There’s chaos, and then there’s chaos.
In 2020, the Primetime Emmys were one of the first awards telecasts to take its ceremony to the virtual realm, relying on a mix of teleconferenced acceptance speeches, pre-taped montages, and socially distant, in-person bits to create a piece of entertainment typically reliant on red carpet looks, live audience reactions, and the tension derived from having hundreds of nominees gathered together in one room, waiting to hear their names called. And for the most part, it went great! Jennifer Aniston and Jimmy Kimmel started a live, momentarily uncontrollable fire! John Oliver waited with baited breath for his Emmy box to pop open. Zendaya won Best Actress.
All of these elements were surprising, sure, but there was legitimate chaos in the air that helped keep the energy up throughout an always-lengthy telecast. The biggest question heading into the show was whether or not they could pull it off, and the answer was a resounding “Hell yes!”
Things were much, much different heading into the 78th Golden Globe Awards show. No one was wondering if the HFPA could put on an entertaining three-hour event; they were wondering if it was irresponsible to tune in, considering the organization’s rampant, long-running discrimination and the reported corruption that’s been tarnishing those gold statues for decades. Those who did tune in learned not to surrender their principles the hard way. Weak acknowledgements during the ceremony, mostly light jabs from a few presenters, and innumerable technical errors made for a chaotic Golden Globes — in a bad way; in a “It doesn’t seem like they care” way; in a “Did they even rehearse this?” kind of way.
NBC’s telecast felt like an awkward, half-assed attempt by the HFPA to apologize, push past problems, and get back to business as usual. While the diversity issues cited in those recent reports was brought up regularly (though still not often enough), nothing was said about the allegations of bribery and further misconduct that would dissuade any self-respecting journalist from joining this group anyway. Even if you managed to block out the framing of this year’s show (as many have been doing for years), it wasn’t easy to actually enjoy what you were seeing. From the show’s direction, which included multiple shots of not-so-behind-the-scenes stagehands, to its paltry excuse for an actual apology, the 78th Golden Globes, at best, hid its issues behind a wall of celebrities, and, at worst, threw those celebrities under the bus.
The chaotic evil energy started with the first award, when semi-surprise winner Daniel Kaluuya won for “Judas and the Black Messiah” and someone forgot to un-mute his microphone. Forget for a second that’s Zoom 101, and we’re in Month 11-ish of pandemic; turning on his microphone is quite literally the only thing the production has to make happen in that moment. But OK, one mistake, one glitch, they eventually got back to him, so let’s move forward. John Boyega won for “Small Axe”! And… no one told him what to do. I’m sure every actor dreams of winning an award on national television and starts that acceptance speech with: “Do I just talk?”
Boyega recovered nicely from there, even taking to Instagram to further express his gratitude, but the Globes struggled to get the train back on the tracks. Technical errors popped up during Mark Ruffalo’s speech, and numerous actors started speaking before their microphones went live. While these kind of formal blunders can be frustrating, they’re also somewhat understandable. We’re still in a global pandemic, and coordinating a live, bi-coastal, three-hour broadcast is no simple feat.
But this also didn’t have to be a bi-coastal broadcast. Maybe having stages in New York (the Rainbow Room) and Los Angeles (the Beverly Hilton) allowed for more in-person presenters, but none of the live speakers or the few in-studio gags (like the Kenan Thompson/Maya Rudolph bit or even my beloved Barb and Star) outweighed the continued mistakes. It also had nothing to do with the disastrous choice for the recurring pre-commercial segment, where the five nominees in the next category to be awarded were asked to talk amongst themselves, over Zoom, on live television. The camera was too far away from any of the monitors to see the nominees properly, and the nominees had no idea what to do with themselves! During each segment about half the nominees tried to make the best of it and talk (bless you, Matthew Rhys), while the other half steadfastly refused to speak, for fear of talking over their peers, saying something silly, or both. Once, the only words heard before the ad break were someone shouting, “Just act naturally!” Worst of all, no adjustments were made to any of these repeat problems, and over an hour into the telecast, winners were still asking “Do I talk now?” after their name was called. (To be fair, Jason Sudeikis did stay up until 2:30 a.m. in London, since he’s currently in production on “Ted Lasso” Season 2.)
The coast-to-coast staging also didn’t do the opening monologue any favors. While Tina Fey and Amy Poehler delivered solid jokes more consistently and with better quality than their (abysmal) predecessor, the duo’s light banter about differentiating TV shows from movies and an audience made up of essential workers (“so the celebrities can stay safely at home”) didn’t carry quite the pop of their past work. Perhaps they’re better together, perhaps they’re better in front of a crowd, perhaps this just wasn’t the right year for two white people to be pseudo-apologizing for an organization’s exclusion of Black members.
Similar, “Should we even be here?” energy haunted Sunday night’s telecast, and not just because Fey ended the monologue with, “Could this whole night have been an email? Yes!” Some of the awards recipients echoed Rosamund Pike’s blunt reference to her film’s title, “I Care a Lot” and acted like they did, in fact, care a lot about winning. Still, the most memorable and affecting speech came from a person who clearly had more on her mind than an award: Taylor Simone Ledward gave a speech more moving than this telecast deserved, paying passionate respect to her late husband, Chadwick Boseman. Her speech resonated all the more after an earlier pre-taped version of “Kids Say the Darnedest Things” ended with every single one of the young interviewees correctly identifying Boseman. Maybe, just maybe, the future is bright.
But the present is still troubled. Plenty more awards recipients didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves. Is winning an award from this group really an honor? Is winning it this year, amid all the controversy, really good for the actor, show, or movie? You could sense that extra bit of wariness, or a lacking sense of jubilance, in Sudeikis’ morning stupor, in Gillian Anderson’s recitation of names, and in Sacha Baron Cohen’s gratitude to “the all-white Hollywood Foreign Press Association,” which was as direct a call-out as the winners gave.
But can you blame them? Awards shows are awkward enough already, and virtual ones even more so. Not knowing how much you should celebrate, or appear celebratory, only adds to the uneasiness, and that goes for those watching at home, as well. While the 2021 Golden Globes carried plenty of surprises — Andra Day winning for “The United States of Billie Holiday,” Jodie Foster for “The Mauritanian,” and the aforementioned Pike marked the most notable upsets — is it… worth being happy for them? How much longer will the award carry whatever boost it currently offers their careers? How much longer should it?
The Golden Globes are typically marketed as a big, fun party — a night to watch celebrities have a few too many, mingle together in an overstuffed ballroom, and take the stage for a tipsy acceptance speech or two. That clearly couldn’t happen this year, given the pandemic protocols in place, but it also couldn’t happen because the Golden Globes are too toxic to be fun anymore. Until actual steps are taken to address its numerous problems, there’s no going back to chaotic good.
The Golden Globe Awards were held Sunday, February 28 at the Rainbow Room in New York and The Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. NBC’s telecast will be available to stream on Peacock starting Monday, March 1.