After last year’s excellent show, it’s hard to say the SAG Awards needed a host in 2018. But no one protested when the guild announced its inaugural honor would go to Kristen Bell — and they still shouldn’t. Bell kept with the pre-existing tone that sets the SAGs apart: Quick, quippy, and with an emphasis on unabashed love for acting, her opening monologue felt like it wasn’t trying to change things; it was trying to fit in, and it worked.
In a reversal of last year’s emphasis on humor, then heart, this year’s ceremony focused on female actors talking about what they dreamed of being when they were little and what they’ve achieved since then. Allison Janney dreamed of being a figure skater. Tracee Ellis Ross wanted to own a lot of shoes. Millie Bobby Brown, still a young girl, told other adolescents watching, “I believe in you. Believe in your hearts.” Bell then quipped that she was narcissist before launching her brief monologue.
Bell’s first joke may have been her best: mocking Melania Trump’s inefficient efforts to reduce cyberbullying by taking the mantle from her (as the “first lady” to host the SAGs). Her cheery “serotonin” comment to Elisabeth Moss, a Scientologist, was either a far too subtle dig or a different joke gone awry, but from there she reinforced a prominent theme of the night: supporting young actors.
“This show is for you guys, and it’s to entice you to stick around,” Bell said. “It’s a true privilege to be able to experience and share the wide scope of humanity through storytelling. […] Everyone’s story deserves to be told — especially now. We are living in a watershed moment. […] Let’s make sure we’re leading the charge with empathy and diligence because fear and anger never win the race.”
Though a few jokes seemed to drift off message — including her very next bit, where Maya Rudolph asked what Bell’s show “about living in hell” was called, and she replied, “It’s called 2018!” — the night largely held together as a positive, encouraging affair. From Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ early win (and Connie Britton’s message to her) to a mid-show standing ovation for Rita Moreno’s dancing (“That’s a lot of love — but I can take it.”), the 2018 SAG Awards efficiently hit a lot of wonderful notes.
Molly Shannon and Leslie Mann actually pulled off a back-and-forth about how drama is better than comedy (which worked, perhaps, because they’re both just so damn funny); Sam Rockwell declared his love for Laura Linney’s Netflix series, “Ozark,” before making a great Oscar warm-up speech involving his parents, actors, and “standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these women”; an under-the-weather Nicole Kidman still managed to get people riled up behind her call for continued change; and Olivia Munn and Niecy Nash actually got some laughs out of “pretending” to watch all their nominees’ shows. (“Peter Dinklage was so good as… the dragon?”)
That being said, it was also an evening absent many surprises. Seeing the “This Is Us” cast erupt in surprised delight served as a reminder that through the first two-thirds of the ceremony, most of the winners were predictable, all the way down to “Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri” taking the night’s top prize.
That’s hardly anyone’s fault save one group: the one Bell dedicated the show to: the actors watching at home who want to be in the ballroom. So, to complain about the results wouldn’t exactly be fair to them, even if they may have wanted a more exciting night, too. The first host was a success. The speeches were solid. Next year, we’ll be watching to see what happens next — and hoping for another female host. Rita Moreno, anyone?