When last year’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony took place off the air so that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association could address its myriad internal problems—chief among them that the group of several dozen international journalists had zero Black members at the time—many among us, including myself, figured they were done for good. How can you bounce back from that kind of public relations catastrophe, especially when your group and its irksome (or worse) eccentricities had only been begrudgingly tolerated by the entertainment industry for decades?
And yet, Hollywood loves a comeback story, so the Golden Globes returned this year, determined to advertise the HFPA as a changed and enlightened organization that can still put on a glitzy, booze-soaked show. That was, to some degree, borne out as the evening unfolded. But, of course, the controversies of the recent past had to be addressed head on, which host Jerrod Carmichael did in his pensive, biting opening monologue. Perhaps it was fitting that his monologue featured none of the usual riffing on various nominated films and television series. There was a bigger topic to tackle, and so Carmichael did just that—admirably not letting the HFPA off the hook by doing some image rehab on their behalf, while also mordantly (and amusingly) acknowledging the morally compromising matter of money.
Still, maybe a few of the corny jokes of old would have been fun. Not because the HFPA’s problems didn’t need covering, but because some of the typical routine would have nicely fit in with the tone the broadcast was trying to create. With its lovely Old Hollywood stylings—Art Deco hues awash in the low glow of table lamps—the ceremony was evoking a sense of past grandeur, giving us a show like the ones distantly glimmering in our collective memory. Which is maybe a cynical strategy for this specific awards body—“Remember when it was all so fancy and easy? Let’s go back to that, please!”—but in general provided a welcome rush of nostalgia. Compared to the tinny, People’s Choice Awards-esque vibe of last year’s trying-too-hard (or not enough?) Oscars, these Globes were a pleasant return to luxe elegance.
One undeniable sign that we are no longer in the past was that the movie awards mostly concluded before TV, putting the small screen in the position of headliner prominence. Television is, in theory (and, yes, in numbers), what people care about more these days, so it was probably appropriate that the dominant medium should linger later in the evening. Or, it just happened that way because there are so many more TV categories—maybe the film industry should figure out a counterpart to the limited series? Either way, the movies got the last huzzah: the two best picture awards, for The Fabelmans and The Banshees of Inisherin, were held to the very end.
As the evening wore on, Carmichael’s humor became more caustic, making a joke about Shelly Miscavige in a bit about Tom Cruise returning his Golden Globes to the HFPA, and later reminding viewers that the Beverly Hilton, where the ceremony takes place, is where Whitney Houston died. Carmichael seemed to lose the audience in the room; though he often urged the crowd to pipe down, he was often talked over. (Maybe he had told them to be quiet too much?) It was hard to tell if that was a specific response to his needling jokes, or if everyone was just having too much fun chatting away in the champagne-soaked swell of the evening.
The mood in the room did seem genuinely ebullient, after all the sturm und drang and existential wrestling of last year (Would celebrities ever attend the Golden Globes again? Yes, of course they would). The shadow of COVID was cast away, and the HFPA’s problems could be put aside in favor of the simple, silly joy of people breathlessly thanking collaborators and loved ones on a brightly lit stage. What does it really matter who is giving the awards, as long as there are awards to be accepted in front of the eager gaze of television cameras?
Fitting of an awards ceremony in the classic vein, there were some big, audience-rumbling moments that brought a traditional mix of righteousness and a little Hollywood self-regard to the evening. Ryan Murphy, receiving the Carol Burnett Award, singled out several of the queer and trans actors he’s worked with over the years, offering them up as beacons of hope for kids facing a renewed wave of bigotry across the country. It was an unexpectedly stirring and sincere speech from a creator who often trades in grime and nihilism. The other Murphy award, Eddie Murphy receiving the Cecil B. DeMille prize, was a lighter and more subdued occasion, though the possibly unplanned stage appearance of Jamie Lee Curtis added a little oddball zest.
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