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Review: Political and Passionate SAG Awards Make a Strong Case for Ceremonies Without a Host

The SAG Awards don't employ a host, and this year's ceremony was better for it.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, USA - 29 Jan 2017

Photo by Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock (8137127h)

For all the annual hubbub surrounding who’s hosting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes and more, there’s a simple argument to be made for ditching them altogether. And that argument, year-after-year, is the Screen Actors Guild Awards, including the entertaining and impactful 2017 ceremony.

Filled with passionate speeches from popular stars, nearly all of whom spoke to the political climate we’re all overwhelmed by of late, the two-hour ceremony gave us everything we were looking for: meaning, inspiration, and an apt emphasis on the arts.

READ MORE: 2017 SAG Awards Winners List

As for the “no host” policy, lifelong SAG Awards producer Kathy Connell explained it best in 2013, when she explained why the guild repeatedly goes host-less.

“We chose to not have a host was because we didn’t want the time taken away from the people we were honoring,” Connell said. “Our show is just two hours long. We wanted the whole evening to be about the actors and not about one personality.”

Such reasoning could, of course, be applied to almost every other awards ceremony — with the exception of the Golden Globes, which aims to be more about the party than the honor. But the fewer categories and emphasis on one craft instead of many (directing, writing, etc.) make such expediency compulsory as well as beneficial to the SAGs.

The introduction, for example, showcased an array of talented and well-liked stars of screens big and small, from Jeff Bridges noting how his stature stems from “luck and nepotism” to Ellie Kemper joking about her best role not being that of a mother, but being Kimmy Schmidt on Tina Fey’s Netflix series. Concluding with Ashton Kutcher for a touch of import — and an added dose of emotion via a brief but emphatic shout-out to everyone watching “from airports who belong in my America” — may seem a tad odd given the array of diverse talent present. But one could argue having the Iowa-born former star of “Two and a Half Men,” and current star of “The Ranch” speak out against President Trump’s immigration ban was more effective because of his status in the red states.

READ MORE: Ashton Kutcher Opens SAG Awards With Emotional Tribute to Those Affected by Trump’s Immigration Ban

His words certainly set the tone for a night filled with political commentary from actors defensive over their right to speak out. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, winning her fourth SAG Award for lead actress in a comedy, set a high bar right off the bat, starting off with a solid Trump impression that mocked his outrageous lies and concluding by reading the WGA’s statement on the immigration ban released earlier Sunday.

Other winners provided brief remarks to the same accord, including William H. Macy thanking President Trump for making his “Shameless” character “seem so normal” and Bryan Cranston giving a piece of advice from the 36th president (Lyndon B. Johnson, who he played in “All the Way”) to the 45th: “Just don’t piss in the soup that all of us gotta eat.” But it wasn’t until Mahershala Ali took the stage for “Moonlight” that we saw a true competitor for “speech of the night.”

Just when we thought we’d heard as much as our hearts could handle, a surprise win for the “Stranger Things” ensemble led to a speech from David Harbour for the ages:

And this is skimming over an incredible stand-up routine from lifetime honoree Lily Tomlin, a humble, heartfelt speech from John Lithgow, and back-to-back showstoppers to (fittingly) end the night from Denzel Washington and Taraji P. Henson (on behalf of her “Hidden Figures” ensemble). The night was jam-packed with greatness and alive with energy; much of which came from the rally-like climate of an event filled with like-minded, outspoken individuals, but part of which was facilitated by there not being a ringleader to slow them down, speed them up, or steal the spotlight. This was a ceremony run by its honorees, and they made every moment count.

Should more ceremonies go host-less? Not necessarily. Without hosts, we would have never seen this, or this, or any of these. But the SAGs manage to stand out without one, an ever more important facet in the annual onslaught of award shows fighting for our attention on TV. There’s a lot to be learned from their model, not the least of which is pure devotion. Passion plays, whether it’s coming from the actors or it’s shown for them.

Grade: A-

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