The 78th Golden Globe Awards: TV Review

Golden Globe Awards Show - Tina Fey and Amy Poehler
Courtesy of NBC
Sound glitches, inconsistent direction and dud sketches upstaged some powerful moments.
2/28/2021

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler attempted bicoastal laughs, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association acknowledged some recent scandals, and the telecast battled technical goofs aplenty.

You know that "[So-and-so] walked so that [So-and-so] could run" meme? The one acknowledging how our contemporary greats so often follow in the footsteps of earlier legends who laid the groundwork?

Well, the BET Awards, Emmys, NBA Draft, NFL Draft, MTV Music Awards, Super Bowl, Republican National Convention, Democratic National Convention and at least a dozen other major live award shows and televised events from the past year all walked so that Sunday night's 78th Golden Globe Awards could fall flat on its face.

If this were last April and the Golden Globes were the first show out of the gate, the brave pioneers battling dysentery and flooded rivers on the Oregon Trail of COVID protocol television, then it would be hard to quibble with the results. It would be easy to consider the garbled audio, the strange camera placements and movements and the inopportune cuts to irrelevant react-ers, and say: "Man, that was rough, but you've gotta give the producers credit for handling a situation in which failure was inevitable."

Nobody here is so naive as to think the Golden Globes producers had it easy. However, I've watched most of those live predecessors and none were as full of rudimentary blunders as this telecast.

One could make allowances if it seemed like the Globes were attempting new or innovative things within the format. But nothing in this show was appreciably more innovative than what the Emmys did five-plus months ago, and the Emmys nailed almost every challenge and avoided almost every disaster. The Golden Globes had a Zoom failure on the first award of the night and it basically didn't stop after that. There were speeches that were already in progress when the audio finally started, several more where ambient noise ruined sound levels. Then there was the superfluous "playing off" of speeches; Nomadland directing winner Chloé Zhao was being drowned out even after the show had run long.

Hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler tried to act like this was just the Globes being the Globes, with the technical ineptitude a stand-in or equivalent for the unpredictable behavior that usually results from cramming a bunch of A-listers into a tiny, tiny ballroom (the Beverly Hilton space is so much smaller than you imagine if you've never been) and plying them with booze. And I guess that's an interpretation — the faulty technology almost intentionally adding chaos to the event rather than the chaos fermenting or fomenting organically.

I actually didn't mind the pre-commercial awkwardness where nominees found themselves sharing a Zoom with each other and making clumsy small talk exactly the way so many of us have had to do over the last year. I loved when pets decided this night was about them, like Jodie Foster's dog refusing to let her concentrate on a win that she very obviously had not seen coming. I thought it was adorable when kids took it upon themselves to steal the spotlight, like Minari director Lee Isaac Chung's daughter, who prayed for his win.

There were good speeches, from the earnest appreciation of Zhao and Chung, the unfake-able surprise of Foster and Rosamund Pike and, of course, the marvelously don't-give-a-fuck, hoodie-wearing zen of Jason Sudeikis, who may have been drunk or high, but who may just have been deep in production on the second season of his Apple TV+ show and struggling to stay awake on a different continent. Sacha Baron Cohen delivered pretty much the only political zingers of the night and seemed to get some laughs, and apparently Mark Ruffalo likes the Earth. And who can blame him?

No speech could top that of Taylor Simone Ledward, widow of best actor winner Chadwick Boseman, whose grief and gratitude were palpable. It was the second time in the night that even a mention of the late Ma Rainey star made me tear up.

The Globes also benefitted, as they usually do, from career achievement winners. Both Norman Lear and Jane Fonda deserved to be in a room where they could receive standing ovations, and I hope that someday when frivolous things like award shows can happen in person, they'll both be there to bask in the collective industry warmth. The two titans gave great speeches and their tributes were accompanied by great montages; if you'd kept those clip packages intact and trimmed the entirety of whatever the heck was happening with Kenan Thompson and Maya Rudolph in one early sketch, maybe the show would have run on time.

You could have lost the couple minutes of rich stars making jokes about their quarantine-related conditions in a cringe-y bit that was supposed to honor medical professionals, but instead honored people who probably make exclusive use of concierge medicine. You could keep the thing with TikTok star La'Ron Hines and a bunch of kids, thanks to the part where kids didn't know what the Golden Globes or any of the nominated shows or movies were, but instantly identified Boseman and Black Panther. Obligatory trailers for every nominated movie — boy howdy, Music — should go, though I'd keep the one intro with Sandra Oh and a perfectly timed dinosaur.

At least initially, I didn't mind the bicoastal lack of synchronicity between Fey and Poehler, whose artificially split-screen interactions called to mind key scenes between Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi on The Good Wife. The monologue wasn't scathing in that faux-scathing way Rickey Gervais fans seem to love, but there were some clever parts, including cracks about the blurring lines between TV and movies in quarantine; some soft stabs at the HFPA about nominating things like Music and Emily in Paris; and some harder stabs at the HFPA about recent scandals involving their lack of Black membership.

That's fair and worthwhile, and the HFPA needed to acknowledge the scandals in some way. The way was not, unfortunately, the completely toothless thing with three members coming out on-stage and promising to do better in non-specific ways. You might have noticed that nobody, including Tina and Amy, made mention of the more substantive and damning parts of the L.A. Times investigation — not just that members like junkets, but that members get paid many thousands of dollars for board positions and committee memberships, things that most members of most nonprofit organizations tend to do gratis. The LA Times story made a strong case that a lot of the money NBC pays for rights to the telecast allegedly goes into the pockets of members. There were no jokes about that, but boy oh boy did the HFPA set up the show to constantly remind viewers of money they're giving to charity this year. And seriously, bless them for that. That's a mitzvah! It's not absolution.

To be fair, most of the goofs and blunders, the crackling mics and stagehands partially caught in shots, occurred in the first half of the telecast. The second half was smoother, and I wasn't being distracted by gaffes at every turn. That suggests a learning curve. Future award shows can look to the first 90 minutes of this Globes telecast as an absolute what-not-to-do. Or they could just look to the not-insignificant number of other shows that didn't make those mistakes the first time around.

Happy birthday to Tommy Tune!

The Golden Globe Awards ceremony is produced by Dick Clark Productions, a division of MRC, which is a co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter through a joint venture with Penske Media titled P-MRC.