to make it clear to Leonardo DiCaprio that he would have made room for him on the raft, thereby spoiling the ending of Titanic for the kid from Jojo Rabbit, I'm assuming. Stellan Skarsgard advocated strongly for eyebrows.

But if there's anything the Golden Globes are probably most proud of at this point, it is the amount of breathing room left open for its lifetime achievement awards, previously just the Cecil B. DeMille Award for film icons and expanded to TV legends last year with the addition of the Carol Burnett Award.

One wonders if the show's producers felt minor regret at not putting a tighter leash on Ellen DeGeneres, recipient of the latter award, because nobody does rambling and digressive as well as DeGeneres, running through almost the totality of her autobiography while slipping in frequent punchlines and insights into what TV has meant to her and what she hopes she has meant to TV. She followed a beautiful introduction from Kate McKinnon, calling out the importance of "The Puppy Episode" in her own coming-of-age experience. Seeing McKinnon, always a fan of making Saturday Night Light guests break with laughter, unable to conceal her emotions was a powerful lead-in.

Also fighting back tears was Tom Hanks, who probably could have won the Cecil B. DeMille Award five or 10 years ago. His speech ran the full gamut of his career, and even if it sometimes felt rambling because of the actor's battle with a cold, it was as good as it gets when it comes to blending specific anecdotes, generous acknowledgements and self-deprecating jokes into a message that boiled down to: Be professional, be decent to people and treasure your family.

I'm not sure Hanks mentioned his agent or his God, but his speech and DeGeneres' speech and a slew of well-deserving winners are still what I'm most likely to remember from this year's Golden Globes telecast.

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