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Review: This year’s Golden Globes replaced ‘Hollywood party’ with ‘Zoom call’ — and fell flat

Hosts, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards on February 28, 2021.
Hosting on two coasts for the 78th Golden Globe Awards, Tina Fey, left, was in New York and Amy Poehler was in Beverly Hills with just a random arm to join them.
(NBC)
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Sunday night saw the telecast of the 78th Golden Globe Awards. That there have been 78 of these things is not distinct from the fact that we accord them the reflexive respect of other long-lived animals, vegetables and institutions: the giant redwood, the giant tortoise, the Girl Scouts. The Emperor’s New Clothes of Hollywood awards, they are easy to mock — indeed, they are easier to mock than take seriously — but they have been around since 1944, when the whole idea of a Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. (founded 1943) would have meant something quite different in light of the World War and all. Stars show up for them and where stars go, eyeballs follow, and where eyeballs are you can expect to find reporters roving. Hello!

Anyway, here they came again, a little later than usual, on account of the … you know. Given that (apart from the Bellwether of the Oscars business, blah blah) their historical raison d’etre is as a simulacrum of a “Hollywood party,” one question going in was how the producers would represent a party in a time of no parties? Would nominees be encouraged to drink too much in the privacy of their homes? Anyone who has been on a Zoom call knows there is a greater than usual opportunity for embarrassment, even at a social distance.

The other question is how the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. might acknowledge recent L.A. Times articles and the ensuing wider discussion, regarding the complete lack of Black representation among its strangely mysterious 87-member voting body — and the matter of whether a lavish Parisian junket had anything to do with a nomination for “Emily in Paris.” The Globes have long subsisted on the tension between its reputation as the slightly disreputable, tipsy cousin to the Oscars and Emmys — a place where anything might happen, and sometimes has — and its desire to be taken as seriously as it takes itself, a tension made flesh by having Ricky Gervais in to host for five years.

The second question was answered in short order.

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“Look, we all know that award shows are stupid,” said Tina Fey, cohosting bicoastally with Amy Poehler. “The point is, even with stupid things, inclusivity is important. And there are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press. I realize, HFPA, maybe you guys didn’t get the memo because your workplace is the back booth of a French McDonald’s, but you got to change that. So here’s to changing it.”

In any case, diversity proved a recurring if not constant theme. The HFPA brought out representatives from India, Turkey and Germany to promise to do better. Presenter Sterling K. Brown: “Ain’t it great to be Black at the Golden Globes — back at the Golden Globes.” Dan Levy, whose “Schitt’s Creek” won comedy series, looked forward to next year in the hope that the “ceremony reflects the true breadth and diversity of film and television being made today because there is so much more to be celebrate.” Jane Fonda, receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award for being Jane Fonda all these years, used her platform not to reflect on her own career but to shout out to the transformative power of storytelling, to call attention to “a story we’ve been afraid to see and hear about ourselves in this industry. A story about which voices we respect and elevate — and which we tune out. A story about who’s offered a seat at the table and who is kept out of the rooms where decisions are made.” The conclusion of a lovely, funny filmed bit from “TikTok sensation” La’Ron Hines (“Are You Smarter Than A Preschooler?”) quizzing small fry on Globes-related topics (“How are movies made?” “Bricks?”) was that every child knows that actor Chadwick Boseman, a posthumous winner for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” played the Black Panther.

 Jane Fonda, winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 78th Golden Globe Awards on Feb 28, 2021.
Jane Fonda, winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 78th Golden Globe Awards on Feb. 28.
(NBC)

What was never in question was the wisdom of having Fey and Poehler back as hosts, the Hope and Crosby of their generation, an occasional comedy power dyad who forged their partnership deep in the fires of “SNL’s” “Weekend Update,” and whose every subsequent collaboration droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. Cohosts of the Globes telecast from 2013 to 2015, here they were separated by a continent, yet sufficiently side by side, with Fey, appropriately enough at New York’s Rainbow Room, whose address is “30 Rock,” and Poehler, on a color-matched set, at the customary venue, the Beverly Hilton. Each played to an audience made up of “smoking hot” first responders and essential workers, tables spaced far apart. They managed to mock the HFPA, the telecast and the nominated films in a way that was pointed, yet gentle: jokes about Oprah Winfrey writing her name on the tablecloths and Quentin Tarantino crawling under tables touching people’s feet.

A brief onstage pledge to change by three HFPA members during Sunday’s Golden Globes did not impress critics of the organization, including Time’s Up.

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As a party, it was a Zoom call. As one might have expected, the evening offered a collection of celebrities at home, some of them dressed up as if about to go out; others (Jodie Foster in pajamas, Jason Sudeikis in a hoodie) as if they were about to go to bed. Some were with families or pets, some with collaborators; most appeared onscreen alone. Attempts to make nominees seem as if they were in a shared space, a party space, chatting away with one another as the telecast went to commercial breaks, fell flat.

 Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson at the 78th Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel
At the 78th Golden Globe Awards, from left, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
(Christopher Polk / NBC)

Indeed, to ensure that there was something with at least the appearance of unruliness, Kenan Thompson and Maya Rudolph were enlisted to play winners of the award “Least Original Song in a Telefilm, Dramedy or Comma”: “I had a vodka epidural before I came,” said Rudolph’s character, taking off three shoes from under her skirt) and getting inappropriately intimate with Poehler. (It was not a socially distanced routine, but a successful one.) And Tracy Morgan (“only four awards away from an EGOT”) supplied a little chaos, making a joke about gonorrhea herd immunity and mispronouncing the title “Soul.” It made her feel at home, said his “30 Rock” costar Fey, and also made the Golden Globes feel like the Golden Globes.

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